Clothes dryer buying guide
Are you a budding dryer buyer but feel a bit wet behind the ears? We show you how to choose the best clothes dryer.
What clothes dryer should I buy?
Living in Australia means a temperate climate with an abundance of sunshine, so ideally a clothes dryer should complement your trusty Hills Hoist, not replace it.
But 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 type of clothes dryer is best for me?
- Is the load capacity of my clothes dryer important?
- How reliable are clothes dryers?
- What features should I look for in a dryer?
- Are clothes dryers expensive to run?
- Top six money-saving tips for clothes dryers
- Are clothes dryers safe?
What type of clothes dryer is best for me?
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. There's no 'best' type though – the right type of clothes dryer for you will depend on your own circumstances:
- Is initial purchase price more important than ongoing running costs?
- Will you be using your dryer regularly or only as a last resort?
- Does your laundry have good ventilation or will condensation be an issue?
To help you decide what's right for you, here are the most common dryer types, in order of popularity.
The simplest type of clothes dryer and the most common in Australia, vented dryers are cheap to buy but expensive to run. However, 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 and this type of dryer will pump 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'll still end up with a hot room but you won't have to worry about water dripping down the walls.
Condenser driers are a little more expensive then vented dryers (and you'll need to remember to empty the water reservoir unless the machine's plumbed in), but are more versatile because good room ventilation isn't as important.
Heat pump condenser dryers use the same heat exchange principles as your reverse cycle air conditioner to heat the air they use to dry your clothes. This makes them expensive to buy but very cheap to run, because 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're easier to live with as they don't have the unpleasant side effects of other dryer types – not only do they condense and remove moisture from the air, 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.
Higher purchase prices mean they're not very popular in Australia, but Heat pump condenser driers are getting cheaper. It will still take years for the lower running costs to offset your initial outlay, but with prices coming down and rising energy costs, 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. Gas dryers are cost effective to run and perform well, but have a higher purchase price and you may need to modify your laundry.
CHOICE has previously tested a gas dryer and scored it highly, even though it uses more energy than electric dryers. Our rating system compares dryers on the energy used at the point of connection (the power point or, in this case, the gas outlet). However, 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. This is 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 is 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. But 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?
Just as you look for the correct washing machine capacity, you'll also need to look at your dryer load capacity. Do you think you'll be putting a full 8kg of washing into your dryer, or will you only be putting a couple of items in each time? In all likelihood you'll probably take the load out of your washer and put it straight in your dryer, so it's a good idea to match the capacity of your dryer to your washer.
Do they mean wet or dry?
When you walk into a retail store and see '8kg capacity' on a dryer, it's referring to dry clothes. This means if you had an 8kg washing machine, filled it to capacity with 8kg of dry clothes, and then took all the clothes out (when damp from the wash), your 8kg dryer is capable of drying that load, even though it's heavier now because it's wet.
How reliable are clothes dryers?
If a clothes dryer fails it's almost guaranteed to be during an extended period of torrential rain. It doesn't matter how far your tolerance slips on the sliding scale of clothing cleanliness – sooner or later you're going to need clean, dry clothes, and eventually the thought of nothing to clean to wear on a wet weekend with a house full of soggy laundry while you deal with a dodgy dryer is going to put a dampener on your mood and bring a tear to the eye – further raising humidity levels.
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.
What features should I look for in a dryer?
There are plenty of features available on dryers, including many types of programs. Here are the most common to consider;
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 in your home then you're likely to need a venting kit. Some dryers come with one, whereas 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 then check if the model you're considering 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 clothes dryers?
Mounting your dryer on the wall or putting it on top of a front-loading washing machine saves you space, but there's a couple of things you'll need to bear in mind. Some manufacturers only sell stacking kits as an optional extra, and they may only stack on their own brand of washing machine. Also, only vented dryers can be wall mounted – condenser and heat pump condenser dryers are too heavy to wall mount and will need to be put on the floor or stacked on top of a washer.
Your lint filter needs regular cleaning 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. While most are on or near the door, filters on some models are found at the back of the drum, making them hard to reach, remove and refit, especially if the dryer is floor-mounted or mounted too high.
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 program 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.
Are clothes dryers expensive to run?
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 you can also consider buying a heat pump dryer as their running costs are much lower.
Top six money-saving tips for clothes dryers
- 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 you're more of a Frank Spencer than a Frank Lloyd Wright.
- Kids love to explore and can easily climb inside your dryer – if you have small children then 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.