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Laundry Capacity Overview

by Howie Lee

Grand Appliance Laundry Capacity Guide

Choosing the right laundry for your home is an important decision to make, saving you time and money in the long run. When choosing laundry, its best to plan ahead and consider your family's needs, and laundry capacity to accommodate. 

How many members at home? Who will be using the washer most? Looking for specific features? Involved in sports or stain-heavy lifestyle? Pets? How much floor space do you have? You’ll want to choose a washer and dryer that suits both family usage, and the space available in the laundry room.

Capacity 101

Capacity is reflected in cubic feet. 

Washer capacities can range from 2.0 cubic feet in the smallest compact units to more than 5.0 cubic feet in the largest mega capacity washers. Dryers range from 3.5 to more than 9.0 cubic feet in the largest dryers.

That seems like a big range, but what does a cubic foot actually mean in real clothing? 

Well, it depends.

Start with the washer because the more you can wash, the more you’ll eventually need capacity to dry. In other words, the washer choice will end up dictating your dryer choice.

Washer manufacturers build the machines to handle X number of pounds of laundry to be washed. For reference on this concept, a large bath towel is around one and a half pounds. A pair of jeans or baggy sweatshirt would be closer to a pound. A t-shirt would be less than half a pound. 

Again, size matters. If you wear larger sizes, they may weigh a bit more than the estimates above.

Size also matters when it comes to washing irregular items like bedding. Bulky comforters and blankets are heavy, but their sheer size limits usable capacity. These items also increase the potential for unbalanced wash loads and restrict air flow in the dryer. So do large bath towels and king or queen size bed sheet sets.

The type of washer also matters. 

Front load washers can fit more items than top load alternatives with similar capacity because the front load wash action requires less space between items to get a thorough clean and the outward facing wash tub position is less likely to go out of balance with large or irregular loads. 

The difference in usable capacity is even greater if the top load washer has an agitator because the clothes need extra space to work around the agitator.

For example, according to the user manuals, a 24-inch Miele or Bosch front load washing machine with 2.2 cubic foot capacity can wash more in a single load than a 3.2 cubic foot Speed Queen top load washer with center agitator. The former two are rated for 17lb+ loads while the latter is rated for 16lbs.

The size of the washer also matters.

A small front load washer can be comfortably full without risking cleaning performance, out of balance instances or dryer air flow issues. The 5.8 cubic foot mega capacity option cannot. The same is true of top load.

Max Load Capacity by Type

Generally speaking, compact washers have a 2.0 to 2.5 cubic foot capacity and can handle 15 to 20lbs of laundry per load. 

Unfortunately, most full size and mega capacity manufacturers do not publish the load weight capacity in their user manual so we often have to guesstimate the actual clothing capacity of items. 

As a rule of thumb, it’s safe to assume that a 3.2 to 3.5 top load washer with an agitator will be able to handle around 15lbs per load. 

The agitator vs. non-agitator decision starts as you get to capacities above 4.0 cu.ft. These top loaders can handle upwards of 20lbs per load - some more - and the agitator is worth a pound or two in usable capacity.

In full size and mega capacity front load, cubic foot capacities start at 4.3 with max load capacities starting at about 20lbs. Obviously both go up from there as you start to get into 5.0 and larger capacities.

Is it worth upgrading to a bigger capacity?

Generally, we recommend getting the biggest washer you can afford and fit. Bigger capacity means fewer loads and savings in energy, water and time.

Once you set your budget, measure your space and focus in on the models that will give you the biggest capacity in that price and size range. And don’t worry about getting something too big, most models have the ability to sense the load size and add appropriate amounts of water for the size of the load to optimize usage.

For tips on measuring to see what you can fit, we recommend checking out our laundry sizing guide.

For the purposes of this post, we talked mainly about the following size classes:

  • Compact: Stackable front load units designed to fit in 24-inch wide spaces. 

  • Standard Full Size: Front and top load options 27 to 28-inches wide

  • Mega Capacity:  Front and top load options larger than 28-inches wide

What about the dryers?

We’ve spent all this time talking about washers and virtually none about dryers. As stated above, the washer really dictates the dryer choice when you’re buying a new laundry pair. That’s why the manufacturers create matching pairs -- so that the two pieces are optimized for each other. 

If you’re replacing just your dryer, it’s worth considering the capacity of the still functioning washer to ensure you don’t get too small a dryer, but within reason, you really can’t get a dryer that’s too big for the washer. 

Remember, air flow is key. So if you can fit and afford a bigger capacity dryer, we recommend getting it because your loads will dry more consistently come out dry after one load.

Want to Learn More?

We’re here to help. If you need further help narrowing down to a model, our experts are here to help via live chat, phone or in person at one of our showrooms. Find a store near you.