What Is A Washing Machine Agitator?

If you live in the UK and own a front loading washing machine, you’ve probably never heard of an agitator. That’s because they’re mainly found in top loading washers which are nowhere near as popular in the UK as they are in other parts of the world like the US and Canada.

To find out more about washing machine agitators keep reading.

What Exactly Is An Agitator In A Washing Machine?

In general terms, an agitator is designed to reduce tangling and help to distribute items evenly through the drum of the washer. The agitator is typically a central post with fins or vanes that twists backwards and forwards rubbing against clothes as it twists to help remove dirt and stains.

They are generally only ever found in top loader washing machines and have been for many years. Front loading machines have fins or baffles as they’re called attached to the inside of the drum which eliminates the need for an agitator.

This is because if your appliance has fins or baffles fitted to the drum the whole drum is like a large agitator.

Do All Top Loader Washing Machines Have Agitators?

A few years ago, all top loaders had agitators, they were a permanent feature of the top loader washing machine. Even though they were often criticised for causing clothes to wear out faster due to the rough way the agitator rubbed against the clothes as it twisted around. It was a traditionally popular feature in top loader washers.

However, many modern top loader washing machines have replaced the agitator with an impeller. These impeller top loaders claim to use less water and avoid extra wear and tear on clothes due to a gentler action.

top loading washing machine agitator

What’s Better: Agitators or Impellers?

We’ve just told you what an agitator is and how it works and we’ve touched on the modern innovation, the impeller. But what is an impeller? and how does it work on a top loading washing machine?

The impeller is a large, short inverted cone with fins that spins or twists to gently get the clothes to rub together in the tub. As there is no central agitator, the laundry tends to move towards the middle of the tub which means the washer needs less water to get the laundry clean.

It also uses less friction and a gentler action to get the laundry clean. However, many users prefer the agitator because it’s what they’ve grown up with.

How To Choose Between Agitator & Impeller Washing Machines

The Benefits Of A Washing Machine With An Agitator

The main benefits of an agitator washer include;

  • The agitator rubs against the laundry to remove dirt in much the same way as the old fashioned washboard used to
  • Wash times are shorter
  • Tried and trusted design and functionality

The Benefits Of A Washing Machine With An Impeller

The main benefits of an impeller washer include;

  • The impeller rubs clothes against each other to get them clean without being too rough on the fabrics
  • Higher spin speeds resulting in shorter drying times
  • Easier to load and unload laundry
  • Extra room inside the wash tub

Why Don’t Front Loader Washing Machines Have Agitators?

Due to the way the drum spins on a front loader washing machine, a central agitator would cause much of the laundry to get caught on one side of the drum. 

This would make the drum spin awkwardly which could result in extra wear and tear on the bearings as well as extra vibration. This vibration could cause damage to many internal components.

Plus the fins or baffles on the inside of the drum on front loaders turns the whole drum into one large agitator. Which makes a central agitator redundant because it wouldn’t add to the cleaning power and would in fact, reduce the drum capacity.

This would mean you wouldn’t be able to get as much laundry clean in each wash. Which would be less energy efficient and not so environmentally friendly.

top loading washing machine drum

Can You Still Buy Washing Machines With Agitators In The UK?

The most popular washing machines in the UK are front loaders and although there used to be front loaders which had agitators back in the past, they are few and far between nowadays. Of course, top loaders are still available with central agitators but these are not really that popular in the UK.

Many top loaders are replacing agitators with impellers because they are gentler on clothes and use less water as well as reducing drying times. 

If you currently own a washing machine that has an agitator, whether it’s a front loader or a top loader, the chances are that by the time you replace it, you won’t find a replacement with an agitator. Well, not here in the UK at least.

SEE ALSO: Different Types Of Washing Machine Explained

Frequently Asked Questions

Is it better to have an agitator in a washing machine?

For many years top loader washing machines have had agitators which are centrally placed spindles with fins which twist backwards and forwards to agitate the clothes in the tub. These agitators take up room in the tub which restricts the amount of laundry the drum can hold, are rough on clothes and use a lot of water to get clothes clean. Impellers, which are replacing agitators in many top loaders, use less water, allow more laundry to be washed at one time and reduce drying times due to higher spin speeds.

Which is better: agitator or front load washer?

The twisting motion employed by top loader washing machines is not as effective as the tumbling action of a front loader washing machine.

How do the new washers without agitators work?

The new washers without agitators work using an impeller which is a low inverted cone with fins that spins and gently rubs the clothes in the tub together. Impeller washers use less energy, less water and have higher spin speeds than agitator washers.

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