The modern front-loading washer now accounts for early 35% of all new washing machines sold in the United States. But it has not always been that way. When top-loading washing machines first appeared in their modern form in the 1950's, the front-loading washing machine started to take off in Europe. There were a number of reasons why this occurred. Front-loading washing machines offered increased efficiency and reduced appliance footprint size (floor space). These two factors made this style of washer more appealing to the smaller homes in Europe. Homes in the United States had more space in their laundry rooms to accommodate large capacity top-loading machines. Low energy and water prices in the United States also contributed to the popularity of top-loading washers. However, four decades after the modern top-loading washer took off in the United States, the front-loader would return to cater to the new energy and resource conscious culture that was growing nationwide.
The front-loading washing machine is actually a very simple appliance. The wash drum in mounted horizontally with a door for loading clothes located on the front face of the machine. A single drive motor and pulley set drives the drum. Paddles located on the inside of the drum lift clothes and drop them down into a small amount of water sitting at the bottom of the drum. This repetitive lifting and dropping combined with the detergent and absorption of water into the fabrics is what cleans the clothing. The most complex system on the modern front-loading washer is the door seal. This large gasket is responsible for preventing any water from leaking out of the machine during operation. Most seals also incorporate a folded baffle design that attaches them to the drum and prevents small articles of clothing from slipping out of the drum and clogging the drain. Early versions of front-loading washing machines suffered from leak problems but most of those problems have been resolved in the past decade.
Front-loading washing machines allow for the use of a relatively small amount of water to facilitate cleaning since the entire drum does not need to fill like in a top-loading washer. Front-loading washers are also capable of spinning the wash drum at much higher RPM (up to 1200 RPM) allowing for more water to be removed from the clothes before drying. While front-loaders offer many benefits, they are not problem free. The horizontal alignment of the wash drum does allow for some water to remain between cycles which can allow the growth of mold and mildew in the washer. This can produce unpleasant colors and scents in clothing. This can be prevented by following manufacture's recommended cleaning schedules which often include weekly cleaning of the door seal, monthly wash drum cleaning cycles and leaving the washer door open between loads. If clothes do take on an unpleasant odor, washing them with detergent and 1/2 cup of white vinegar can remove the odor.
Overall, modern front-loading washing machines now offer an excellent combination of efficiency and reliability. They still do have some drawbacks such as limited capacity, long cycle times and additional appliance cleaning steps. Most front-loading washers are also still priced between $300 and $1000 more than their top-loading counterparts. But the water and energy savings over the lifetime of the washer often offset these costs. Find out more about how front-loading washing machines work.