The agitator washer was the go-to laundry machine for decades. It had a central rod that spun around to clean clothes. However, in recent years, an alternative has gained traction: the impeller washer. In these machines, the traditional agitator is replaced by a flat washplate at the bottom of the tub, equipped with fins or impellers that perform the task of moving the clothes during the wash cycle. This shift has sparked a debate among consumers on agitator vs impeller. It prompts them to weigh the pros and cons of each design before making a choice that suits their laundry needs best.

So which type of washer actually gets your clothes cleaner – agitator or impeller? There are good arguments on both sides. Here’s an in-depth look at how they compare on factors like wash performance, gentleness, efficiency, and more.

What is an Agitator?

An agitator is a vertical column in the center of a top-load washing machine drum. During the wash cycle, the agitator moves back and forth to drive clothes through the water and detergent. This motion rubs clothes against each other and the walls of the drum to help remove dirt and stains.

Agitators have been used in washing machines for decades and are still found in many top-load models today. Traditional agitators have a center column with four fins or “vanes” extending out from it. The column churns back and forth, while the fins provide extra scrubbing action.

The agitator design provides solid cleaning performance by vigorously churning and scrubbing the laundry. However, it can also be harsh on fabrics and lead to more wear over time.

What is an Agitator?

What is an Impeller?

Impellers represent a newer washing machine technology that has replaced agitators in many modern top-load models. Rather than churning clothes back and forth, an impeller spins and circulates them through the water.

The impeller is a round plastic disc positioned at the bottom of the wash drum. During wash cycles, it rotates rapidly to create a powerful current in the water. This current lifts and drops clothes, moving them constantly through the drum.

Unlike an agitator, an impeller provides more of a rolling and tumbling action. Impellers are gentler on fabrics and also allow clothes more room to move freely in the drum. This improves washing performance.

Key Differences: Agitator Vs Impeller Washer

Now that we’ve explained what agitators and impellers are. Let’s summarize the washer agitator vs impeller:

Characteristic Agitator Impeller
Movement Churns vigorously back and forth Spins to circulate clothes through water
Washing Action Scrubs clothes aggressively Rolls and tumbles clothes more gently
Load Size Best with smaller loads Can handle larger loads
Fabric Care Can be harsh on clothes Gentler on clothes
Drum Capacity Smaller drum capacity More drum space
Water Usage Requires more water Uses less water
Efficiency Less water and energy efficient More water and energy efficient
Noise Louder during washing cycles Operates more quietly

As you can see, the main washing machine agitator vs impeller is rigorous scrubbing action and the impeller’s gentler tumbling. Next, we’ll go into more depth on the benefits and drawbacks of each design. 

Benefits of an Agitator Washer

Powerful cleaning: The aggressive back-and-forth churning action attacks dirt and stains. This makes agitators very effective at cleaning heavily soiled laundry.

Trusted technology: Agitators have been used reliably for decades. Many people are familiar with and trust this tried-and-true washing method.

Smaller loads: The confined drum and vigorous agitation are well-suited to cleaning smaller loads of laundry.

Affordability: Simple agitator models with few extra features provide an affordable washing option.

In summary, agitator washers offer proven, intense cleaning power in a streamlined, budget-friendly package.

Drawbacks of an Agitator Washer

Rough on Clothes: The constant churning and scrubbing can be harsh on fabrics, resulting in more wear and tear over time. Delicates like sweaters may pill or stretch out.

Noisy: Agitators tend to be loud as they churn back and forth during wash cycles. This noisy operation can be distracting and irritating.

Lower efficiency: Agitators use more water and electricity compared to impeller models. They’re not as eco-friendly.

Limited capacity: The pole agitator takes up space in the drum, reducing overall load capacity. This means more loads of laundry.

Clothing tangles: It’s easy for a rogue sock or shirt sleeve to get wrapped around the center agitator pillar. This can cause annoying tangles.

