If you visit a home improvement center or an appliance store to look for a new top-loading washer, the first thing you may notice is how similar all of the machines look. They are all metal boxes with a hinged lid and a control panel, so why do some of them have HE symbols on them while others do not? If you want to know the answer to this question, just open the lid. When you do, you will ask yourself another question. What is the difference between an impeller and an agitator?
Regular top-loading washing machines have an agitator, but high-efficiency machines dispense with this feature in favor of an impeller. Both approaches have their pros and cons, and this post will explain the differences between them so that you can decide for yourself which type of washing machine is best for you.
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How Washing Machines Clean Clothes
So, what’s the difference between an agitator and an impeller? To get to the bottom of this, we must first look at the way a washing machine removes dirt and stains from clothes. This is done with a combination of water, detergent and motion. All top-loading washing machines use water and detergent, but they do not all create motion in the same way. This is where the difference between an agitator and an impeller becomes important.
In a machine with an agitator, there is a rod or post in the middle of the tub with protruding fins. This post rotates back and forth during the wash cycle to create the motion needed to remove dirt from laundry. In a machine with an impeller, the motion is created by a spinning cone or disc at the bottom of the tub.
The Advantages and Disadvantages of Agitators
An agitator is a piece of tried and tested technology that washing machine manufacturers have relied on for decades. An agitator’s motion makes the mixture of water and detergent move around the tub, and its fins rub against clothes to loosen dirt and remove stains. Here are some of the reasons why you may want to consider a washing machine with an agitator:
- They are very effective: Agitators have stood the test of time because they work really well.
- They are quick: Because washing machines with agitators are so good at removing dirt, their wash cycles tend to be shorter. This could save a considerable amount of time if you do a lot of laundry.
- They are durable: Agitators are not complicated pieces of technology, which means there is not a lot that can go wrong.
However, this approach has a few disadvantages. Things that may make you think twice about a washing machine with an agitator include:
- They are hard on clothes: Before washing machines were invented, people used to clean clothes by banging them with rocks. Agitators may not be quite that harsh, but they use the same basic principle to remove dirt. Modern washing machines have agitators that are designed to be gentler on clothes, but you may be better off with an impeller if you wash a lot of delicate items.
- They have smaller capacities: An agitator has to be large to do its job, which takes up a lot of valuable real estate in the tub. This is not an issue when washing small loads, but it can become a problem when cleaning large items like comforters.
- They use more energy: Top-loading washing machines with agitators submerge dirty clothes in water completely. This uses far more energy because most of the electricity a washer consumes is used to bring water up to the required temperature.
The Advantages and Disadvantages of Impellers
Impellers are relatively new arrivals on the laundry scene, and they have really shaken things up. Instead of using fins to brush against clothes and remove dirt, impellers spin at high speeds to create a lot of motion in the water. Dirty clothes in a washing machine with an impeller brush against each other instead of a plastic fin, but the speed of the water creates enough friction to get them clean. Some of the reasons washing machines with an impeller have become so popular include:
- They are gentle: Even your most delicate items will emerge from an impeller machine unscathed because they will not have been subjected to the rough treatment agitators can dish out.
- They can handle larger loads: Removing the agitator frees up a lot of space in the wash tub, which makes cleaning bulky items a lot easier.
- They use less electricity: Machines with impellers can generate the friction needed to clean clothes because they use a lot less water, which reduces the amount of power they consume dramatically.
- They shorten drying times: Replacing an agitator with an impeller speeds up spin cycles significantly, which means your clothes will spend less time in the dryer.
These advantages would appear to make high-efficiency appliances with impellers the clear choice, but the washers with agitators versus with impellers debate rages on because they also have some downsides. Things that you may want to think about before you make up your mind include:
- They take longer to clean clothes: An impeller can clean clothes just as well as an agitator, but it will take a little longer. If you have many loads of laundry to get through, this extra time could really add up.
- They usually cost more: Sophisticated technology usually comes with a higher price tag, and high-efficiency washing machines are no exception. However, your energy savings will almost certainly more than make up for the extra initial cost.
- They can be complicated: An impeller is a sign that a washing machine has a lot of advanced technology. This is a good thing because the latest features will clean your clothes better and help them last longer, but learning all the cycles and options will take time.
An Abundance of Choice
Appliance manufacturers give modern consumers a dizzying array of choices, which can make buying a new washing machine a bewildering experience. Knowing the pros and cons and the difference between an agitator and an impeller can clear up the confusion, and understanding the benefits and limitations of new technology could prevent costly mistakes. Washing machines with agitators and impellers can both get laundry clean, so your final decision should be based on your needs and expectations.