If you're willing to spend a grand, you could easily get a high tech top-load or front-load washing machine with all of the latest features. But what if your budget is only half that? Happily, you can buy many washers for around $500, and their matching dryers won't put too much of a dent in your bank account.
Even though machines at this price generally look the same on the outside, it's what you can't see that matters. The wrong laundry set can cost extra in lifetime utility consumption, the cost of replacing damaged clothes, or—worst of all—wasted time spent dealing with repairs or waiting around for cycles to finish.
That's why we brought a half dozen of the most popular low-cost washer/dryer sets into our state-of-the-art labs and tested them: to find out exactly how well they remove stains and how gentle they are on your clothes. After hours of testing, the Kenmore 20232(available at Sears for $499.00) ended up snagging our top pick. Not only is it energy-efficient, but it also cleans just as well as more expensive models.
While the following washers won't remove stains, protect gentle fabrics, or save water as well as the best washing machines we've tested, they are basic washers that come with basic dryers; they will give you clean, dry clothes at an affordable price.
These are the best washers under $500 we tested ranked, in order:
The Kenmore 20232 washer is an energy efficient, basic washing machine with a low upfront cost. Made for Kenmore by Whirlpool, it cleans as well as washers that cost twice the price. The dedicated Delicates cycle isn’t just a label: In our tests, this setting produced five times fewer clothes wear than the Normal cycle—which itself was relatively gentle.
Although this model auto-senses water level, it also includes a Deep Fill option for customers who are washing items with lots of dirt and debris. This is a smaller drum (3.5 cu. ft.), so you may not be able to dump in your entire basket. Still, unless you want to spend more than three times as much on a Speed Queen, it's the closest thing you'll find to the kind of washer you grew up with.
The Kenmore 60222 electric dryer is straightforward and uses a moisture sensor to dry clothes without wasting energy or time. There are still some dryers in this price range that lack sensors, which can lead to overdrying, clothes damage, and wasted time and energy. A few customers have reported early product failures but were satisfied with Sears’ prompt service. Overall, customer satisfaction is high: 84% of owners would recommend it.
We have plenty of experience testing these products in the lab, but we've also used them like normal people would in the course of their daily lives, which means that we have a great sense for what appliances are bargains at their price points, and which appliances have really useful extra features (as opposed to the kitchen-sink approach to features).
With all this in mind, you can feel confident that when we recommend a product, we're giving it our Reviewed stamp of approval, which means two things: firstly, this appliance performs well, and secondly, this appliance is easy to use. We're always reviewing new products, so stay tuned for our reviews and roundups of the latest products in laundry, refrigerators, dishwashers, and vacuum cleaners.
Every washing machine that comes into Reviewed’s labs gets put through the same testing regime, which addresses both performance and user-friendliness. Performance tests include:
• Stain removal – on a strip of AHAM-approved stains (which includes cocoa, sweat, pig’s blood, red wine, and oil), how much of each stain can this washing machine remove?
• Wear and tear – during a given cycle, how hard is the mechanical action of the washing machine on your clothes?
• Water retention – how much water does your washing machine spin out at the end of the cycle?
• Cycle time – how long is each washing machine cycle?
The best washing machines have solid stain removal abilities, do not damage your clothes, retain little water, and have short cycle times.
Beyond these performance tests, we also assess the usability of each washing machine, based on our experience, both during testing and during more casual use (one perk of working at Reviewed is that there is plenty of laundry machines on premises!). Our main goal is to get the answer to one question: how easy is it to actually use this washing machine? This involves cumulatively assessing the control panel, the door, the detergent dispenser, and any smart features that are included.
By combining the performance data with our own observations, we can make the solid recommendations for someone looking for any type of washing machine at any price point.
Before you head out to the stores, be sure you know the size constraints needed for your washer. We’re not just talking about the width of the space you have in your laundry room for the washer itself (although that’s definitely important). Are the doorways in your home wide enough to actually allow the washer to fit through them during delivery? Will it be able to fit in narrow/tight stair cases? Take a tape measure and check the doorway width against the washer’s specs, and make sure you have a few inches of clearance.
Most washers have capacities ranging from 4.2 to 4.5 cu. ft. However, if you have a large family, or especially large laundry loads, you may want a high-capacity washing machine, which is typically a capacity of 5.0 cu. ft. or greater. At that capacity, you can fit nearly 1.5 times the amount of laundry that you could fit in a regular capacity washing machine, which means you get to run fewer washer cycles and finish your laundry in a shorter period of time. However, if you have fewer people in the house, you may just want a normal capacity washer; you don't want to pay for extra capacity you'll never use.
