The touch screen on the Samsung WF457 Washer makes selecting your wash preferences a breeze. Colin West McDonald/CNET

Rules for buying a washer

Know your needs
Ask yourself the important questions about your usage. All washers will clean your clothes, but it's the additional options that can make a huge difference. Do you wash a lot of heavily soiled laundry? (i.e. do you have an athlete at home?) Do you wash large quantities and therefore need a large wash capacity? Will you be needing a gas dryer or an electric one? Knowing your particular needs will help you to narrow down the selection significantly, making your ultimate decision less stressful.

Look at new technology
From steam to advanced sensors to touch screens, most likely a lot has changed in the washing machine world since the last time you bought one. Do some homework and learn about new washer technology and how you might use it to get the most out of your machine and your time.

Know your budget
We can't say this enough: know how much you are willing/able to spend before you ever set foot in a store. If you've only budgeted enough money for a basic top-loading washer, don't look at the turbo-washing front-loader that is double what you are able to spend. That said, keep in mind that many retailers have sales, particularly around holiday weekends. We recommend subscribing to e-mails from Lowes, Home Depot, Sears, and Best Buy. Doing so gives you access to e-mailed coupons, as well as the dates of sales and pre-sales, both in-store and online.

What types of washers are available?

Top-loading washer
The top-loading washing machine operates, as its name would suggest, via the top. When you pull up on the lid, you expose the washer drum. They come in traditional or high-efficiency models and many have EnergyStar ratings. You may not expect to find a lot of uber-fancy features on these, but top-loading washers have recently experienced an overhaul of sorts and many manufacturers are enhancing them with the same features as the newer front-load washers. In short, you can find anything from basic dials and two wash cycles to touch screens and 11 or more wash cycles.

Price: $399 to $1699

Average dimensions: Width: 27 inches; depth: 27 inches; height: 43 inches

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The Maytag Bravos top-loading washer. Maytag

Front-loading washer
Front-loading washers became popular a few years ago, in part, because of their larger wash capacity. Washers moved from having an average of 3.6 cubic feet of space to anywhere between 3.9 to 5.1 cubic feet. In some cases, that was a minor improvement. But in others, it meant that you no longer had to go to a Laundromat to wash your comforters and large blankets. You could use the large-capacity washer in the comfort of your own home. No back-to-back episodes of "Judge Judy" required. Many top-loading washers have expanded capacity now, but most still do not have the amount of space as front-loading machines. Front-loading washers are sleek and boast much of the newest washing technology like steam and advanced settings. Some front-load washers are stackable, giving you all of the space benefits of having a laundry center without having to sacrifice wash capacity.

Price: $649 to $1,499

Average dimensions: Width: 27 inches; depth: up to 34 inches; height: up to 42 inches (without pedestal)

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Laundry center
Laundry centers are most commonly found in apartments and condos where space is at a premium. They have a smaller wash capacity, averaging at 1.5 cubic feet, and are an excellent option for people who want to be able to clean their clothes in their homes but do not have the space for a designated laundry room. Standard hookups are needed, however, so if your home is not outfitted with them, they will need to be installed.

Price: $1,299 to $1,599

Average dimensions: Width: 27 inches; height: 75 inches; depth: 31 inches

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The GE Unitized Spacemaker Washer and Electric Dryer. GE

Compact washer
Compact washers have small capacities and are designed for those who have extreme space limitations. They don't have the wide range of washing options that standard top-load washers do, but compact washers are utilitarian in that they will clean your clothes without taking up much space in your home. They can be stacked with some front-load compact dryers.

Price: $850 to $999

Average dimensions: Width: 24 inches or less; depth: 22 inches; height: 33 inches

The Kenmore Compact Portable Washer. Kenmore

Wash-dryer combination
Washer-dryer combinations are far more popular in Europe than they are in the United States, so you may not have encountered them. As its name would suggest, the washer-dryer combination is an all-in-one machine that washes your clothes and then dries them as well. It's convenient and takes up half of the space of a set of separate washer and dryer. A possible downside is that some consumers complain that clothes feel damp, even after being dried.

Price: $699 to $1,000

Average dimensions: Width: 23 inches; depth: 22 inches; height: 33 inches

The Haier Electric Laundry Center. Haier

What washing machine capacity do I need?

