How to find the best clothes dryer
Are you a budding dryer buyer? We show you how to choose the right one for your needs.
What clothes dryer should I buy?
All clothes dryers work by blowing heated air through your clothes to remove moisture, but there are several different types of dryers available which employ different technologies, features and levels of sophistication.
So how do you decide which dryer is right for you? You'll need to consider:
- how often you'll be using your clothes dryer
- the kind of items you'll be using it for
- the available space and ventilation in your laundry
- the impact on your energy costs
- your environmental footprint.
Want to know how we get our review results? Check out how we test dryers.
In this buying guide:
- What are the different types of clothes dryers?
- Is the load capacity important?
- What features should I look for?
- How much does it cost to run a clothes dryer?
- Money-saving tips for clothes dryers
- Are clothes dryers safe?
- How reliable are clothes dryers?
What are the different types of clothes dryers?
The simplest and most common type of clothes dryer, vented dryers are cheap to buy but expensive to run.
That said, from an environmental perspective a vented dryer using 100% green energy from a renewable source is a good option.
With any dryer, the moisture from your clothes has to go somewhere. This type of dryer pumps hot, humid air straight out into the surrounds, so you'll need good ventilation (or a venting/ducting kit – available for some machines) if you don't want your home feeling like a sauna.
Unlike vented dryers, which push moist hot air straight out of the dryer into your home, condenser dryers use a heat exchanger to condense moisture from the exhaust air and either collect it in a reservoir or drain it away.
The exhaust air from a condenser dryer will still be warm, but won't be anywhere near as damp, so you won't have to worry about water dripping down the walls. However you will need to remember to empty the water reservoir (unless the machine's plumbed in).
Condenser driers are a little more expensive then vented dryers, but are more versatile since good ventilation isn't as important.
Heat pump condenser dryers use the same heat exchange principles as a reverse-cycle air conditioner to heat the air they use to dry your clothes.
This makes them expensive to buy but cheap to run, since they use around 63% less energy than an equivalent size vented dryer.
Heat pump condenser dryers take a little longer to dry a typical load of laundry, but they don't vent heated air at all (heat energy is captured and reused by the heat exchanger and air is recirculated), so there's no moisture fogging up your laundry and no hot air. It's a win-win.
It will still take years for the lower running costs to offset your initial outlay, but with prices of heat pump condensers coming down and energy costs rising, heat pump condenser dryers are becoming a more viable option.
Gas clothes dryers work the same way as conventional dryers, but use natural gas instead of electricity as a heat source.
They're cost effective to run and perform well, but have a higher purchase price and you may need to modify your laundry.
We previously tested a gas dryer and scored it highly, even though it uses more energy at the point of connection (i.e. the power point or, in this case, the gas outlet) than electric dryers.
This is because, if you consider energy use in its totality – that is, gas used for drying compared with the coal burnt to produce electricity – gas dryers use 60% less energy overall.
Why? Because two-thirds of the energy in coal never reaches the household due to energy conversion losses at the power station and transmission losses through the grid.
While a gas dryer's drum motor and controls are still electric, this represents only around 10% of the energy used by a clothes dryer.
When compared with typical electric vented dryers of a similar size, a gas dryer will pay for itself in just under eight years when used five times per week.
However, you may need to add the installation costs, which will take longer to offset the purchase price (most people don't have a gas outlet in the laundry and the unit must be ducted to the outside).
But you may feel the reduction in CO2 emissions – and faster, more even drying – are worth the expense.
Is the load capacity of my clothes dryer important?
In most cases, yes. Will you be putting a full 8kg of washing into your dryer each time? Or just a couple of items?
Most people take the load out of the washer and put it straight in the dryer. This is why it's a good idea to match the capacity of your dryer to your washer.
Does capacity refer to the weight of wet or dry clothes?
It refers to wet clothes.
So, let's say you have an 8kg washing machine and fill it to capacity with 8kg of dry clothes. When you take the wet clothes out after the washing cycle, an 8kg capacity dryer is capable of drying that load – even though it's heavier now since it's wet.
What features should I look for in a dryer?
To prevent dripping walls and mould-ridden ceilings, you need to ensure the moist, hot air from the dryer is removed from your laundry efficiently.
Setting up your dryer near an open window or using an exhaust fan may do the job, but if this isn't possible then you're likely to need a venting kit. Some dryers come with one; for others it's an optional extra. However, not all venting kits suit all situations. Discuss the installation with the sales staff to make sure you get what you need.
Remember, some dryers only have an exhaust vent at the front and can't be ducted. So if your laundry has poor ventilation, check that the model is vent-kit compatible before you buy.
Our dryer reviews comparison table can tell you which of the dryers we've tested are front-vented and whether or not they can be ducted.
