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The great washing machine debate: top-loader vs front-loader

Source: Roy Morgan Single Source (Australia), January–December 2014, n= 15,944. Base: Australians 14+

Ask any white goods retailer, and they’ll tell you: when it comes to buying a new washing machine, the question of whether to get a top-loader or a front-loader inevitably enters the conversation. Recent findings from Roy Morgan’s extensive Single Source survey show that while traditional top-loading machines still outnumber front-loaders in Australian households, they are on the wane as front-loaders become more popular.

More than half (52%) of Aussie households own a top-loading washing machine, a decrease from 2010 when it was 60%. In the meantime, there has been a corresponding increase in the proportion of households with a front-loader, now at 34% (up from 27% five years ago).

Whether a household opts for one or the other appears to be linked to what stage of the ‘life cycle’ its occupants are at. Although top-loaders are more common than front-loaders in all household types, their prevalence varies considerably, as the chart below indicates.

Proportion of household types with front-loading and top-loading washing machines


Source: Roy Morgan Single Source (Australia), January–December 2014, n= 15,944. Base: Australians 14+

For example, households occupied by young parents or mid-life families are the most likely to own a front-loading washing machine (41% and 42% respectively), while older households (27%) are the least likely.

In contrast, older households are by far the likeliest to own a top-loader, with a 59% ownership rate. Households occupied by young singles are the least likely to own a washing machine of any kind.

Environmental concerns

Using less power and less water, front-loaders are widely acknowledged to be better for the environment — and households with front-loading machines tend to be a little more green-leaning than those with top-loaders. For example, people living in households with a front-loader are slightly more likely than those with a top-loader to agree that ‘If we don’t act now we’ll never control our environmental problems’ and ‘At heart I’m an environmentalist’.

People with top-loading machines in their household are more likely to agree that ‘Threats to the environment are exaggerated’ and ‘Environmentally friendly products are overpriced’.

Angela Smith, Group Account Director, Roy Morgan Research, says:

“What kind of washing machine a household owns depends in part on its life cycle and the environmental attitudes of its occupants. The fact that older households are more likely to own top-loaders comes as no surprise: not only would they be accustomed to top-loaders (which have been around for much longer), they’d appreciate the ergonomic advantages of this type of machine (no bending required).

“People from older households also tend to be less concerned about the environment (being considerably more likely than the average Aussie to believe threats to the environment are exaggerated), so it is unlikely their choice of washing machine would be environmentally motivated.

“On the other hand, people from households with front-loaders not only feel more strongly about environmental issues, they are more likely than top-loader owners to use green-friendly laundry powders such as Earth Choice and Aware in their energy efficient washing machines.

“It is crucial for washing machine brands to understand their market and be aware of how factors such as life cycle, environmental attitudes and more can drive their purchasing decisions….”

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About Roy Morgan

Roy Morgan is the largest independent Australian research company, with offices throughout Australia, as well as in Indonesia, the United States and the United Kingdom. A full service research organisation specialising in omnibus and syndicated data, Roy Morgan has over 70 years’ experience in collecting objective, independent information on consumers.

Margin of Error

The margin of error to be allowed for in any estimate depends mainly on the number of interviews on which it is based. Margin of error gives indications of the likely range within which estimates would be 95% likely to fall, expressed as the number of percentage points above or below the actual estimate. Allowance for design effects (such as stratification and weighting) should be made as appropriate.

Sample Size

Percentage Estimate


25% or 75%

10% or 90%

5% or 95%