You’re Probably Loading Your Top-Loading Washing Machine Wrong

updated May 24, 2023
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cross section illustration of two types of top loading washing machines
Credit: Ana Hard

How “clean” your laundry is after a load isn’t just about water temperature and detergent. Like a dishwasher, loading the appliance incorrectly can majorly interfere with how well it functions — and that’s especially true if you have a modern top-loading washer that doesn’t have a vertical agitator. If you have this type of washing machine, always load the clothes as if there’s an invisible column in the center.

Here’s why: Washers with a column in the middle wash your clothes from left to right. That’s an efficient way to get your clothes clean — unless you’re washing clothes with strings or straps, which can easily and ever-so-annoyingly get wrapped around the spindle. (That’s nothing a mesh laundry bag can’t fix!)

Credit: Ana Hard

To resolve that problem, modern top-loaders aren’t manufactured with a vertical agitator — that’s fancy lingo for the spindle in the middle. Instead, these machines are designed with an agitator plate that’s flat at the bottom of the machine’s drum. 

Rather than spinning around from left to right, the plate agitates your clothes by spinning them through each other around the edges of a drum in the circle. That’s important information for you for a few reasons. For one thing, you’ll probably be better able to get your clothes out after the load. But to get your load actually clean (and to prevent other annoying problems), you’ll need to follow a few important steps. 

How to Get Your Clothes Actually Clean

According to TikTokker and appliance tech Renae DuHaime, 99 percent of the time, people with this type of washer report their clothes aren’t getting fully clean because they’re loading it wrong, with clothes and other items covering up the plate (also called the “impeller”).

Essentially, when there’s weight on the plate, it can’t move your clothes around properly. “This can lead to greasy, oily, or powdery spots on your clothes as the result of detergent not being distributed properly, and it can also potentially cause detergent buildup inside your machine,” DuHaime says. 

Credit: Ana Hard

Loading the wrong way can also cause laundry items to twist and become entangled, or to create a “dome” or “bubble” in the washer. (You’ve experienced this if you’ve ever washed sheets in this style washing machine, only to open the washer afterward and find they’ve created a “dome” inside.) “These scenarios may damage garments as they move through your machine in a way that was not intended,” DuHaime says. 

Covering the impeller can also cause your machine to unevenly distribute items, which DuHaime says can cause your washer to shake and “walk” across the floor, stop mid-cycle, give an error code, or even prematurely wear out parts.

The Solution

The solution to all these problems? If you have this type of washing machine, always load the clothes as if there’s an invisible column in the center. And if you’re not totally sure how to do it right, DuHaime suggests following your appliance’s loading instructions for specifics. It might take a minute of extra time to do it right, but you’ll end up with both cleaner laundry and a longer-lasting washing machine.