Wall-mountable or stackable
Mounting your dryer on the wall or stacking it on top of a front-loading washing machine saves space.
- Some manufacturers only sell stacking kits as an optional extra, and they may only stack on their own brand of washing machine.
- Only vented dryers can be wall mounted – condenser and heat pump condenser dryers are too heavy and will need to be put on the floor or stacked on top of a washer.
Your lint filter needs to be cleaned regularly in order for your dryer to operate efficiently and to reduce the risk of fires, so it's helpful if the filter is at the front and easy to access.
The drum reverses the direction of tumbling at regular intervals for more even drying and to minimise tangling.
Some models come with a rack that can be mounted inside to hold items you don't want to tumble, such as gym shoes or delicates.
This claims to automatically detect when the load has dried.
Auto programs can take the guesswork out of clothes drying by switching your dryer off when it's done, saving energy and preventing the risk of damaging your clothes through over drying.
In practice, they can be a little hit and miss depending on the size of the load you're drying.
A note on clothes dryers and child safety
While shutting the dryer door and having it turn on automatically is convenient, the chance of having your small child climb into the dryer and shutting the door behind them is a horrible but very real possibility.
For this reason, we don't recommend dryers with this function for those with children or regular young visitors. There are more safety tips below.
How much does it cost to run a clothes dryer?
A vented clothes dryer will be one of the most energy intensive appliances in your home, using anywhere from 2.75kWh to 9.25kWh per load.
For example, your energy costs 30 cents/kWh. Say a dryer uses 5kWh per load, and you use it three times a week (roughly 150 times a year) on average. 0.30 X 5 X 150 = your dryer is going to cost you $225 a year to run.
The good news is, a clothes dryer is one of the easiest to economise on when keeping an eye on the household budget – particularly given Australia's surfeit of sunlight.
If you're a heavy dryer user, consider buying a heat pump dryer as their running costs are much lower.
- Air dry your clothes wherever possible – clothes dryers use a lot of energy to run, but sunlight is free.
- Keep your lint filter clean – a blocked lint filter makes it harder for air to circulate through your clothes, making your dryer less efficient and creating a fire hazard. You should clean your dryer's filter after every load.
- Use the highest spin speed on your washing machine, and if you're shopping for a new washing machine, look for one with a higher spin speed – this extracts more water so your washing will take less time and energy to dry.
- Opt for an energy efficient dryer. If you can't avoid using your dryer all year round – because you live in an apartment complex with restrictive body corporate laws, for example – opt for one with a high energy efficiency score or consider a heat pump condenser dryer – they cost more to buy but are cheaper to run so they can save you money in the long run. The more you use your dryer, the better an option this becomes.
- Open a window or use your home's ducting (if it's available) – venting moisture back into your laundry space just makes your dryer work harder to dry your clothes, costing you more. If you can't vent, consider a condenser or heat pump condenser dryer – they cost more to buy but are cheaper to run so they can save you money in the long run, and won't leave you with water dripping from the ceiling and down the walls.
- Be skeptical of dryer balls and other gimmicks – some people will tell you that adding these to your dryer will reduce the time and energy required to dry your clothes. We tested dryer balls and found the only thing they dried up faster were the liquid assets in your wallet.
Are clothes dryers safe?
All dryers we've tested in the last few years have overheat detection, which means they turn off when the temperature gets too hot.
But to make sure you're extra safe, follow these few steps that most dryers will detail in their manuals:
- Follow the instructions in your manual.
- Plug your dryer directly into the power socket, not into a double adaptor, extension cord or power board.
- If wall mounting, ensure your drier is securely fastened to the wall following the manufacturer's instructions. Consider professional installation if DIY isn't your thing.
- Kids love to explore and can easily climb inside your dryer – if you have small children, avoid models which start automatically when the door is closed.
- Allow good ventilation around the dryer.
- Don't load clothes that have had flammable materials spilled on them such as oils. Wash these in hot water with extra detergent before drying.
- Only load clothes, towels and linen.
- Do not put items of clothing with rubber or foam attached to them.
- Don't store flammable items near the dryer.
- Clean your lint filter after every load (it saves time, energy and reduces potential damage to your clothes).
- Follow the clothing recommendations regarding tumble drying.
- Avoid using fabric softeners.
- Don't leave your dryer on while you aren't at home.
Kids can easily climb inside your dryer, so avoid models which start automatically when the door is closed
How reliable are clothes dryers?
If you're not sure which brand of dryer to choose, check out our dryer reliability survey. The results are based on the real-world experiences of thousands of consumers, so you can see how they all stack up before you buy.
These scores are also listed in our clothes dryer review, so filter for the highest rating where available.