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Horizontal-Axis (Front-Loading) Clothes Washers

By tumbling clothes like a dryer, these machines use less water and energy

Photo of front-loading washing machine.

Horizontal-axis washing machines are putting a new spin on laundry--literally. By tumbling clothes like a dryer rather than agitating clothes like a conventional tub-and-agitator machine, horizontal-axis machines use significantly less water and energy to do the same job as conventional machines. Horizontal-axis washers, common in commercial laundries and in Europe, are usually loaded from a door in the front and are often called front-loading washers.

Clothes are placed in a horizontally-oriented stainless steel drum as opposed to a vertically-oriented conventional tub with central agitator. Horizontal-axis washing machines are partially filled with water and cleaning action occurs as clothes are tumbled through the pool of water at the bottom of the tub. They use less energy than conventional washing machines mainly because they use less hot water. Because of the high RPM at which they spin, the machines extract a high level of water from clothes, thereby reducing drying time.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, horizontal-axis washing machines can use about 40 percent less water and 50 percent less energy than conventional washers, cause less wear and tear on clothes, and can accommodate large items that won't fit in a top-loader. A typical top-loading washer uses about 40 gallons of water per full load. In contrast, a full-size horizontal axis clothes washer uses between 20 and 25 gallons.

Energy Efficiency

Horizontal-axis washers have been shown to use about 50% less energy than standard washers (largely due to reduced hot water consumption). They extract more water from clothes, and thus also reduce drying time.

Environmental Performance

Horizontal-axis washers can use between 30% and 40% less water and less detergent than conventional top-loading tub and agitator washers.


Horizontal-axis washers are readily available in most major appliance stores. Regular laundry soap can be used, but it may be difficult to determine how much soap is optimal (about half the standard amount). Soap products specially formulated for high-efficiency washers (e.g., those labeled HE or High Efficiency) have historically been difficult to find.

Horizontal-axis washers cost between $600 and $1,500; the cost is more than top-loading machines.

By saving water, energy, and laundry soap, the operating cost for horizontal-axis washing machines can be considerably less than top-loading machines. The estimated annual utility bill savings for a family of four is about $75 to $100 plus any additional savings associated with shorter drying time and reduced detergent use.

The Federal Trade Commission requires that clothes washers display the yellow and black EnergyGuide label that gives consumers information about the product’s energy use.

Bern Clothes Washer Study
A field study conducted by the U.S. Department of Energy of 103 washers in Kansas showed that front-loading, horizontal-axis washing machines used 56 percent less energy and 38 percent less water than top-loading machines.

MADE Project: Bowie, Maryland

Installation of horizontal-axis washing machines is similar to that of top-loading machines.

Warranties range from 1 to 3 years for the entire washer, and up to 10 years for individual parts to a lifetime warranty for the tub, but warranties vary among manufacturers.

Horizontal-axis clothes washers use less water, energy, and detergent than conventional top-loading machines. The estimated annual utility bill savings for a family of four is about $75 to $100. Unlike top-loading machines, there is no central agitator to tangle clothes. In addition, the design permits a high level of water extraction that may result in lower energy use for drying.

Disclaimer: The information on the system, product or material presented herein is provided for informational purposes only. The technical descriptions, details, requirements, and limitations expressed do not constitute an endorsement, approval, or acceptance of the subject matter by the NAHB Research Center. There are no warranties, either expressed or implied, regarding the accuracy or completeness of this information. Full reproduction, without modification, is permissible.