Consumer Reports tested nearly 80 machines, including regular top-loading machines and high-efficiency front- and top-loaders.
Swatches uniformly stained with hard-to-clean substances, like cocoa and soot, were added to a load of wash and run through a regular cycle.
"We use two different-sized loads. One is an 8-pound load, and one is a load that fills the machine to its maximum capacity," tester Wendy Weiss said. "We do this to see how the machine performs in everyday use."
The tests turned up some disappointments. A $1,400 high-efficiency front-loader didn't come close to cleaning the swatches.
"It didn't get much of the cocoa out, and much less of the soot out," tester Emilio Gonzalez said.
Some less-expensive top-loaders didn't get the swatches clean either.
But plenty of washers did a good job, said testers, who recommended the $380 top-loading Whirlpool LSW-9700P.
In general, high-efficiency, front-loading machines do a better job cleaning clothes, and they use less water and are gentler on clothes. They cost substantially more, however.
Consumer Reports' testers recommended the $850 Kenmore HE2 among the front-loading models.
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