Agitator vs. Impeller: Which Washing Machine Is Best for You?

published May 16, 2024
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When it comes time to buy a washing machine, you’ll have to make some big laundry decisions like what features and type of washer you want — including whether you want one with an agitator or impeller. Both clean your clothes, but just in different ways. 

Here’s what you need to know.

Quick Overview

What’s the difference between agitators and impellers?

Agitator washing machines have a post with fins in the center of the drum that rotates back and forth during the cycle while impeller washing machines use a low-profile disc or cone in the drum that spins.

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Agitator in top-load washing machine

How do agitators vs. impellers work?

Agitator machines have been the laundry industry standard for quite some time, but impellers are gaining popularity. Both agitator and impeller washing machines will get your clothes clean — it’s just how they do it that’s different. Haven Polich, product manager at appliance company ASKO, says the interiors of the machines are what changes how they work.

“Agitator washing machines have a post with fins in the center of the drum that rotates back and forth during the cycle, rubbing against the clothing and moving it around to dislodge dirt and stains,” she says. “Impeller washing machines instead use a low-profile disc or cone in the drum that spins to generate a gentle turbulence, rubbing clothing against itself to dislodge dirt and stains.”

Which one is better?

The right machine for you depends on how dirty your clothes get. If you’re big into sports and get grass stains on your clothing, impellers might not be the best choice.

“Agitator machines are typically more effective at removing tough stains and thoroughly cleaning heavily soiled items because of their more aggressive washing action,” Polich says. She does note that agitators can be a little harsh on your laundry (particularly any delicates).

Impeller machines are easier on your clothes and can accommodate larger loads because there’s no central post — but they’re not quite as good at cleaning stains and tricky dirt spots. From an efficiency standpoint, impeller machines win out, Polich says, noting that they use less water and energy.

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Impeller inside top-load washing machine

How much does an agitator vs. impeller cost?

Typically, you can find an agitator washing machine for a lower price than an impeller machine. Prices for an agitator start at about $400, and impellers start closer to $600.

How do you clean an agitator vs. an impeller machine?

According to Polich, cleaning your washing machine is the same process. Once a month, or every few months, put a cup of white vinegar wherever you put your detergent, and run a cycle on the hottest water. You may want to do an extra rinse just in case. That’s it!

For an agitator machine, take an extra minute to remove any loose threads or debris that may be stuck on the fins. Polich also suggests maintaining the life of your washing machine by not overloading the machine and using the right amount of detergent. Too much can cause buildup that may damage your washing machine.