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Top Load Laundry - Agitator vs Impeller

by Howie Lee

Top Load laundry Pair

Agitator or not, how do you decide? 

If you’re thinking about buying a top load washer, chances are you’re also weighing a traditional top load model with an agitator vs a newer agitator-less model. In this blog, we’ll go over plusses and minuses to each type to help you decide. 

When reading, remember that a washing machine must allow soap to penetrate and clean the clothes by opening the fabric and creating friction among fabrics to wash away soils, stains and smells. Each format results in a different means to do so that affects cleanability, efficiency, water usage and more.


Agitator Washers

Agitator Washers

Agitator machines are what most people are used to. The washtub has a column in the center called an agitator. During the wash cycle, the agitator oscillates to create the fabric openings and frictions needed to clean the load. Most agitator designs also include strategically placed fins along the sides to aid in movement.

The agitator design is extremely effective at opening the clothes, creating friction and, as a result, providing a deep clean for a variety of soils. Additionally, most offer deep fill, soak and other options for a more customized and thorough cleaning.

Superior cleaning aside, many customers opt for an agitator top load washer because it’s what they’ve always known and they’re more comfortable with the expectations as a result.

Agitators provide multiple wash motions for a good clean, including:

  • Spraying action - Soaks clothes with water recirculated from the wash/rinse cycle.

  • Wash basket action -Rotates for a hard-hitting clean.

  • Agitator action -Rubs against clothes to help break down stains and loosen soils.


Wash Plate/Impeller

Impeller Washers

Despite superior cleaning capability, the agitator design described above has two downsides. First, it can be rougher on the clothing as items are pulled back and forth by the agitator during the cycle. Second, the ability to swish the clothes back and forth requires higher water levels that cover the clothing entirely. 

As a result, brands started experimenting with agitator-less models -- with little success at first. Early versions simply couldn’t provide the right action to clean without a full soak and often tangled garments during the wash cycle. 

But that’s all changed now. Contemporary models use a flat plate along the bottom of the wash tub with fins and water jets that open the clothes and create friction. You’ll often see this flat plate referred to as a wash plate or impeller.

Wash plate/impeller washing is more gentle than agitator washing because nothing is grabbing or pulling your clothes. It also allows for larger capacities as there is no agitator taking up space and restricting the movement of garments in the wash tub. Lastly, wash plate/impeller units use less water per load.

Impellers provide multiple wash motions, including:

  • Spraying action - Soaks clothes with water recirculated from the wash/rinse cycle.

  • Wash basket action - Rotates for a deep clean.

  • Impeller action - Uses low-profile cones, wheels, fins or discs that spin to gently rub clothes against each other.


Which is Best?

The answer to this question is based on you and your preferences. If you don’t want a hard working machine that is going to give the deepest clean possible without a lot of bells and whistles, an agitator model is likely best for you.

If you want to use less water and wash more delicate items, an agitator-less model is likely best for you.

It’s also important to remember that both types are optimized to clean best when properly loaded. So, whichever option you choose, make sure you evenly place laundry in the basket and do not overload.

Get the best of both worlds

You don’t have to choose between agitator and impeller washer, with the industry-first washer machines the 2 in 1 Removable Agitator by Whirlpool.

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Whirlpool 2-In-1 Top Load Washer with Removable Agitator


How to Shop

GE, LG, Maytag and Whirlpool make both agitator and wash plate/impeller models. Samsung will have an agitator model out soon, but are currently all non-agitator. 

Speed Queen is completely committed to the agitator category. Their 3-model lineup features all agitator top loader machines built with the same commitment to durability and reliability as Speed Queen’s commercial laundry products. 

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If you need further help narrowing down to a model, our experts are here to help via live chat, call, or at the showroom.