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Impeller vs. Agitator Washing Machines: What’s the Difference?

Washing machines are an essential part of our daily routine, even if some people hate doing laundry. When you’re buying a new washer these days, you’re probably flabbergasted by the variety available. Old-school agitator washing machines compete with the relatively new impeller washers for our business. How do you decide? Let’s start by covering exactly what each is as well as their pros and cons below.

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Overview of Impeller Washing Machines:

Impeller Washing Machines
Image By: mariorossi, Pixabay

Impellers are often found in high-quality front-load washing machines like those found in laundromats. These washers are equipped with a disc-like impeller that rubs clothing together in the wash to loosen stains, dirt, and other grime. You can easily spot an impeller washing machine by the complete absence of the central spindle that agitator washers have.

The impeller itself doesn’t have to be a disc. Depending on the washing machine, the impeller can resemble a wheel, cone, or fin. Regardless, the purpose of the impeller is to gently spin and move clothing around. By cleaning this way, impeller washing machines clean more gently than agitators, and with less water. In an age of unprecedented water shortages, this last bit is particularly important.

By providing more room for laundry, impellers rotate to force clothes on the edge of the washer to the middle. Of course, there’s water and detergent in there to help the process along. A lot of people think that the low water levels in impeller washers mean they don’t clean as well as agitators, but it actually has an unexpected benefit. By using less water and a higher spin rate, impellers wick away moisture and slash drying times.

Another important function of the impeller is to give you more space. Instead of fighting with a spindle, it’s easy to load and unload your laundry. Even the bulkiest of items aren’t off-limits, either, like pillows and blankets. Impeller washers are known to take longer to complete a cycle, though, because of the gentle cleaning action.

When to Choose

Impellers help use less water and cut down on drying times, so they’re a great pick when you want to lower your utility bills. They’re also ideal for highly soiled clothes and stains, which get gently washed out without excessive friction that can rip or wear garments.

Impeller Washing Machine
Image By: Brett_Hondow, Pixabay

How Long Do They Last?

Impeller washing machines have a similar lifespan to agitator washing machines, so you don’t have to worry about them wearing out sooner. Most models have an effective lifespan of 10–14 years under ideal conditions, assuming you do about one load of laundry per day.

  • Uses less water
  • Cuts down on drying times
  • More space for laundry
  • Easy to unload
  • Gently cleans stains and highly soiled clothing without wearing
  • Takes longer to complete a cycle than agitator washing machines
  • Doesn’t clean tough fabrics very well
  • May not work as well on ground-in stains

house divider Overview of Agitator Washing Machines:

Agitator Washing Machine
Image By: Paul Velgos, Shutterstock

Most people are familiar with agitator washing machines, which have a central spindle. The spindle rotates during cycles to move the clothing and help break up stains. Many agitators have vanes or fins to enhance the cleaning action. Large plastic threads that wind around the spindle are also common. The basket or drum itself usually rotates during the cycle too, and the machine will reuse water from the wash and rinse cycles to soak clothing.

Agitators aren’t known for being gentle on clothing, which has its pros and cons. It helps to thoroughly clean the most durable fabrics and ground-in stains but can wear clothes over time. You might notice thinner spots on clothes, which is where they’ve rubbed against the agitator over and over. If you have a lot of jeans and not a ton of delicate items, agitator washers are great.

Agitator washing machines use much more water than impeller washing machines. In theory, this allows the machine to remove and wash out more dirt, but it can be tough on your water bill. Another notable con is that because it uses more water, your clothes take longer to dry. They’re great at cleaning, but agitators have gotten a bad rap in recent years because of their relative inefficiency versus impeller.

Lastly, the central spindle can make it hard to load and unload laundry. Anyone with an agitator washer can tell you it’s a real nightmare to deal with blankets and other bulky items, which can get tangled around the spindle or unbalance the drum.

When to Choose

Agitator washing machines are a great choice for anyone who wants their clothes to get thoroughly cleaned. Delicate items may get worn over time, but most clothes don’t see a lot of damage from your average wash cycle. If you just want clean clothes and aren’t very concerned with using more water to achieve that, agitators are a perfect choice.

Agitator Washing Machines
Image Credit: 1125089601, Shutterstock

How Long Do They Last?

You might think that agitators would have a shorter lifespan than impellers because they were around first, but that’s not the case. Modern agitator washing machines have a similar lifespan to impeller machines: 10–14 years. That’s assuming there aren’t any faulty components in the machine that might wear out early, and that you do about one load of laundry per day.

  • Powerful cleaning action
  • Central agitator spindle helps break up tough stains
  • Spindle can have fins, vanes, or threading to enhance cleaning action
  • Shorter wash cycles than impeller washing machines
  • Cleans tougher fabrics more thoroughly
  • Uses more water
  • Clothes take longer to dry
  • Can wear on fabrics over time, especially delicate items

house divider Which One Is Right for You?

When deciding between an impeller and an agitator washing machine, it is up to you to do your research and pick which one fits your needs and wishes. While impeller washing machines use less water, cut down on drying times, and offer more space, agitator machines do a better job of cleaning your clothes, albeit at a cost to your water bill and the lifespan of your belongings. Ask yourself which qualities are more important, and then make your decision based on the overall best option.

Top Load Washing Machine
Image Credit: Opat Suvi, Shutterstock

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Both agitator and impeller washing machines deliver a thorough clean, but the latter uses much less water and helps cut drying times. By contrast, they might not clean as well if your clothes have stubborn stains or are made of tough fabrics. Again, this is your choice, so compare a few models and ensure you’re making the right choice for your needs.


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