How picky are you about your washer cycles? Do you want to be able to set specific cycle temperatures, soil levels, and cycle duration, or would you prefer to just hit two buttons and start washing? Do you want a cycle just for jeans? Really consider how you do laundry on a day-to-day basis; if you prefer a straightforward washing process, you’ll probably want to buy a lower-tech dryer. Even if that extra customization seems very appealing, it may not make sense for you to buy that kind of washer if you’re not going to actually use those extra features regularly.
Other Affordable Washing Machines We Tested
Washer: Roper RTW4516FW
Haier makes the low-priced Roper RTW4516FW top-load washing machine with a pole agitator. It is very easy to use, but its cycle times are long, and it is relatively inefficient when it comes to water usage.
Additionally, this Roper washer doesn't do a great job of spinning the water out of the laundry at the end of the cycle; expect to be pulling wet, heavy laundry loads out of this washer. If you can, wait until you can afford a better washer.
While we didn't get a chance to try out the companion dryer to the Roper RTW4516FW washer, the Roper RED4516FW, based on the high water retention results we saw in the RTW4516FW washer, we think it'll have to work longer and harder than your average dryer to get your wet laundry completely dry.
However, this dryer does have a couple neat features. Namely, it has a cycle called the No Heat Fluff cycle, which is ideal for gently perking up materials that shouldn't be heated, such as foam, rubber, or plastic. Additionally, if you're going to be away from your dryer for a while, you can use the Wrinkle Prevent option, which intermittently tumbles your laundry to prevent the formation of wrinkles.
The Amana NTW4516FW is almost identical to the Kenmore 20232. That's because Whirlpool Corp. makes both Amana products and Kenmore's top-load laundry products, and the two sets are fraternal twins.
Much of the praise we have for the Kenmore models carry over directly (including the Deep Fill option), but the Kenmore washer has an edge because in addition to having a higher price tag, the Amana washer lacks the Soak, Light, and Jeans/Towels cycles found on its Kenmore counterpart.
The Amana NED4655EW dryer is almost the same as the Kenmore 60222 dryer, except that it lacks an audible buzzer; depending on your preferences, that could be a nice feature or a missed opportunity. If you didn't learn how to do laundry on a more complicated dryer, you'll appreciate the streamlined dial-and-button interface of this dryer. One reason you may want to choose the Amana over the Kenmore: It's more widely available than the Kenmore 60222 dryer.
The Amana NED4655EW also has the Wrinkle Prevent option, which is a handy feature to have if you're not going to be around when the cycle ends, and you don't want wrinkles to set into your newly dried laundry.
The Hotpoint HTW240ASK1WS washer does the best stain removal job out of any of the other washers on this list, and it also has the largest drum (so you can fit more laundry in per load). But its old-fashioned corkscrew agitator is tough on fabric; your clothes may wear out long before their time. If you're not washing anything particularly delicate and don't mind spending a little more for a larger machine, this washer is a good alternative to the other affordable washers on this list.
The Hotpoint HTX21EASKWW dryer wears GE's budget badge and uses sensors to determine how much heat it should apply over a given cycle. However, compared to other machines on this list, this dryer took noticeably longer than the other dryers do to get clothes dry. User reviews are generally positive, but this dryer generally retails at prices higher than its contemporaries.
Cindy Bailen loves writing about major appliances and home design and has spent over 15 years immersed in that. In her spare time, Cindy hosts pledge programs for WGBH-TV in Boston and other public television stations.
Jonathan Chan currently serves as the Senior Lab Technician at Reviewed. If you clean with it, it's likely that Jon oversees its testing. Since joining the Reviewed in 2012, Jon has helped launch the company's efforts in reviewing laptops, vacuums, and outdoor gear. He thinks he's a pretty big deal. In the pursuit of data, he's plunged his hands into freezing cold water, consented to be literally dragged through the mud, and watched paint dry. Jon demands you have a nice day.
Chris was born and raised less than ten miles from our editorial office, and even graduated from nearby Merrimack College. He came to Reviewed after covering the telecom industry, and has been moonlighting as a Boston area dining critic since 2008.
We use standardized and scientific testing methods to scrutinize every product and provide you with objectively accurate results. If you’ve found different results in your own research, email us and we’ll compare notes. If it looks substantial, we’ll gladly re-test a product to try and reproduce these results. After all, peer reviews are a critical part of any scientific process.