Inside a washing machine with agitator next to a washing machine impeller.

Agitator vs. impeller washers

What’s the difference between agitator and impeller washing machines?

Agitators and impellers are both found in top-loading washing machines, but they move — and clean clothes — in two distinct ways.

Agitators in washing machines are tall spindles, vaned or finned, in the center of the wash basket that twist (or agitate) back and forth, rubbing against clothes to help break down loose soils. Impeller washers on the other hand, have low-profile cones or discs that spin/rotate to rub clothes against each other to get them clean.

So which style will help you keep laundry day moving? Learn more about the difference between washers with agitators and washers with impellers — and how they can help you provide the best care for your clothes.

Agitator inside a Whirlpool® Top Load Washer

How does an agitator in a washing machine work? 

Agitators are a central post in a washer that twists back and forth to rub against clothes and help break apart stains.

A washing machine with an agitator is probably the style you’re most familiar with. Despite what some people think, advances in washer technology ensure that agitators can take on your toughest loads — without being tough on your clothes. That job belongs to your family. And between home-run mud stains, early-morning coffee spills and tough gym sessions, these appliances have their work cut out for them. That’s why they typically provide multiple wash motions to help you provide a great clean.

How does an impeller washer work? 

A washing machine with an impeller uses a low-profile cone, wheel, fin or disc that spins or rotates to gently rub clothes against each other to help loosen stains.

A washing machine with an impeller uses less motion and water than a washer with an agitator. Designed so laundry has more room to move, it drives clothes from the outer rim of the wash basket to the center, using a small amount of water to optimize the friction. This is what helps deliver a gentle, yet thorough clean.

Which is better: an agitator or impeller washer?

To better determine which style of washing machine is best for you, compare the following benefits of agitators and impellers.

Washing machine agitator icon

Benefits of a washer with an agitator

  • Agitator rubs against clothes to help remove and rinse away loose soils
  • Shorter wash times
  • Familiar functionality and design

Shop Whirlpool® washers with agitators

Washing machine impeller icon

Benefits of an impeller washer

  • Impeller rubs clothes against each other to deliver a thorough, gentle clean
  • Shorter dry times due to the high spin speeds that wick away more moisture
  • More room in the wash basket for bulky articles and easy loading/unloading

Shop Whirlpool® washers with impellers

Tip to load washers with impellers and agitators

Both washing machines with agitators and impellers function optimally when they’re properly loaded. For both, make sure the clothes are placed evenly around the central spindle or wash plate so the wash basket is balanced. Unbalanced loads aren’t cleaned as effectively.

Agitator vs. impeller: which is right for you?

So which one’s got the right moves for your family: a washer with or without an agitator? Whether you’re sanitizing baby clothes, cleaning mustard out of your favorite jeans or making sure her leotard is ready for ballet class tomorrow, both an agitator or impeller model can help you get the job done. With cleaning performance, energy efficiency, capacity, innovation and convenience being roughly equal, your decision really hinges on your personal preference.

Woman unloading laundry from a top loading washing machine Woman unloading laundry from a top loading washing machine

Is there a washing machine with both an agitator and an impeller?

With Whirlpool brand’s industry-first washing machines featuring the 2 in 1 Removable Agitator, now you don’t have to choose between an agitator and an impeller washer. The 2 in 1 Removable Agitator lets you customize any load of laundry to your family’s needs. You can easily add the 2 in 1 Removable Agitator to your load or just as quickly remove it and have extra room to wash bulky items. Shop Whirlpool® washers featuring the 2 in 1 Removable Agitator.

Whether you choose an agitator, impeller or 2 in 1 Removable Agitator washer, be sure to check out Swash® Laundry Detergent.1 Its 8x concentrated formula can be used in all washing machines, including HE models.

Check out our agitator and impeller washer top picks, or shop all top-loading washers from Whirlpool. Learn more about front load vs. top load washers.

Explore Whirlpool® washers

Whether you choose a new washing machine based on size, style or features, Whirlpool brand has the washing machine options to provide an optimal clean for your family’s laundry. Browse and compare models with features like the Load & Go™ Dispenser, Pretreat Station and smart/WiFi-enabled options to find the right washer to best care for your family.

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1. Swash and the recommended brands are owned and distributed by Whirlpool Corporation.