When we purchase a new washer and dryer we expect them to last for several years. However, between the marketing jargon and the large number of available choices, decision making is not that easy. We prepared the following guide to help you save time discerning the desired features of a washer and dryer set.

Our goal is to help you find a washing machine within your budget, and to make sure that you do not miss out on modern features. On the other hand, our comprehensive washers and dryers buying guide will cover additional topics and will give you a starting point with our popular washer and dryer picks.

Our exclusive video on tips before purchasing a stackable washer and dryer

Cleaning Performance

The most significant change in the washer and dryer market has been the move away from agitator top load washers and dryers in favor of high efficiency front-load washing machines. There's a practical reason for this trend-- front load machines tend to clean and dry more effectively than their top load counterparts. We summarized the key differences between top load and front load washers under 8 topics and ranked these technologies in our extensive review.

But washer style isn't the only factor that determines cleaning power, or even the most important.

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1) Steam & Sanitize in Washer

A popular feature now found in many mid-range and high-end washers and dryers, steam penetrates fibers better than water to release stains, odors, and ground-in dirt without doing damage to the clothing itself.

Do you have that one shirt, blouse, or pair of pants that you would wear every day if given a chance? When it develops a stubborn stain, you don't want to treat it too harshly as you'll run the risk of damaging the clothing itself. That's where the steam comes in. You can use steam before a wash cycle to loosen the stain gently, without harming your favorite clothes.

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2) Auto-dispense

Some new GE washers, as an example, Ultrafresh GFW850spnrs now feature auto-dispensing detergent, designed to release detergent at the perfect time to maximize cleaning power and minimize waste. Some machines can even save months of detergent inside them at once. This seems like a minor convenience, but the next time you need to throw in a load before running out the door, you'll love being able to simply toss in some clothes, press a button, and be on your way.

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3) Automatic temperature control

We're all familiar with the hot, warm, and cold settings on every washer. But what if you want to expand your temperature options beyond what's coming from your water heater and main water line?

Fortunately, high-quality washers are increasingly coming equipped with something called Automatic Temperature Control (ATC.) As water enters the machine, an internal thermostat adjusts temperature valves accordingly to ensure the exact right temperature for a specific load and cycle type. This wash cycle is particularly effective when the weather outside is cold. It can keep ice-cold water, which can harm the effectiveness of detergent, from entering your washer drum.

4) Rich wash cycles

The average washer boasts a small set of wash cycle options-- Normal, Heavy Duty, Permanent Press, etc. But more and more high-end washing machines are bringing advanced cycle options for specific tasks to the game. These include everything from baby care and towel cycles to active-ware and quick wash options. Each setting automatically adjusts its spin speed, water temperature, and other parameters for the perfect wash.

Below are some of the most common cycles that we believe should be standard in any respectable washer.

  • Quick-Wash

What if your child's school uniform or your favorite dress for date night got overlooked on wash day? You can use the quick-wash cycle to handle an emergency wash faster.

  • Extra Rinse Cycle

Does your house contain a furry little (or big) friend that sheds hair all over your clothes? The extra rinse cycle is for you. Using the extra rinse cycle can also help if your skin is sensitive to the detergent residue, all while washing away pet hair and other stubborn messes.

  • Sanitization or Allergy settings

You will like the features of modern washer and dryer models if your children have allergies. Your washing machine will increase the temperature or use steam to reduce germs, bacteria, and irritants in your clothing and bedding. An allergy setting will be kinder to your clothes than the sanitize feature, which involves heat of 160°F or more, but it's a good idea to test a few garments first to see how they fare.

The sanitize setting kills 99.9% of microorganisms with no significant carryover of bacteria into future loads, while a washer's allergy setting must eliminate at least 95% of dust mite allergens and feline dander.

Whatever your circumstance, make sure that the washer you choose has the correct cycle options to get your tough washing jobs done right the first time. Rich cycles pretty much separate best washer and dryer models from the rest.

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5) Internal water heater

Built-in heating elements enable your wash water to consistently reach higher temperatures than your household water heater can deliver. This feature usually comes into play with sanitizing or allergy cycles, but some models may also put it to use for other settings such as extra-hot or whitest whites (varies by brand).

It's important to note that while higher temperatures can mean cleaner clothes, they can also do damage to more delicate clothing if you're not careful.

6) Built-in sink

Some brands, such as Samsung top load washers, feature a built-in sink with a scrubbing board and integrated water jet so you can easily pre-treat and hand-wash your laundry. The sink drops down from the lid for soaking and scrubbing, tilts back to pour clothes and water directly into the washer's tub, and collapses out of the way with the lid. You can then start the cycle from there or drain the pretreatment water first to start completely fresh.

Many users love this feature for a wide variety of applications. In the past, pre-treating a stain required using the utility sink (if available), which often shared duties as a mud bin or other messy tasks. Having a dedicated sink in the washer itself means you can pre-treat clothes before a load without worrying about them ending up dirtier than they were before.

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Drying Performance

Just like washing performance, drying performance improved dramatically over the last few years. Dryers now boast a wide range of advanced features designed to give clothes the perfect dry cycle without shrinking or damaging them. This drying power also relates to the washer partner, too-- a washer with high spin speeds extracts more moisture, leaving less for the dryer to tackle.

Here are some of the most important factors to consider when selecting a modern dryer.

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7) Steam cycle for dryer

Dryers with built-in steam functions are able to use steam to relax stubborn wrinkles while also reducing the buildup of static. Some dryers even include a special setting designed to refresh clothing that's been sitting for a while, waiting to be dried. Clothes like these can develop a damp odor over time, and a steam refresh keeps them smelling fresh and clean. Some dryers even include a steam-clean option, designed to provide a light clean for items that aren't machine washable-- pillows, certain delicates, and even children's stuffed animals.

Steam dryers access the water by either using a hose connected directly to the water supply, much like your washing machine or by accessing an internal reservoir that you can refill yourself using a sink or hose.

But perhaps the most popular benefit of a steam-function dryer is that it keeps you from needing to iron clothes regularly. Who likes ironing clothes?

8) Moisture sensors

There's nothing worse than pulling out a load only to find that half the clothes are still too damp to fold or wear, except maybe pulling out your brand new shirt to find out it's been shrunk three sizes by an excessive dry cycle. Moisture sensing dryers make both of these scenarios a thing of the past by identifying when clothes are dry.

These automatic sensor-based dry cycles also save energy and shorten drying time, helping you get more bang for your buck.

9) Dryer settings

Remember your old dryer growing up? It might have had a few settings-- three temperature settings, maybe a quick cycle, and that was about it. But modern dryers come standard with a wider range of options, each of which can provide more flexibility than you ever thought possible. This gives you the ability to treat unique clothing types the right way, avoiding shrinkage, damage, or frustrating dampness at the end of a load.

Below are some useful cycles that you should expect in a modern, quality washer.

  • Reverse tumbling

Reverse tumbling might seem like a simple concept, but it's very effective. By periodically alternating the direction of the rotating drum, a dryer can avoid tangled, knotted up clothing or bedding that results in damp sections in the center. This also avoids wrinkles, shortens ironing time, and prevents damage to fabrics that results from being stretched and tangled tightly.

  • Post-dry or Extended Tumbling

Want to avoid clothing developing creased-in wrinkles from sitting in a pile inside the dryer after the completion of a load? That's what Post-Dry or Extended Tumbling options are for. By continuing to keep clothes moving after the drying cycle is complete, tough-to-iron wrinkles are avoided, and clothing fabrics are kept safe.

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