How to buy a washing machine: everything you need to know about the laundry leaders in one succinct summary

Drum size, spin speed, freestanding or integrated – which type of washing machine is best for you?

How to buy a washing machine
(Image credit: AEG)

Choosing the correct washing for your needs isn’t just a case of ‘gee, that looks nice, check out all those lovely buttons and nice Audi-like dashboard – let’s buy that one’. No, it’s a bit more complicated than that, which is why we’ve called in our resident laundry meister, Derek Adams, a man who has learned the art of washing clothes the hard way after several close-calls with the spouse and at least one near-divorce calamity involving an expensive cashmere scarf.

There are quite a few particulars to consider when buying a washing machine but his first piece of advice would be this: carefully weigh up your budget and needs, and then decide what sized drum you require and whether it should be a freestanding or an integrated (built in) model.

Now let's find out more about how to buy THE best washing machine, without necessarily cleaning out your bank account. 

Drum size & spin speed

Washing machine drum sizes start at 7kg and go all the way up to a whopping 12kg. Most families will likely need a large capacity drum of around nine or 10 kilograms while couples and soloists could easily make do with a seven or eight kilogram model.

Spin speed is another worthy consideration. In a nutshell, the faster the machine’s spin speed, the dryer the laundry – which in turn saves energy when tumble drying. A spin speed of 1,400rpm is the norm for a mid-priced machine but, if you can afford it, we would always advise going for a machine capable of speeds up to 1,600rpm. You don’t have to use that speed, of course, but it’s nice to know it’s available, like the next time you wash the duvet or a Welsh blanket.

Wash programmes

How to buy a washing machine - Miele

(Image credit: Miele)

Some higher-end models have a few extra wash programmes on board but, in the main, most mid-priced to high-end washing machines – and even some budget models – will handle the majority of fabrics, whether it’s heavy denim, light silk, synthetics or even shrinkable materials like cashmere and wool. If you tend to wash a lot of woolens or cashmere, then look for a machine that comes with a certified Woolmark Blue or general Woolmark cycle and, for heaven’s sake, always carefully take note of the respective clothing item’s washing instruction label, and stick to what it says. If a cashmere scarf sneaks its way into a pile of coloured cottons due for a 40˚C wash, you can bet it will come out a quarter of the size and resemble a shrunken, corrugated swathe of felt.

Along with the usual gamut of washing programmes on offer, most machines (even the cheapest ones) will also perform quick washes for those times when you’re in a hurry or only have a few items that need quickly cleaning. The norm for the shortest cycle is about 30 minutes but we’ve seen some machines that complete a small-load wash in about 10 minutes.

Energy efficiency ratings

How to buy a washing machine: EU energy certificate

(Image credit: European Union)

All modern washing machines are required to have an EU energy efficiency certificate so buyers can be made aware of the basic annual costs of running the machine. In short anything with an A+++ rating is the most energy efficient (indeed the majority of mid-priced modern washing machines) and therefore the cheapest to run in the long term. Conversely, a machine with a single A rating is less energy efficient and likely to use more water and electricity. Why the EU didn’t just go for a simple A-B-C-D-E approach instead of the letter A and a series of plusses is open to debate but, hey, we don’t make the rules.

Freestanding washing machines - what's the deal?

How to buy a washing machine: Freestanding - Miele

High-end Miele freestanding washing machine

(Image credit: Miele)

Freestanding (or standalone) is the most common style of laundry appliance. Freestanding machines generally have standard dimensions of around 60cm in width, 85cm in height (to fit under a standard-height kitchen worktop) and 58cm in depth. When it comes to depth, it’s worth first measuring the distance from any protruding plumbing fittings like pipes and stop cocks to the front edge of the work top to ensure the machine you’re after will fit comfortably without sticking out. We’ve seen some machines with depth dimensions that slightly exceed the norm, so bear that in mind.

There aren’t many cons to buying a freestanding washing machine. Despite being almost universally bedecked in white, most models have attractive fascias that don’t necessarily lower the tone of a kitchen, though in most instances they do tend to be tucked away in a utility room. The other good thing about freestanding washing machines (indeed any freestanding appliance) is that you can pretty much install it yourself and take it away with you when moving home – most home buyers don’t expect the vendor to leave behind anything free standing, unless listed in the seller’s inventory.

Integrated washing machines - what's the deal?

How to buy a washing machine: Integrated - Beko A WTIK84111F

Beko's A WTIK84111F integrated washing machine

(Image credit: Beko)

Unlike freestanding models that have a visible front fascia, integrated washing machines are designed to be hidden from view behind a door that matches the colour scheme of the kitchen cabinets. Integrated washing machines are ideal for anyone with a swish fitted kitchen or those without a separate utility room but who desire a nice flush kitchen finish.

The machines themselves usually have slightly smaller exterior dimensions than freestanding models in order to ensure they fit easily between the kitchen cabinets while leaving room for the access door and its hinges. These types of machine are best fitted by a professional, just in case any carpentry tweaks are required.

The only issues with integrated appliances of all varieties is that there aren’t as many models to choose from and you can’t really take them with you when you move. Unless you want to peeve off the new owner.

Installation - keep it level

It’s really important that your washing machine is installed on a rigid, level floor and its two front feet adjusted for height so the machine itself is as perfectly level as possible (all washing machines come with a small flat spanner for this purpose). If the machine isn’t level or the flooring is a bit bouncy (usually in the case of older properties), the heavy weight of wet laundry during the spin cycle will cause the whole machine to vibrate, sometimes quite violently. This is not only bad for the machine in the long term but it makes a racket that can also be heard by any immediate neighbours. In extreme cases it may even damage parts of the home.

Final say

In this writer's experience, washing machines are one of those purchases where paying more really is worth it. Not only will the machine itself last longer and be cheaper to run, but because pricier models tend to wash clothes both better and more gently, your garms should also look their best for longer. What’s not to like?

Now you know the basic ins and outs of laundry contraptions, mosey on over to T3's finely crafted guide to the Best Washing Machines you can buy.

Derek Adams

Derek (aka Delbert, Delvis, Delphinium, Delboy etc) specialises in home and outdoor wares, from coffee machines, white appliances and vacs to drones, garden gear and BBQs. He has been writing for more years than anyone can remember, starting at the legendary Time Out magazine – the original, London version – on a typewriter! He now writes for T3 between playing drums with his bandmates in Red Box (redboxmusic).