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Agitator vs. Impeller | What You Need to Know

When choosing a top-loading machine, there are several things, including budget and brand, that you should consider. One key aspect among these is whether you want one with an agitator or impeller.

So, agitator vs. impeller –which one should you choose? This article will give you clear insight into these components and what they offer to your washing experience. 

Agitator vs. Impeller | What Separates Them?

The main difference between these two laundry machine parts is their function. We’ll go more into detail below.


Washing machine agitator vs impeller featuring an agitator sticking up from the bottom of the drum


These are revolving and sometimes pivoting rods found in the washing drum’s center or outermost part. They have handles that push up or down to switch directions.

Their key purpose is to thoroughly mix wash water among clothes and break up and suspend heavy items like rocks or rags. Agitators are most commonly found in top-loading washing machines but are sometimes found in front loaders. 


Image of a washing machine impeller at the bottom of a drum to compare this to a rotating agitator


These are rotating alternatives to the agitator. Their main function is similar to that of an agitator’s, mixing clothes during the wash to achieve uniform cleaning and soil removal. You can quickly identify them by the two or more blades that cover the central axis.

Key Differences

A key difference between the two components is their function. This is evident from their design. Whereas the agitator swings and rotates to clean, impellers have more than one blade that rotate in a water-filled drum. 

They work differently to achieve the same purpose: mixing clothes with water, detergent, and other washing additives to get a thorough wash.

Cleaning Action

One of the primary differences between washing machines that use agitators and those that use impellers is the cleaning action. With the latter, cleaning occurs as the agitator rubs against dirt and stains to loosen and break them apart.

The more it rubs, the greater its cleaning action. On the other hand, impellers use discs, cones, fins, or wheels. These rotate gently to rub clothes against each other to loosen dirt and stains. 

Agitators are great at breaking down heavy items, like rags and rocks, while impellers do a better job of screening out small particles. As such, when choosing whether to use an agitator or an impeller, you need to consider the type of clothes you will be washing and your preference. 

Choosing the Right One for You

Washing machine agitator vs impeller image showing a woman shopping for a new appliance

Vermont Art/Shutterstock

There are a few things you need to consider when choosing between the two. These include:

Your Budget 

Before you even begin choosing the type of washer you’ll purchase, there’s one major restricting factor; your budget. In this regard, top loaders that use agitators tend to be cheaper than their front-loading counterparts that use impellers. 

If you’re looking for an affordable option, an agitator will be your most likely option. On the other hand, if your budget isn’t as much of a concern, then you’re better off choosing a front-loading machine with an impeller.


Like any other product, some brands produce washers with both agitators and impellers. However, different brands offer varying quality products, features, and warranty terms. If you’re a brand loyalist who’s looking for the best of your favorite brand, then an agitator will most likely be your choice.


Agitators and impellers not only differ in their cleaning action, but they also offer a different range of features. For instance, agitators can come with attachments like scrubbers that enhance their cleaning action.

On the other hand, front-loading washing machines with impellers usually come with more advanced features like digital displays. If you prefer a washer with advanced features, then you’ll likely end up with a washer with an impeller.


If you live in a large household and have more than two people, a washer with high capacity will serve you best. Agitators are better at handling heavy items like rags and rocks, while impellers excel at screening small particles. 

If your clothes tend to get dirtier than others, an agitator will be your best option. On the other hand, washers with impellers allow you to fit more clothes into a wash cycle.

Type of Clothes 

Before deciding whether to purchase a washer with either one of the two components, you need to consider the type of clothes it will wash. Agitators do a better job breaking down heavy items like rags and rocks while impellers are better at washing delicate garments.

If you’re looking for a washer that can handle cleaning dirty work clothes, then agitator-equipped washers are for you. If you want to wash delicate clothes with an optimal cleaning performance, then an impeller-equipped washer will be better suited for your needs.


Both washing machines have a standard warranty of one year that covers the parts but does not deal with labor or service calls for free. However, some manufacturers may exclude deterioration from wear or tear and damage caused by disasters like floods.

If you want to get a washer with the best warranty terms, check the manufacturer’s warranty terms and how they define “warranty” in their language.


Agitator-equipped washers tend to use more detergent than impeller-equipped washing machines, which reduces their overall operating cost. Purchase a washer with an agitator if you want to reduce electricity bills and save on your power bill. If you want to spend less money on your detergent, purchase a washing machine equipped with an impeller.


Generally, agitator-equipped washing machines are available to handle 5 lbs/2.25 kgs of clothes, while impeller washers only hold 4.5 lb/2 kgs of clothes. If you want a large machine capable of handling your frequent laundry needs or have many people in your household, an agitator is your best option.

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Kenmore 28" Top-Load Washer with Triple Action Agitator
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Frequently Asked Questions

Guy installing a washing machine agitator in a top-loading washer

David Spates/Shutterstock

While searching for your ideal washer, you may have some questions. Here are some of the frequently asked questions and their answers. 

What’s the Difference Between an Agitator and Impeller?

Agitators tend to beat clothes while impellers spin them. Both types of washers have different washing methods that sometimes lead to a different cleaning performance with varying degrees of efficiency.

How Do I Decide If Agitation or Spinning Is Better for Me?

Suppose you have delicate, expensive, or designer clothes you may not want to wash them with other garments like mechanic rags that will damage them. In that case, an agitator washing machine is your best option, as it can handle smaller loads with more care. 

If you want to use fewer detergents and save on power bills, then an impeller washing machine is your best choice, as it cleans clothes in a way that uses less detergent than an agitator.

How Do I Maintain My Washing Machine?

If you want your washer to work at its optimum capacity, then make sure that you perform the following maintenance tips on your washer regularly:

  • Never wash clothes that are too full as this may break some machine parts or cause damage to your washing machine. If you load small amounts of clothes, then make sure that you always use a delicate cycle when washing them in hot water to prevent fading. 
  • Never use a washer when it isn’t running, and ensure regular checkups to prevent issues like clogging that may, in turn, lead to rusting. 
  • Always drain the water after each cycle to avoid any mildew or mold growth inside your washing machine. 
  • Clean your washing machine regularly using baking soda, vinegar, or bleach.
  • Clean the lint filter on your washing machine regularly to avoid clogs that can be dangerous for your clothes and may lead to a fire hazard.

What Are the Best Detergents for Washing Machines?

If you want to use your washing machine effectively, then it is recommended that you choose a high-quality detergent that can fight germs and dirt while maintaining the condition of your clothes.

The key to choosing the suitable detergent lies in its contact time with the dirt, how much you should dilute it, and the water hardness, depending on geographical location.

How do I extend the life of my washing machine?

If you want your washing machine to last for a long time, you must regularly maintain and clean your washing machine.  

So, Agitator vs. Impeller, Which Is Best? 

When deciding between agitators vs. impellers, it’s not about which one is better, but rather the one that suits your needs. So, before making a purchase, consider all the above factors to ensure you get the best cleaning experience.

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