Impeller vs. agitator washer — which one is better?


By Kristy Snyder

Did your washer break down, and now it's time to buy a new one? Deciding on what type of washing machine to buy can be tricky. You may be comparing different models and brands. If you’ve narrowed it down to a top-loading washing machine (instead of a front-loader), one question you might have is, "Should I buy a top-loader with an agitator or an impeller?"

It can be a tough decision. Both options help move your laundry around during a wash cycle to get them clean — but is one better than the other?

In this guide, we explain the key differences between agitator and impeller washers so you can decide which one is right for you.

Agitator vs. impeller washer comparison chart.


Agitator washer

Impeller washer


Tall spindle

Low-profile cone or disc


Usually less expensive

Usually more expensive


Shorter wash times, deep stain cleaning

Better for bulky items, uses less water, shorter dry times


Uses more water, can be loud, can't always fit bulky items

Too gentle for tough stains, longer wash time

Main difference between an agitator and an impeller washer.

Both agitator and impeller washers are great choices and can get your clothes clean. The main difference between the two options is how they work.

How an impeller washer works.

impeller washing machine top loadAn impeller washing machine has a low-profile disc or cone (the impeller) that spins in the center of the wash basket, causing clothes to rotate and rub against each other. Because they have high spin speeds, they use less water and rely more on the clothes rubbing against each other for cleaning. 

Impeller washes typically have a three-step cleaning process. Clothes are simultaneously sprayed with water, rotated in the wash basket, and rubbed against the impeller for a gentle yet efficient wash.

How an agitator washer works.

agitator washing machine top loadAgitator washers include a tall spindle in the middle of the wash basket. Usually, the agitator has fins or vanes that twist back and forth during a cycle. These fins rub directly against clothes, helping to scrub the fabric clean of impurities.

Like impeller washers, washers featuring an agitator have three main cleaning actions. A washing machine with an agitator sprays clothes with water, rotates the wash basket, and rubs the load against the agitator to break down stains and loosen any debris. It offers a more gentle clean than an impeller.

Get a free estimate from a great appliance installation specialist near you.

Pros and cons of impeller and agitator washers.

When comparing agitator washers against impellers, it's important to understand their pros and cons. For example, a washing machine with an agitator...

  • Has shorter wash times — on average, between 35 and 70 minutes. On the other hand, high-efficiency impeller washers can take between 60 and 80 minutes.
  • Is better for deep stain cleaning. The abrasive nature of the agitator can get out tough stains that are deep in the fabric. Because impeller machines use clothes-on-clothes action to remove stains, they sometimes aren't strong enough for tough stains.
  • Can also be cheaper, with many costing $700 or less. Consumer Reports states agitator top-loaders are typically the least expensive type of washer. They're also more popular than front-load and HE top-load washers.

Meanwhile, a washing machine with an impeller…

  • Excels in energy efficiency. They use less water overall, meaning your water bills probably won't be as high as someone with an agitator washer.
  • Is ideal if you want to wash bulky items. They have more space without an agitator taking up the middle of the basket, so you can fit blankets and sheets without a problem.
  • Has shorter drying times. Because of all that extra space, impeller machines can also wring out more water from clothes. They spin faster, letting clothes drain off as much as possible. This should shorten the time required in the dryer.

Tips for choosing the best washer for your home.

In the washer impeller vs. agitator battle, both are winning choices. Which washer you decide on basically comes down to personal preference. Ask yourself the following questions to help narrow down your selection:

  • Do you have kids or pets? Kids and pets are notorious for getting dirty and getting stains on clothing, linen, and rugs. If you frequently wash items with mud, food, and potty stains, you might appreciate the deep-cleaning power of an agitator machine.
  • Do you value being eco-friendly? If so, an impeller washer is the clear choice. It saves water and will generally result in lower utility bills.
  • Do you wash a lot of bulky items? We're not just talking sheets. For example, maybe you work a job that requires you to wear a heavy-duty uniform. Or maybe you're an avid skier with puffy and oversized outdoor gear. An impeller washer is better for these instances.
  • Are you on a tight budget? Agitator washers are usually the cheapest, but you may be able to find other machines on sale.
  • What kind of washer do you currently have? Maybe you're happy with your current washer and want a similar replacement. To tell which kind you have, look in the wash basket. Is there an appendage in the middle of it? If so, you have an agitator. Do you only see a small knob at the bottom? If so, you have an impeller.

Find a pro to help you install your new washer.

Whatever type of top-loading washing machine you're after, you'll likely need someone to help you install it. That's where we come in.

Download the Thumbtack app to start contacting local appliance installation pros and get free estimates. If you're still stuck on what to buy, a pro can also help you decide between impeller and agitator washers.


Which lasts longer: agitator or impeller washers?

How long your agitator or impeller washer will last will depend on its make, model and how well you take care of your appliance. In general, washing machines can last for about 5-15 years.

That's a big range. To keep your washing machine at the top part of the range, have it serviced regularly. Routinely having a washing machine pro check out and maintain your washer can keep it running smoother for longer.

Do impeller washers take longer to complete a wash cycle?

Yes, impeller washers usually take longer to complete a washer cycle. That's because they have a high-speed spin cycle toward the end of the wash. This gets your clothes tumbling extra fast to wring out extra water and give them a final clean.

Do impeller washers tangle clothes?

Because of the high-speed spin cycle in an impeller washer, some clothes might get wrapped up around each other. For example, you might find the leg of your jeans twirled around a pair of underwear.

To avoid this, sort your loads before washing to separate heavier items from lighter items. And don't overload the washer.

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