Integrated Washing Machines
We explain what they are and the diferences between your choice of washing machine
The choice between integrated and what we refer to as freestanding washing machines is often down to personal preference but, as service engineers, integrated washing machines are a lot more hassle.
For more general bying advice please see our buying integrated appliances article for more and do be aware that there are a lot of own label brands that will sell rebadged integrated washing machines.
What Is An Integrated Washing Machine
An integrated washing machine is defined as being "behind the cupboard door" in the most basic sense but, it is a little more complex than this.
You see we have terms like, semi-integrated, fully integrated, built in and freestanding which can cause some confusion, even in the trade. So we'll run through each here and explain the various options and the differences between them to try to dispel any confusion.
At its most basic definition, any of the terms containing the word integrated in respect to all appliances and not just washing machines means that there is a cupboard door fitted to the front of the machine and that there is usually no lid or just a simple metal plate. Additionally the bottom is set back to allow fitting a kitchen plinth panel in front of the washing machine.
None of these machines are intended for use outside of a kitchen unit and you would be ill advised to attempt to do so. The reason is that they are not as stable, given that they are designed to be held in place by your kitchen units and, if you take them out of those, you remove a huge element of stability.
Likewise, freestanding washing machines are not designed for use inside a tight fitting cupboard space either and, again, it is not advised that this is done.
Fully Integrated Washing Machine
A fully integrated washing machine is one that you do not see.
That means that it has a full size kitchen door fitted to the front of the washer and the washing machine is hidden behind this door.
The bottom plinth panel is recessed to allow the fitting of a wooden kitchen plinth along the bottom front of the washing machine so that the plinth line of the kitchen remains unbroken.
Washing machines are specifically designed for this purpose and will have a lower spin speed normally because any vibration would (or could) cause issues with the door on the front as well as transfer of vibration into the surrounding kitchen units.
They will also normally have only a plain metal lid so that the height can be adjusted all the way up so that the washing machine touches the kitchen worktop. It is worth pointing out that on some integrated washing machines that this is not possible due to the vibration issues it can cause.
Because of the complexity of cabinet design, the lower volumes being manufactured and all the additional bits that are required such as the door hinges, integrated washing machines do tend to be considerably more expensive than their freestanding relatives, even with the same features and specification.
Care needs to be taken when installing an integrated washing machine as the kitchen door needs to be drilled and bored in exactly the correct places according to the template or it will not line up correctly.
Then all fixings have to be put on properly and the washing machine very well levelled and secured into place correctly if you do not want rattles or the machine moving about.
Installing an integrated washing machine is not a two minute job and, yes as usual, the professionals make it look easy and do it in jig time but, ti isn't so simple.
Getting them back out, especially where they are not installed properly is a total nightmare at times for service engineers. Some even refuse to touch integrated washing machines because of the issues we see.
Very often these washing machines are fitted by kitchen fitters who appear to have it in their heads that the machine will never have to come back out or, if it does, it isn't their problem. Well, even under the manufacturer warranty, if an integrated washing machine is not installed correctly and will not come out easily or without a risk of damage almost every service engineer you call will walk away asking you to call back when it is removed from the housing.
Even if they do come out okay, it still takes longer and usually involves much messing about getting it out and then, back in and lined up.
This makes integrated washing machines a pain for service engineers. We don't really like them and tend to charge more to repair them due to the hassle and extra time involved in dealing with them.
Semi-Integrated Washing Machine
A semi-integrated washing machine is one where there is a cupboard door fitted but you can still see the top control panel. In all other respects it is the same as a fully integrated washing machine.
Pretty much all the same caveats apply as well. They're a bit easier to get lined up but, only a bit.
These have become less and less popular over the years and these days you will likely struggle to find a semi-integrated washing machine or any other semi-integrated appliance as people usually opt for fully integrated.
There was a price advantage at one time but that appears to no longer be the case.
Built-In Washing Machine
This is the term that gets most confused.
An integrated washing machine is defined as being behind the cupboard door as we said earlier.
A built in washing machine is defined as being built in but without a cupboard door.
Okay so here's what it means, the washing machine has the recessed lower plinth so that the kitchen plinth line remains unbroken, just like a fully integrated washing machine but, there is no facility to fit a kitchen door onto the washing machine.
Now, in days of old, you would get a number of washing machines that had a metal door that you could slip a decor panel into allowing the washing machine to look as if it matched the kitchen in colour.
The reason, it was cheaper than a fully or semi-integrated washing machine.
These are actually not that hard to service. Still more hassle and time than a freestanding machine but a lot less hassle than an integrated washing machine. Usually.
Again however, they were not intended or designed for use outside of a kitchen unit and such use is strongly advised against.
Freestanding Washing Machine
A freestanding washing machine is just that.
Other than the services that it requires, water, waster and power, it can be used without anything surrounding it, hence the term "freestanding".
On these washing machines the bottom is not recessed to allow a plinth to be fitted in front and, due to that, they are more stable. They also will have a lid fitted although, with the larger capacities now used, the control panel will usually now come up to the full height of the top thereby not allow the installation height to be reduced.
On many however, especially cheap washing machines, you can find that the damping of vibrations aren't so brilliant because there is an assumed space around the washer and they are not designed to be fitted into very tight spaces. If you do so then you will invariably find that you get vibration transfer into the surrounding units.
When people attempt to make freestanding washing machines integrated it usually doesn't end well.
You also cannot fit a door to the front without quite extensive modification which would invalidate any warranty but could also trash your washing machine. Drill a hole in the wrong place and you could burst something or, tear up wiring.
This is why we would never recommend any attempt to convert a freestanding washing machine to an integrated one. They are completely different cabinet designs with completely different intents and converting from one to the other could at best prove difficult but probably also dangerous.