Are washing machines with agitators good or bad?

Many brands continue to bring in the traditional agitator to their new top loaders to ensure an effective clean, despite the device being known for having a rough handle on garments. Fortunately, these days you’ll be more likely to find the much kinder, less intense low-profile agitator rather than the regular alternative.

In this guide, we take a look at whether it’s better to buy a washing machine with an agitator and where you can find them.

What is a washing machine agitator?

Generally speaking, an agitator is designed to minimise tangling and help distribute garments evenly throughout the washer. Agitators can be found in some top loader washing machines, as either a regular agitator or low-profile agitator. They’re typically built into the washer as a central post in the drum that twists back and forth, rubbing against clothes to help remove stains. They usually have fins attached. Front loaders don’t have agitators.

Low profile agitator

Low-profile agitators (or low-profile pulsators) work the same way, but are designed to place less friction on your clothes than with full-size agitators. The main difference is that these are shorter and resemble more of a wide bump at the bottom of the appliance.

What’s the difference between an agitator and an impeller?

Top loaders can alternatively come with an impeller. Impellers are similar to low-profile agitators because they still use vanes that rotate to create a strong ‘current’ in the washer to achieve a more even and effective clean. Unlike agitators, impellers aim to prevent items from getting caught up in the spinning fins or vanes, therefore minimising the contact between the agitator and the load. However, there is still a chance the items can become entangled with each other and still create enough friction to damage clothes that way.

Impellers are made to produce less friction and work at a reduced intensity compared with full-size agitators. Impellers also have a similar appearance to low-profile agitators but are smaller, allowing you to maximise on space in the washer.

Washing machines with an agitator vs without agitator

Is there actually a difference between top loaders with and without an agitator? The short answer is − not anymore. Despite copping criticism for its rough treatment of clothes, the agitator has traditionally been a popular feature in washing machines, rubbing against clothes to help break apart stains. However, many new top loaders now come with ‘smart’ features designed to offer better cleaning results and protect your clothes from damage, removing the need for an agitator.

It’s also worth noting that not all agitators are created equal ─ well, at least according to who you ask. Speed Queen claims its agitators are less likely to wear out fabrics because the wash tub that your clothes come into contact with is made from stainless-steel, a material that’s supposedly gentle on linen. Other major appliance brand Simpson similarly states it’s actually the holes, rather than the vanes on the agitator that help water better flow through garments and the drum.

Here are a few benefits and disadvantages to washers with agitators:

Pros Cons
Cheaper than top loaders without agitators Limited space available in the drum
Claimed to thoroughly clean dirt and stains Garments can get caught on agitator or get damaged from the friction created
Top loaders with an agitator usually have higher water-efficiency ratings than units without an agitator Can be more expensive to run due to poor energy efficiency

Here are a few advantages and disadvantages to washing machines without an agitator:

Pros Cons
Said to be gentler on clothing and garments Type of fabric or wash mode used can potentially cause as much damage
Have more capacity inside the drum than washing machines with agitators Might not clean as effectively or evenly as washing machines with agitators
Larger variety of models available Impeller can cause knots in clothing

Washing machines with agitators

Set on buying a washing machine with an agitator? Here are some models worth checking out:

Fisher & Paykel 7kg WashSmart Top Load Washing Machine

Fisher & Paykel 7kg WashSmart Top Load Washing Machine

This 7kg top loader from Fisher & Paykel (WA7060G2) boasts a full-size agitator and six wash programs such as Heavy Duty and Hygiene Wash. It has a 1,000 RPM spin speed and has a few smart functions. These include the soft-close lid, touch controls and a keylock option to lock the buttons on the control panel.

Other key specs include:

  • Water efficiency rating (WELS): 3.5 stars (consumes 86L per wash)
  • Energy efficiency rating: 3.5 stars
  • SmartDrive technology
  • Automatic lint filter: automatically cleans the lint system
  • Auto load sensor
  • Two-year manufacturer’s warranty.

This Fisher & Paykel washing machine with an agitator is alternatively available in an 8.5kg capacity (WA8560G1) for $1,069.

Price: $979 RRP*

Fisher & Paykel 7.5kg WashSmart Eco Top Load Washing Machine

Fisher & Paykel 7.5kg WashSmart Eco Top Load Washing Machine

Fisher & Paykel’s WashSmart Eco top loader series offers a full-size agitator and many of the smart features you would expect from many new models, such as an auto load sensor, an allergy-friendly wash mode and soft-close lid. Many smart washing machines also boast features that are claimed to ensure gentle treatment of garments. In Fisher & Paykel’s case, some washers use the brand’s SmartDrive technology to protect clothes from rough movements. It’s also said to help the appliance work efficiently and produce less noise while operating.

Aside from the six wash programs, such as Regular and Quick Wash, features to expect include:

  • Water efficiency rating (WELS): 3.5 stars (consumes 92L per cycle)
  • Energy efficiency rating: 4 stars
  • Hot & cold water connections
  • Three spin speeds (1,100 RPM maximum)
  • Eco-active wash
  • Two-year manufacturer’s warranty.

Price: $1,049 RRP*

Simpson 12kg Top Load Washing Machine

Simpson 12kg Top Load Washing Machine

Simpson offers this 12kg top loader (SWT1254LCWA) with a Gentle Wash agitator. Aiming to protect your clothes from damage caused by friction and tangling, this agitator contains a number of holes that supposedly improve water flow in the drum. This model also provides the Ultra Wash System, which rotates the items in multiple directions for a more effective clean.

Other features include:

  • Water efficiency rating (WELS): 3.5 stars (consumes 138L per cycle)
  • Energy efficiency rating: 4 stars
  • 11 wash programs
  • 850 RPM spin speed
  • Two-year manufacturer’s warranty.

Price: $1,196 RRP*

Speed Queen 8.5kg Top Load Washing Machine

Speed Queen 8.5kg Top Load Washing Machine

While low-profile agitators are made to be gentler, you can still get top loaders with full-length flex vane agitators that come with features that improve the level of garment care as well as quality of performance. Speed Queen is one of the main brands which continue to produce washers with full-size agitators, although they are more expensive to buy.

This 8.5kg Speed Queen top loader (AWNA62BLACK) comes with a Perfect Wash system, claimed to move the tub and agitator ‘in sync’ to ensure as much water flows through the materials and fabrics as possible.

Other specs include:

  • Water efficiency rating (WELS): 3 stars (uses 117L per wash)
  • 710 RPM spin speed
  • Flex vane agitator
  • Eight wash programs
  • Three water temperature options
  • Hot & cold water connections
  • Bleach & fabric softener dispenser
  • Control knobs

Price: $2,695 RRP*

Is it better to buy a washing machine with an agitator?

Washing machines with agitators are still considered to be more effective at removing dirt and stains from clothes, by popular choice at least. Previously, the main downside to agitators is how rough they can be on clothes. But, many smart washing machines now contain technologies designed to improve garment care and prevent items from being damaged during the wash, potentially adding an extra level of protection to washers with agitators.

Prices for washing machines with agitators typically start around $500 and reach up to the $2,000 mark for the new, higher-end models from brands like Fisher & Paykel and Simpson. Comparatively, washers without agitators are a bit cheaper. When it comes to long-term running costs however, most cheap washing machines are energy guzzlers ─ regardless of whether they use an agitator or impeller.

Compare Top Load Washing Machines

*Prices taken from respective retailers and Appliances Online, correct as of February 2021.

Picture credits: Paul Velgos/Shutterstock.com.

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