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What Capacity of a Washing Machine Do I Really Need?

Lisa Parris

The capacity of a washing machine is a measure of the washer's interior drum. Rated as small, large, extra-large and super-large, tub sizes are measured in cubic feet with each size machine being progressively larger than the last, at least on the inside. To determine the proper machine for a given household, this information must be translated into pounds of clothing per load, which must then be compared to the amount of laundry generated in an average week.

Small Washers

It can be difficult to determine exactly how much laundry the average washing machine can handle.

Small, compact washing machines are ideal for cramped living quarters. Less than 24 inches in width, these pint-sized models bear tubs less then 2 cubic feet in size and generally hold between 4 to 8 pounds of laundry per load. This size machine works well for singles, apartment dwellers, or those who live in climates that allow them to wear lightweight clothing year-round; bear in mind the average adult generates between 14 and 35 pounds of laundry each week, while the average child adds 8 to 20 pounds of clothes to the weekly wash load.

Large Washers

The gold standard of washing machines, the large washer contains a tub that is approximately 2 to 2.5 cubic feet in size. This size machine comfortably holds 10 to 12 pounds of clothing per wash, which is perfect for couples or small families. Some large washers claim to hold up to 15 pounds of laundry. While it may be possible to cram that much clothing into a single load, it is not advisable, as the garments will not be able to move freely in the machine, resulting in a batch of dingy laundry.

Extra-Large and Super Large Washers

Extra-large and super large machines have washtubs that measure 2.5 to 3.5 cubic feet. Drums this size can hold up to 16 pounds of laundry, an appropriate size for large families, those with king-sized bedding or those who wash a substantial number of towels and sheets. While they do tend to use more water and electricity, larger loads mean fewer trips to the washing machine.

Front-Loading Machines

Though they do tend to cost more, front-loading washing machines do not use an agitator; they spin like a dryer, tumbling the clothing rather than pushing them around in the water. No agitator means more room in the drum for clothing; as a result, many front-loaders are capable of washing up to 20 pounds of laundry in a single load. In addition, while the appliance may cost more initially, front-loaders generally use less water and electricity, making them much less expensive to operate.