The roughness, noise, inefficiency, limited capacity, and tendency to tangle clothes are the key disadvantages of an agitator washer.

Benefits of an Impeller Washer

Benefits of an Impeller Washer

Now let’s examine the advantages of an impeller washing machine:

Gentler cleaning: The impeller rolls and tumbles clothes rather than scrubbing aggressively. This is easier on fabrics, resulting in less wear.

Quieter operation: Spinning impeller models operate much more quietly than noisy agitator washers.

Higher efficiency: Impellers use less water and electricity per load. This saves money and is better for the environment.

Increased capacity: Without a central agitator, impeller drums can hold larger loads. This allows you to finish laundry faster.

Fewer tangles: Because there’s no agitator pole, clothes tumble more freely without getting wrapped up.

In short, impeller washers provide a gentler, quieter, more efficient washing experience with increased drum capacity and fewer tangles. The tradeoff is they may not clean as vigorously as an agitator.

Drawbacks of an Impeller Washer

There are also a few potential disadvantages to consider with impellers:

Reduced cleaning for heavy soil: Impellers may not clean extremely dirty laundry as aggressively as an agitator can.

New technology learning curve: Impellers haven’t been around as long. Some users may prefer the familiarity of an old school agitator.

Potential clogging: Debris can occasionally get caught in the impeller mechanism, requiring cleaning. This isn’t a common problem though.

Higher cost: Impeller machines often come with more cycles, settings, and features that increase the purchase price. Basic agitator models are typically cheaper.

Clothes twisting: Some impellers can ball up clothes around the outer drum wall, resulting in twisted items. Proper loading helps avoid this.

While not dealbreakers, these factors are worth keeping mind if you opt for an impeller washer.

Which Cleans Better – Agitator or Impeller?

When it comes to washing performance, both agitators and impellers have their pros and cons.

Agitators provide an extremely vigorous cleaning motion that excels at forcing out tough stains from heavily soiled laundry. The constant churning and scrubbing action leaves no dirt behind.

However, impellers have improved cleaning capabilities as well. Modern impeller designs create powerful water currents and additional wash motions to better lift dirt away. While still gentler than agitators, high-efficiency impellers clean quite effectively for the majority of laundry loads.

Impellers may struggle slightly with very stained, greasy work clothes that need heavy-duty agitation. But for lightly to moderately soiled everyday loads, an efficient impeller washer will provide excellent cleaning results.

So in washing machine agitator vs impeller summary, agitators may have a slight edge for cleaning extremely dirty laundry. But modern impellers can hold their own on normal to heavily soiled loads. For most households, an impeller washer will provide sufficient washing performance while better preserving fabrics.

Agitator vs Impeller: Which is Harder on Clothes?

When it comes to wear and tear on fabrics, impellers are clear winners over agitators.

The constant churning and scrubbing of an agitator is noticeably rougher on clothes over time. It can accelerate pilling, fraying, and the thinning of fabric fibers. Delicates will show signs of wear much faster in an agitator machine.

An impeller washer provides a much gentler tumbling motion. Think of the difference between clothes being beat against rocks in a washing machine versus flowing smoothly down a river. Less friction means less damage to fibers and seams.

Impellers distribute the mechanical stress across more surface area of the clothes rather than concentrating it in one spot. The end result is significantly less wear and a longer lifespan for your laundry.

If you want to conserve your nice clothing and fabrics, an impeller model is certainly the safer choice. The only exception may be sturdy linens and workwear that can handle intense agitation cycles. For everything else, impellers are kinder to clothes.

Agitator vs Impeller: Which is Harder on Clothes?

Load Capacity: Agitator vs Impeller

Another key difference between the two technologies is load capacity. Agitator drums tend to be smaller since the central column takes up interior space. This limits the maximum size of loads. Impellers allow for much larger tub capacity since they don’t have this space restriction.

