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.

Traditional agitators 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. Impellers, on the other hand, are 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 make all the difference in the way you care.

See agitators vs. impellers in action

Watch how agitators and impellers care for your clothes to help choose which style is right for your family.

Agitator inside a Whirlpool® Top Load Washer

How does an agitator washer clean?

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 for a good clean, including:

Whirlpool® Washing Machine agitator

Spraying action

Soaks clothes with water recirculated from the wash/rinse cycle.

Wash basket action

Rotates for a hard-hitting clean.

Agitator action

Rubs against clothes to help break down stains and loosen soils.

How does an impeller washer clean?

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, efficient, yet thorough clean.

They also typically feature multiple wash motions, including:

Whirlpool® Washing Machine impeller

Spraying action

Soaks clothes with water recirculated from the wash/rinse cycle.

Wash basket action

Rotates for a deep clean.

Impeller action

Uses low-profile cones, wheels, fins or discs that spin to gently rub clothes against each other.

Agitator vs. impeller: How do they stack up?

Washing machine agitator

Washer with an agitator

  • Agitator rubs against clothes to remove and rinse away loose soils
  • Shorter wash times
  • Familiar functionality
Washing machine impeller

Washer with an impeller

  • 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
Light bulb

Care tip

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 or can damage the machine.

What’s right for your family?

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.

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.

Top Whirlpool® Washer picks to clean clothes your way

More laundry tips and tricks

Appliance IQ

Want more answers to your kitchen and laundry questions?

Was this article helpful? Pass it on

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