Agitator vs Impeller: 6 Differences You Need To Know Now

When you’re in the market for a new top-loading washing machine, you’ll first need to ask yourself: Do I want an agitator or an impeller?

Despite working in relatively similar ways, some key differences between them may make one type more appropriate for your needs.

The main difference between an Agitator washing machine and an Impeller is that an agitator cleans the clothes using a tall spindle that sits in the center of the washer.

This spindle rubs against the clothes to remove dirt and grime.

The key note here is that it’s the spindle itself that cleans the clothes.

On the other hand, an impeller washing machine has a cone or disk that sits at the bottom of the load washer tub and rotates to agitate the water inside the tub.

This causes the clothes to rub against each other, which cleans them.

The pros and cons of each type may not be immediately clear, so let’s take a closer look at how these two washing types function.

What is an Agitator?

If you see a washing machine with a tall spindle or pole-looking device in the center, it’s an agitator.

The agitator often has fins or veins encircling it, which helps with cleaning.

Instead of rotating, the agitator moves back and forth, and the fins will rub against the clothes, quite literally agitating them.

It’s this motion that quickly and effectively removes the dirt and grime from your clothes.

The agitator’s speed and degree of rotation vary depending on which type of wash cycle you pick. 

For example, if you picked a slow wash, the agitator will only rotate a little and at a slow speed.

But if you’ve selected a heavy cycle, it will move faster and more aggressively to get the dirt out of the clothes.

The pros of using an agitator:

  • An agitator thoroughly moves the detergent through the clothes, ensuring absolutely everything gets washed and the detergent circulates exceptionally well.
  • Its more aggressive cleaning method makes it highly effective at removing stuck-on dirt and stubborn stains from clothing.
  • Because of its more effective cleaning method, wash cycle times are generally shorter.
  • Technology advancements have helped this be a very energy-efficient and low-cost wash that’s less harsh on clothes than in the past.

The cons of using an agitator:

  • Because of the tall (and often quite thick) pillar in the center of the tub, the available room for clothes is reduced, which may be a problem if you usually wash large amounts of clothes at once.
  • Sometimes clothes may get snagged and shaken around if they catch on the fins, which can wear on your clothes or even potentially tear them.

What is an Impeller?

An impeller washing machine uses a more passive and less impactful method to wash clothes.

It consists of a large disk at the bottom of the tub with thick but shallow fins that protrude from it.

These fins will rotate and create currents within the water, which causes the clothes to rub against each other.

It’s this process of rubbing the clothes together which removes the dirt.

It’s a gentler and less abrasive way to wash clothes and is generally considered a better option for those with many delicate garments prone to damage.

The pros of using an impeller:

  • Impeller load washer machines are great at treating your clothes gently; there’s no chance of snagging as the fins/cones are smooth and rounded. This makes it ideal for washing things like lace or delicate fabrics.
  • Because the disk and cone profile is so low, there is significantly more room in the washing tub for clothes, meaning you can run a larger load than you could with an agitator machine.
  • Despite their slightly longer wash times, impeller washers tend to use less water and can be incredibly energy efficient.

The cons of using an impeller:

  • As an impeller’s washing method is gentler and passive, sometimes it might not clean the clothes as effectively as an agitator washer. This isn’t a problem for general washing, but if you have something particularly dirty, it may struggle to clean it well.
  • Because the impeller doesn’t use a ‘back and forth’ motion like the agitator, the centrifugal force can sometimes cause clothes to bundle up and get twisted together. This throws off the machine’s balance and reduces the cleaning’s effectiveness.

What are the Differences Between an Agitator and an Impeller?

Now we’ve taken a good look at how these two washing machine types function and their pros and cons, let’s put them head to head so you can get a better idea of how they directly compare.

This will help inform you which one is more appropriate for your needs.

1. Effectiveness of the Clean

The agitator machine has been carefully designed to provide the most effective clean possible.

From its shape, how the fins protrude from it and its agitation speed.

It contacts the clothes directly and does a great job of working out even the most stubborn of stains.

On the other hand, the impeller takes a more passive approach by just moving the water and relying on the clothes themselves to rub against each other.

While this is a far gentler cleaning method, it’s not quite as effective as the agitator for that stubborn dirt.

2. Harshness on the Clothes

Because the agitator has hard protruding fins which gyrate directly against your clothes, it can be quite an aggressive method that has the potential to wear down more dainty garments.

Additionally, clothes can get snagged on them and tear because of their shape.

So most users will commonly keep their delicate clothes in a small netted bag to prevent this from happening.

But then this presents additional work as you need to sift through the dirty washing to extract delicate clothes and place them in a bag by hand.

The impeller machine, by comparison, is far gentler as the clothes only contact each other and there’s no chance of snagging.

Although sometimes the clothes may twist together, which can be troublesome.

3. Wash Load Size

The impeller has a very low profile and occupies almost no room in the washing tub itself.

It only has a small cone or fins which move the water around.

This means you have the entirety of the tub to fill up with clothes and you can wash some pretty big loads in an impeller washer.

On the other hand, the agitator has far less room due to the bulky pole in the middle and extra fins coming off of it.

So if you need to wash a lot of clothes, you may need to wash two cycles.

4. Wash Cycle Speed

As the agitator uses a more aggressive cleaning method that removes the clothes’ dirt, it can complete a cleaning cycle faster than the impeller.

This is because the impeller is a more passive machine and due to its gentler nature, the clothes need more time to get all that dirt worked out of them.

If time is an issue for you, then an agitator will serve you better.

5. Energy Efficiency

Both washing machine types are quite energy efficient but in their unique way.

As the agitator is more aggressive in its cleaning, the wash cycle duration is shorter, so you will be spending less on energy.

But impeller washing machines, despite their longer wash cycle, can function by using far less water because their high spin speed is enough to ensure everything in the tub gets cleaned effectively.

6. Balance

As the agitator moves back and forth, it does a good job of not letting clothes bundle up and become entangled, keeping the overall machine nice and balanced.

Whereas an impeller machine is more likely to bundle clothes up and throw them out to the side.

This can cause excess noise as the internal tub is no longer balanced and it can put a strain on some of the mounting components.

Agitator vs Impeller: Are they the same?

Now you understand the differences between these two washer types; we can see they each have their approach to cleaning and depending on the type of clothes you are washing and your schedule, one may be better suited for your needs.

An agitator is more effective at cleaning as it directly contacts the clothes and uses special fins to work the dirt out.

In comparison, an impeller uses a gentler and more passive approach which, while still effective, can struggle with particularly stubborn bits of dirt.

  • Because of its more direct approach, an agitator is harsher on delicate clothes and has the potential for snagging. So if you need to wash a lot of clothes with lace, tassels, etc., an impeller may be better suited for you.
  • As an impeller doesn’t have a large agitator taking up room inside the washer tub, it can hold more clothes when compared to an agitator. Ideal if you need to wash a lot of clothes in each cycle!
  • The agitator generally has faster wash cycle times due to its more aggressive cleaning method, which may make it better if you are on a tight schedule.
  • Both machine types are energy efficient, with the agitator finishing wash cycles faster, resulting in less electricity used. Yet the impeller can wash using less water, resulting in lower water usage.
  • The agitator is very balanced as it washes, whereas the impeller can sometimes bundle clothes up and throw them to the outside of the drum, which causes loud noises and wears the machine down faster.
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