The 21st century family uses its washing machine an average of five days a week, so it's essential to choose the right machine – one that suits the type and frequency of your washing and is likely to be reliable. The first thing to consider is where your machine will go. Most people opt for a freestanding, front-loading machine, as they fit easily under a worktop or in a confined space. There are far fewer built-in or integrated models, and they cost up to 50 per cent more than the equivalent freestanding model.
The trend is for manufacturers to make washing machines with larger drum capacities than in the past, so you can do more washing in one go, and spin speeds are also getting faster. "Some models boast 1400 revolutions per minute or higher, rather than the more common 1200rpm," says Martyn Hocking, editor of Which? "A faster spin helps save time on the line, or energy use in the tumble dryer, but you'll usually pay extra for it and 1200rpm is adequate for most loads."
If you don't want a white machine, many Hotpoint models are available in aluminium and graphite shades, some Zanussi, Hoover and Bosch machines are available in silver, and Smeg offers a rainbow of colourful alternatives. If you're looking for a black machine these are also becoming more widely available from the likes of Bosch, LG and Hotpoint.
The Miele M562 Prestige Plus 6 is one of the best machines Which? has tested. It has an excellent cotton program that gets clothes spotless, the programs are quick, energy use is low, and it washes and spins fairly quietly. It's slightly more expensive than average at £649, but Miele washing machines have an above average reliability rating in Which? surveys, so it should last the test of time.
If you're on a tighter budget, Which? gives the Whirlpool AWO/D 5526 an "exceptional value" rating. It cleans cottons and synthetics very well. The easy-care rinse cycle is good and its energy and water consumption are reasonable, but the spin is noisy so it's better suited to a utility room.
Washing machines are generally reliable, with only about one in 10 needing repairs within the first six years of purchase, compared with two in 10 washer-dryers. Which?'s latest reliability survey found that Miele is the most reliable brand, followed by Bosch and Zanussi /Zanussi-Electrolux.
Where to buy
If you can't find the model you want on the high street, retailers such as John Lewis and Currys will order a machine for you, and if you order from John Lewis you may be eligible for a free extended warranty. Independent retailers often pride themselves on being able to track down any model, and Boots, Sainsbury's and Tesco also sell white goods online. Many manufacturers have lists of stockists you can access by calling their customer care telephone line or on their website.
Installation isn't always offered by retailers, so if you're worried about this job, try to find a retailer that includes installation as part of the package. You can check stockists and compare the latest prices using Which?'s price comparison service www.whichcompare.co.uk.
The Insider is written by Which?, the independent consumer champion. For more information go to www.which.co.uk/washingmachines. To get three issues of Which? magazine for a special price of £3, call 01992 822800 and quote INADVICE.
What to look out for Questions to ask yourself
*What's the capacity? The typical capacity of a washing machine is 6kg, which is large enough for most households, but bigger machines can be useful for large families or for bulky items such as duvets.
nHow easy is it to load? Check the width of the door and make sure it opens 180°. Some brands, such as Candy, have higher than standard doors. Top-loading machines are an option if your machine doesn't need to fit under a counter, but they can be hard to track down.
nWhat features does it have? Look for child locks, variable spin speeds to protect delicate fabrics, extra rinse features if you have sensitive skin or allergies, and touchscreen displays. Some machines include steam or air programs to boost cleaning or freshen clothes.
nHow energy-efficient is it? Washing machines have three ratings on their label (energy, washing performance and spin drying) and can range from AAA rated to GGG, but you're unlikely to find anything with a rating lower than C. Some manufacturers put A+ ratings on their websites for appliances which they regard as more energy saving, however A+ ratings are not included in the EU's energy label for laundry appliances so the rating you see on the label will never be above an A.