A typical agitator washer may max out at around 3-4 cubic feet of drum space. Impeller models are available with up to 5-6 cubic feet or more. That translates into being able to wash more clothes at once, saving you time and effort.

Large families or households with lots of laundry needs will benefit from the increased load capacity of an impeller machine. Just take care not to overload the drum, which can result in poor wash performance. Strike a balance between filling the drum and allowing enough space for clothes to circulate freely.

If your priority is larger load sizes to finish laundry faster, an impeller model is your best option. Agitators work fine for smaller households or those who don’t mind washing more frequent, smaller loads.

Water Usage: Agitator vs Impeller

Agitator and impeller washers also differ significantly when it comes to water consumption.

Traditional agitator washers are considered top-loading ” conventional ” machines. They require much more water to power their churning cleaning mechanism. Filling the drum up to submerge clothes enables effective agitation. But it wastes a lot of water in the process.

Impeller machines are associated with high-efficiency (HE) front-loading washers. They use precision water jets and optimized wash motions rather than huge water volumes. This allows impellers to clean using far less water than agitators – often 20-30 gallons less per load.

So impellers are the clear eco-friendly choice if water conservation is important to you. Their efficient operation will also translate into energy and detergent savings over an agitator washer.

Noise Levels: Agitator vs Impeller

Operating noise is another big difference between the two technologies. The mechanically simple, powerful agitator makes quite a racket churning and scrubbing during cycles. Impellers spin much more smoothly and quietly in comparison.

Agitator washing machines commonly produce noise levels around 60-70 decibels when running. That’s about as loud as a normal conversation or dishwasher. The noise can seem excessive when the washer is on your second floor or in close proximity to living spaces.

Thanks to their gentle tumbling motion, impellers achieve noise levels of 50 decibels or less. That’s quieter than an everyday office or refrigerator noise. You can run an impeller washer confidently even in close quarters without too much audible disruption.

If you prefer a quiet washing experience, an impeller model is the obvious hush choice over the notoriously loud agitator design. Noise levels may not be a major factor for some laundry rooms. But for close living spaces, an impeller’s quiet operation is a clear advantage.

Cost Difference: Agitator vs Impeller

Cost Difference: Agitator vs Impeller

When comparing new washer prices, you’ll also notice a cost difference between these two technologies. Agitator machines tend to be more budget-friendly, while impeller models come at a higher price point.

There are a few reasons for this pricing gap:

Simplicity: Agitators are mechanically straightforward, keeping manufacturing costs low. More complex impeller engineering adds expense.

Features: Impeller washers include more cycles, settings, and electronics that raise costs. Agitators have minimal options.

Efficiency: Impeller machines require specialized components like inverter motors to enable high-efficiency. This also increases costs.

Durability: Impeller models may be built with higher-quality materials and parts that improve longevity but cost more upfront.

While agitator washers retail for $400-600 in general, impeller machines range from $800-1,200+. Of course, you can find premium agitators and budget impeller models outside these ranges too. But on average, expect to pay more for an impeller washer.

The price difference may be worthwhile to gain an impeller’s perks. But agitators provide an affordable option if budget is your top concern.

Common Agitator Brands

Some of the major appliance brands that still utilize traditional agitators in their washer lines include:

Whirlpool: Many top-load Whirlpool washers feature the familiar center pole agitator. Affordable and reliable cleaning.

Maytag: Sister brand to Whirlpool. Multiple Maytag models also incorporate agitator designs.

GE: GE’s “classic” top-load washers use agitators, though most models are shifting to impellers.

Amana: Budget brand owned by Whirlpool with agitator machines that balance cleaning power and value.

Speed Queen: Commercial-style Speed Queen washers favored by laundromats use agitators for durability and vigorous wash action.

While agitators are being phased out by some brands, dependable models are still readily available from these manufacturers.

Common Impeller Brands

On the impeller side, these brands offer popular high-efficiency top- and front-load washers:

LG: LG is a leader in impeller washer technology. Their “Turbowash” models use powerful impellers for quiet, effective cleaning.

