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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.

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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.

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, and
  • your environmental footprint.

Types of clothes dryers

Which size to get?

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, however we've found most people only wash around 3.5kg of laundry at a time, so you may not need all that capacity. We recommend grabbing your laundry basket full of (dry) washing and jumping on the scales to see how much you actually wash each time to see what capacity you really need. Though if you only want a small one, you may be restricted to a vented dryer these days – the more efficient heat pump dryers are generally all 7kg or greater.

Does capacity refer to the weight of wet or dry clothes?

It refers to dry 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?

Venting/Ducting

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 clothes dryer reviews 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 dryers

Mounting your dryer on the wall or stacking it on top of a front-loading washing machine saves space.

However: 

  • 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.

Filters

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.

man lifting lint filter from dryer

Clean your clothes dryer's filter after each use to reduce the risk of fires.

Reverse tumbling

The drum reverses the direction of tumbling at regular intervals for more even drying and to minimise tangling.

Drying rack

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.

Auto program

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.

Woolens program

This is a low-heat program designed for drying certain wool or wool-blend items of clothing. Remember though that even with a woolens program, not all woolen garments can safely be dried in the dryer - read the garment care tag carefully and make sure it says that it's safe to do so.

Delicates program

Like a woolens program, a delicates program is a gentle, low temperature mode for drying delicate fabrics, though just as with wool, read the care instructions on the garment carefully and if it doesn't say it's safe to put in a dryer you should air dry it instead.

Extra dry program

According to the Australian standard, clothes dryers must be able to achieve a 6% or better moisture content, and if you're using your dryers' auto program it will turn itself off once it reaches this point. If you've used a dryer with an auto function though you'll have noticed your clothes still feel a little damp. Why does your dryer stop at this point? For several reasons. It makes your clothes easier to iron, it prevents overdrying and damaging delicate fabrics, and it improves energy efficiency. Even if you did get your clothes to zero percent moisture content (bone dry, in technical terms) they would rehydrate by absorbing moisture from the air. But if you want your clothes extra dry, say, for sealing them up in a bag for winter, an extra dry function can remove a little bit more moisture. It gives you more flexibility, but isn't necessary for day to day use.

Delay time function

While it's not a good idea to leave laundry lying around wet for any length of time, there's a number of reasons why you might not want to start your dryer straight away. A delay start, or delay time function allows you to set your dryer to start at a specific time, say, when everyone's gone to bed so as to not interrupt family dinner or movie time, to take advantage of peak solar electricity production in the middle of the day, or so that the dryer finishes at a convenient time, so clothes aren't sitting tangled in a heap, which can cause creases to form (though of course you should never run a dryer when you're out of the house due to the risk of fires), which brings us to:

Anti-crease function

When activated, anti-crease continues to gently tumble your clothes every so often after drying has finished, so creases don't settle in so readily.

Child lock controls

 A great option if you have small, inquisitive children. Child lock controls prevent the dryer from starting unless a certain button combination is pressed - invaluable if you have curious little ones around with access to your laundry.

A note on clothes dryers and child safety

On the subject of children, 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.

Running costs

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, but if you only use your dryer occasionally, you heat pump dryer's lower running costs may never amortise the higher purchase price, so a cheap vented dryer might be a better option.

Dryer Type

Average RRP

(of models we've tested)

Average 10 year running costs

(used once a week, every week)

Vented

$512

$1508

Condenser

$1319

$1597

Heat pump

$2195

$605

Most energy efficient clothes dryers

So how much energy do the different types of dryers actually use?

Type

Average energy used per load (kW)

(of models we've tested)

Average cycle time (minutes)

(of models we've tested)

Vented

3.35

124

Condenser

3.55

126

Heat pump

1.34

124

washing wave chasing woman

If you're always doing laundry, you can cut down on drying costs by air-drying outside or switching to a heat pump dryer.

Six money-saving tips for clothes dryers

  1. Air dry your clothes wherever possible – clothes dryers use a lot of energy to run, but sunlight is free.
  2. 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.
  3. Use the highest spin speed on your washing machine, and if you're shopping for a new washing machines, look for one with a higher spin speed – this extracts more water so your washing will take less time and energy to dry.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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:

  1. Follow the instructions in your manual.
  2. Plug your dryer directly into the power socket, not into a double adaptor, extension cord or power board.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. Allow good ventilation around the dryer.
  6. Don't load clothes that have had flammable materials spilled on them such as oils. Wash these in hot water with extra laundry detergent before drying.
  7. Only load clothes, towels and linen.
  8. Do not put items of clothing with rubber or foam attached to them.
  9. Don't store flammable items near the dryer.
  10. Clean your lint filter after every load (it saves time, energy and reduces potential damage to your clothes).
  11. Follow the clothing recommendations regarding tumble drying.
  12. Avoid using fabric softeners.
  13. 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 clothes 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.

How to care for your clothes dryer

Your clothes dryer is a pretty hardy appliance. But if you don't look after it, you could increase your risk of fire, as well as machine failure. Here's how to look after your clothes dryer so it gives you many years of safe use.

Every use

  • Clean the lint filter – we can't stress this enough. Not only does a blocked lint filter reduce your dryer's efficiency, it's the major cause of dryer fires
  • Empty the water tank (condenser and heat pump models), or plumb it into a drain, and
  • Leave the door ajar when not in use (if possible) to help extend the life of the seal.

Monthly

  • Clean external surfaces with a soft damp cloth.

Annually

  • Vacuum the lint out of air intakes, vents and crevices.

Do clothes dryers shrink clothes?

So yes, clothes do shrink, and it's no stretch of the imagination (ha) to think that it's your dryer that's doing it. Specifically, the combination of heat and tumbling on wet fabrics.

Why do they shrink?

But why does this happen? Let's look at how your clothes are made. The fabric in your clothes is made up of lots of individual fibres, and in their raw state these fibres are relatively short. In the process of being made into thread, then knitted into a rather fetching autumn collection turtleneck or woven, dyed and sewn into a garish Hawaiian shirt, they're stretched out. When you apply heat and tumbling action in a hot dryer those fibres want to return to their original, pre-stretched state, leaving your formerly loose shirts and shorts tightly fitted.

Another thing you've probably noticed is that not all materials react the same way – natural fibres like cotton and wool are, at a molecular level, hydrophilic. That means they LOVE water and absorb a lot of it (if you've ever been caught in the rain in a cotton t-shirt you'll know what that means), which makes them more susceptible to shrinkage than synthetics because the water lubricates the fibres, allowing them to contract and move more easily. Synthetics like polyester and nylon are less susceptible to dryer-related shrinkage, and tightly woven fabrics like denim will also fare better than loose knits. Sadly, that means your garish rayon Hawaiian shirt is virtually indestructible.

How to stop clothes from shrinking in the dryer

The easiest way to avoid shrinkage is to line dry – good for the environment and it's free. But we get that's not always possible.

Known suspects such as woollen jumpers shouldn't go anywhere near your dryer – air dry instead, laid flat so they'll retain their shape.

For everything else, read (and follow) the care instructions on the label. It's pretty simple – if the label says do not tumble dry then don't tumble dry it. Likewise with anything that says cold wash only.

For a simple vented dryer you should use the warm setting, not hot, and don't overdry your clothes.

For more complex dryers with several program options, choose the appropriate program for the fabric you're drying. You should also separate clothing into types and dry like with like – lighter t-shirts dry faster than heavier towels, so you risk overdrying them.

If you're a repeat offender, consider shrink-proof clothing – garments which have been 'pre-shrunk' during production so tension in the fibres has already been released.

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