This is an excellent question to ask yourself before you start to shop for a washer, as not all washer drums are created equal. In theory, a washing machine should last you between eight and 12 years. But if you constantly overstuff the drum, you create wear and tear on the motor and shorten the life of your machine. It is also worth noting that the more laundry you can safely fit into the washer, the less frequently you have to wash, which saves energy and time. Here is a chart to help you with this decision (from a previous buyer's guide):

Front-loading washers

Width: 27 inches or more

Capacity: 12 pounds to 20 pounds/3 cubic feet to 5.1 cubic feet

Full-size top-loading washers

Width: 27 inches or more

Capacity: 12 pounds to 16 pounds/3 cubic feet to 5.0 cubic feet

Compact washers

Width: 24 inches or less

Capacity: 8 pounds to 12 pounds load/2.5 cubic feet to 3 cubic feet

Washer-dryer combination

Width: 23 inches

Capacity: 8 pounds/2.11 cubic feet to 2.44 cubic feet

Features and controls

Gone are the days when options for washing laundry were limited to Large/Small or Hot/Cold, referring to the size of the load of laundry and the temperature under which it would be washed. Those features have been broken down into much more specific elements. This is great news for the lifespan of your clothes, as many washers have a special setting for almost any type of clothing you have.

Different cycles and temperature settings
Basic washer settings are heavy duty, normal, delicate, and permanent press. But newer washers have divided these options and made them far more specific. For example, you now can choose from options like prewash, second rinse, bulky/bedding, cotton, handwash/wool, and steam, to name a few. This may be important to you and it may not. If your wardrobe consists entirely of heavy-duty cotton fabrics, you will probably be perfectly fine with a standard, no-frills washer. But if, on the other hand, your wardrobe includes a lot of varieties and delicates, you may want to consider a washer that has settings to meet your individual clothing needs.

Washers used to have two temperature settings: hot and cold. Now you get a much broader selection. With many machines, you can wash and rinse your clothes at different temperatures: hot for washing and stain removal, but perhaps cold for the rinse cycle to prevent the garments from shrinking.

The Electrolux Washer with IQ-Touch is loaded with multiple cycles and wash settings. Electrolux

Water level
Most washers have settings that will allow you to set the size of your load of laundry, which will determine the amount of water the machine uses. Some newer washers have sensors that automatically determine the size of your load of laundry and adjust their water output and usage accordingly.

Finishes
Many manufacturers offer a variety of colors and finishes.

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This LG Extra Large Capacity Washer comes in a cherry red finish. LG

Pedestal and/or bottom drawers
Many front-load washers are equipped to sit on top of pedestals to make them taller and easier to access. Others come with, or can be set on top of, drawers, which function in the same way as a pedestal while offering extra hidden storage.

Next-gen/smart features

Steam
Many washers now come standard with steam-cleaning technology. The steam gently penetrates fabrics to remove, dirt, oil, odors, and wrinkles without damaging the clothing.

The Samsung Steam and PowerFoam Washer Samsung

Touch screens
Instead of the traditional dials or buttons, some newer washers come with touch screens. While this is far from standard, it is an exciting new option that we hope to see more of. If you want to fill your home with smart appliances, these washers fit the bill.

Colin West McDonald/CNET

Advanced timers
Many washers now feature both speed-wash settings as well as delayed start settings. Most speed settings will wash clothes in less than 20 minutes. The delayed start is neat option that allows you to preprogram what time your washer will start to cycle. For example, you could set the timer so that you wash would start later in the day and be done at the time you arrive home from work, preventing your clothes from sitting wet in the washer all day.

Antibacterial wash cycle
Antibacterial wash cycles use more advanced internal heating mechanisms to heat water to the proper temperature to kill bacteria and then maintain that temperature throughout the wash cycle. They kill 99.9 percent of bacteria and are definitely something to consider if your kids always seem to be bringing a cold home from school.

Quiet settings
Many washers now include special sensors that will keep the wash load balanced even as the drum spins at high speeds, making the washer operate quietly. Some manufacturers even claim their washers are silent. This is an excellent feature if your laundry room is located on the second floor or near a bedroom.

Samsung's load-balancing WA50F9A6DSW/A2 washer
Samsung's load-balancing WA50F9A6DSW/A2 washer Samsung

How can I find a washer that is energy efficient or 'green'?

Look for the EnergyStar rating
The Environmental Protection Agency uses its EnergyStar rating system to recommend products that save energy without sacrificing features of functionality. It is not only the higher-tech washers that meet this standard of efficiency. Many of the most basic washers come with the EnergyStar seal of approval for their excellent water economy.

EnergyStar

Look for the CEE rating
The Consortium for Energy Efficiency (CEE) is a nonprofit public benefits organization that works to encourage influencing markets and businesses to accelerate the development and uptake of efficient products. They have a rating system for residential appliances, including washers. Products with in the CEE Tier One are highly efficient, but products in the CEE Tier Three are the most efficient available. Many manufacturers have CEE Tier Three rated, high-efficiency washers.

Read the EnergyGuide label
The EnergyGuide label is a yellow label that tells you how much energy your appliance uses. One of the best features about this label is the fact that it tells you how your appliance stacks up to similar competition in terms of efficiency.