The least expensive washers are top-loading machines with a central agitator in the wash drum. High-end washers are often front-loading models with drums that rotate on a horizontal axis.
These front-loading drums fill only partially with water, instead of nearly all the way as top-loaders do, and high-end front-loaders are usually capable of higher spin speeds than less expensive top-loaders. In general, washers with this kind of high-end configuration tend to clean better than low-end models.
Both low-end and high-end dryers are usually front-loaders, but high-end dryers are typically styled to complement their washer counterparts.
High-end washing machines are often equipped with stainless steel tubs. These tubs are an improvement over porcelain-coated steel tubs because unlike porcelain, stainless steel won't chip or crack, and it won't rust.
Stainless tubs are also sturdier than the plastic tubs used in many low-end washers, so they can hold up to the high spin speeds that high-end washers are typically capable of achieving. Stainless steel drums have less obvious benefits in dryers, but many high-end dryers also feature stainless interiors.
Special Cycles and Controls
Expensive washers are usually equipped with electronic controls that regulate a range of special wash and rinse cycles; the controls are more likely to utilize digital touchpads than old-fashioned dials, and some models feature LCD touch screens and USB ports to control custom wash programs. Manufacturers claim that the range of cycles results in optimized cleaning performance, but Consumer Reports suggests that anything beyond a few basic cycles is probably overkill.
High-end dryers typically have similar controls, along with sensors that control automatic drying cycles.
Front-loading high-end washers can usually hold larger loads than top-loaders, so they can wash more clothes in fewer wash cycles. They also use less water per cycle, and their higher spin speeds extract more water from clothes, which results in shorter drying times and less energy consumption by the dryer.
Some models also feature time-delayed start options, so you can set them to run during off-peak hours when electric rates are lower.