The front-loading or horizontal-axis clothes washer is the dominant design in Europe. In the U.S. and elsewhere, most "high-end" washing machines are of this type. In addition, most commercial and industrial clothes washers around the world are of the horizontal-axis design.
Front-loaders control water usage through the surface tension of water, and the capillary wicking action this creates in the fabric weave. A front-loader washer always fills to the same low water level, but a large pile of dry clothing standing in water will soak up the moisture, causing the water level to drop. The washer then refills to maintain the original water level. Because it takes time for this water absorption to occur with a motionless pile of fabric, nearly all front-loaders begin the washing process by slowly tumbling the clothing under the stream of water entering and filling the drum, to rapidly saturate the clothes with water.
Nearly all front-loader washers for the consumer market also use a folded flexible bellows assembly around the door opening, to keep clothing contained inside the basket during the tumbling wash cycle. If this bellows assembly were not used, small articles of clothing such as socks could slip out of the wash basket near the door, and fall down the narrow slot between the outer tub and basket, plugging the drain and possibly jamming rotation of the inner basket. Retrieving lost items from between the outer tub and inner basket can require complete disassembly of the front of the washer and pulling out the entire inner wash basket. Commercial and industrial front-loaders used by businesses (described below) usually do not use the bellows, and instead require all small objects to be placed in a mesh bag to prevent loss near the basket opening.
The inherent mechanical weak spot of the front loader design is the cantilevered mounting of the inner drum within the outer tub. The drum bearing has to support the entire weight of the drum, the laundry, and the dynamic loads created by the sloshing of the water and of the imbalance of the load during the spin cycle. The drum bearing eventually wears out, and usually requires extensive dismantling of the machine to replace, which often results in the machine being written off due to the failure of a relatively inexpensive component that is labor-intensive to renew. Some manufacturers have compounded this problem by "overmolding" the drum bearing into the outer tub to reduce manufacturing costs, but this makes the bearing impossible to renew without replacing the entire outer tub - which usually forces owners to scrap the entire machine - this may be viewed as an implementation of built-in obsolescence.
Compared to top-loading washers, clothing can be packed more tightly in a front loader, up to the full drum volume if using a cottons wash cycle. This is because wet cloth usually fits into a smaller space than dry cloth, and front loaders are able to self-regulate the water needed to achieve correct washing and rinsing. Extreme overloading of front-loading washers pushes fabrics towards the small gap between the loading door and the front of the wash basket, potentially resulting in fabrics lost between the basket and outer tub, and in severe cases, tearing of clothing and jamming the motion of the basket.