Samsung: Samsung’s “Ecobubble” washers utilize impellers to deliver high-efficiency cleaning with low noise levels.

Whirlpool: Whirlpool’s “Calypso” washers represent their quiet, efficient impeller line.

Maytag and Amana: These Whirlpool brand siblings also make impeller models under license from LG.

GE: GE’s newer “Profile” models run almost silently thanks to efficient impeller operation.

Bosch: German brand Bosch uses advanced impeller designs in their 800 and 300 series washers for quiet, gentle fabric care.

This list shows that impellers have largely taken over as the preferred washing technology across most brands.

Agitator vs Impeller Washing Machines: Which Should You Choose?

After reviewing their differences in depth, we can provide some closing recommendations on choosing between agitator and impeller washing machines.

For most homes today, a high-efficiency impeller washer is the best choice overall thanks to:

– Smoother, quieter operation
– Improved fabric care over harsh agitators
– Increased load capacity
– Enhanced efficiency with lower water and energy use
– Effective cleaning capabilities for everyday laundry needs

However, a traditional agitator machine may suit certain buyers who:

– Have smaller laundry loads
– Need to heavily wash extremely soiled workwear
– Appreciate the simplicity and proven power of agitator cleaning
– Want basic, budget-friendly washing performance
– Prefer the familiar agitator design they’re accustomed to

Unless you fit one of the above cases, we recommend choosing a modern impeller washer to enjoy gentler, smarter washing technology with more capacities and settings. Stick with trusted brands known for reliability, and invest a few extra dollars for higher-end models with solid construction that will last you over a decade.


So when all factors are considered (cleaning performance, fabric care, efficiency, noise, reliability, and cost) is an agitator or impeller washer the better choice overall? Unfortunately, there is no definitive winner. Each technology has pros and cons.

Key Benefits of Agitator Washers:

  • Proven ability to deep clean heavily soiled laundry
  • Greater control over individual settings and cycles
  • Slightly gentler on fabrics
  • Longer lifespan and easier to repair
  • Lower purchase price

Key Benefits of Impeller Washers:

  • Excellent cleaning with less water usage
  • Quieter and gentler on clothes overall
  • Much higher water and energy efficiency
  • Larger load capacity in same footprint
  • Good high-speed stain removal
  • For many shoppers, the choice comes down to priorities:

If you want the lowest upfront cost and proven performance, choose agitator. If maximum efficiency and fabric care are most important, choose impeller.

Luckily, there are high-quality washers available with either technology. In the midst of a deep discussion of impeller vs. propeller washing machines, it’s crucial to also focus on finding a washer with solid construction, strong user reviews, and helpful features like steam cycles or sanitize modes, as either an agitator or impeller washer can serve most households very well.


Q: Which lasts longer, agitator or impeller washers?

A: Agitator washers generally have a longer lifespan, often 15+ years. They are mechanically simpler machines with fewer parts to fail. Impeller models last around 5-10 years on average.

Q: Do impellers clean as well as agitators?

A: Impeller washers can clean clothes as well as agitator machines, though using less water. They spin at very high RPMs to generate scrubbing. But agitators may have an edge on durability and heavy stains.

Q: Are impeller washers hard on clothes?

A: Not generally – impeller models are low water washers so they are gentler on fabrics. Less mechanical agitation also reduces wear. But high spin speeds can damage delicate fabrics if not washed properly.

Q: Do impeller machines require HE detergent?

A: Yes, you should use only high efficiency (HE) detergent in an impeller washer to prevent overusing and problems with less water. Agitator machines can use either HE or regular detergent.

Q: Can an agitator machine clean as efficiently as an impeller?

A: No, agitator washers will use significantly more water and energy per load. Impeller machines are specially designed for high-efficiency washing. Retrofitting an agitator washer cannot match that.