Sadly they can't do the ironing or put your shirts away for you just yet, but these technological marvels give you the benefits of two laundry appliances in a single unit which, because you can get your clothes clean AND dry in one fell swoop, promise to be greater than the sum of their parts.
This next-level convenience promises to be the panacea to laundry pain in our increasingly time-poor lives, but it does sound a little too good to be true. Can these wonder appliances actually deliver on their claims of carefully cleaned coloureds and well washed whites with all the water removed, or will poor performance rain on your parade, leaving you more than a little browned off? We gave these dual duty machines the once over and it turns out it's actually a little of both.
What is a washer dryer combo and and how do they work?
At their simplest, washer dryer combos combine a front loading washing machine and a condenser clothes dryer into a single appliance that's generally about the same size as an equivalent stand-alone washer. They typically offer all the features, programs and modes of mid to high end washers and dryers, so they promise to do everything stand-alone washers and dryers can do, but with half the footprint. And the smaller your living space, the bigger an advantage that becomes.
Washer dryer combos are also a convenient way to tackle laundry day, as they can wash AND dry without your intervention – so yes, you can put dirty clothes in before work, comfortable in the knowledge that you're coming home to clean, dry laundry and don't have to move it between appliances or hang it on the line. Some of the fancier ones even keep your clothes gently tumbling until you're ready to take them out, so they won't crease.
You can also run the washing and drying cycles independently, so you can use your combo as a conventional washer for day-to-day use (because you already know that line drying is the most energy efficient and environmentally friendly way to dry your laundry), but you've got the option of a dryer if you need it in an emergency or during an extended downpour, without sacrificing floor space for yet another appliance.
How do washer dryer combos compare to standalone appliances?
Washer dryer combos use the same washing action as an equivalent front loader so their cleaning capability is comparable, however their drying often leaves a lot to be desired. Although they use about the same amount of energy as an equivalent condenser dryer to dry, they take about twice as long to do it – three and a half hours on average, but over six hours for one we tested (long enough to line dry your clothes instead). This isn't an issue if you're getting the laundry done while you're at work, or overnight, but it could be intensely frustrating if you're in any sort of a hurry for clean clothes.
Eyebrow raisingly, dying in a combo also uses a lot of water. Sometimes more than they'll use for washing. This long, lacklustre and thirsty drying performance means that heavy dryer users will be better off with a dedicated stand-alone appliance.
They're also significantly more complex than their standalone counterparts, and with complexity comes cost. You can expect to pay significantly more than you would for the equivalent washing machine. If you need to buy both a washer and a dryer anyway then buying a combo appliance could save you a few dollars over the equivalent separate appliances, but frustrations over poor drying performance may make this a false economy.
The added complexity of a combo could also translate to higher risk of something going wrong – our reliability survey shows that washer dryer combo owners historically have had more issues with their appliance than owners of conventional washing machines, although combo quality has been steadily improving in recent years. Complexity also means you may face a bigger repair bill if things go sideways after the warranty runs out. And unlike standalone appliances which can be replaced individually if one of them breaks down, when your combo carks it you've got to replace the whole thing.
Do washer dryer combos use water to dry?
Most washer dryer combos are condenser dryers. Unlike a simpler vented dryer which pumps hot wet air straight out into your laundry and turns it into a sauna, condenser dryers capture the moisture from your clothes, so they're a more pleasant appliance to live with – especially if your laundry lacks decent airflow. They work by pushing warm dry air through your wet washing to extract moisture, then cooling the now humid air in a heat exchanger to condense the moisture, which is collected in a tank or pumped down the drain. The (now dry) air is reheated and the cycle repeats.
So where does water come into it? Well the heart of any condenser dryer is the heat exchanger. It works like the radiator in your car by passing the hot air through metal fins with a large surface area to facilitate cooling. In a standalone dryer these fins are air cooled, but washer dryer combos use water instead. This makes sense from an engineering point of view because water conducts heat more efficiently, and because it's a washer too it already has the plumbing in place.
Unfortunately after a few cycles through the heat exchanger the cooling water's now too warm, so it's discarded down the drain and fresh, cool water is drawn in from the tap. Rinse and repeat, as it were, until your clothes are dry.
How much water do they use? It varies from model to model and with the moisture level in your clothes, but the appliances in our test averaged 35 litres to dry our 3.5kg test load. That's excluding one particularly thirsty outlier that, for a full load uses a staggering 210 litres (claimed) – and that's in addition to water used for washing. That's bad news in a dry country like Australia, but due to a loophole in the way water efficiency ratings are calculated, it's not reflected in the machine's water efficiency star rating – only the water used for washing is calculated, not drying. (It's a hangover from standalone dryer ratings, which don't use water). But while drying water use isn't reflected in the star rating, it does have to be listed as a number on the sticker, so read the label carefully, don't just count the stars.
We're starting to see the emergence of washer dryer combos that use heat pump technology to dry (like your air conditioner). Compared to a water-cooled condenser they're very energy efficient and don't use any water to dry, but they represent another step up in terms of complexity and price.
What capacity is a washer dryer combo
Another quirk of the combos is that their washing capacity and drying capacity are different. Why? Because your clothes can be packed in tightly for washing, but to dry effectively they need plenty of space for air to circulate. Your washer dryer combo has to do both in the same tub, so its drying capacity will typically be only half the volume it can wash.
Because most of us only fill our washing machines to half their capacity (why we test using 3.5kg of laundry, not a full load) that's not necessarily an issue, but if you wash full loads you'll need to dry in two batches. This is inconvenient enough, but factor in how long some of these appliances take to dry – up to 6.5 hours in one case – and this could become unworkable. You may find the dry first half of your load getting wet again from tears of frustration as you sit late into the night waiting for your laundry to finish.
- Washing performance is comparable to an equivalent stand-alone appliance.
- Half the footprint of two separate appliances.
- You can wash and dry your clothes without manual intervention.
- You can wash or dry independently, so you can use it as a normal washer with the peace of mind of a dryer for emergencies.
- Purchase and running costs are roughly equivalent to a separate front loading washer and condenser dryer.
You can only dry half the capacity you can wash.
They can use a staggering amount of water to dry – up to 210 litres for some machines – and that's in addition to water for washing.
Heat-pump combos are energy efficient and don't use water to dry, but are complicated and expensive.
Some combos are too big to fit under a bench, so check their dimensions carefully if they need to fit in a specific spot.
Historically they were the least reliable laundry appliance, although reliability has improved in line with standalone washing machines in recent years.
Should I buy a washer dryer combo?
Washer dryer combos are a great option for inner-city living, where small apartments mean every square centimetre counts, long days at the office make coming home to clean laundry that's already dry a welcome relief, and small one or two person households means the smallish (compared to a standalone appliance) dryer capacity limit probably won't be an issue.
They're also a good option if you line dry your clothes but want the security of a dryer in case of emergencies (but remember you'll be paying a premium for that peace of mind).
And because you can wash and dry without moving clothes between appliances, combos are also a good idea if you have mobility issues that might make doing so difficult (with the proviso that you wash full loads you do have to take half of it out for drying) – see our guide to washing machine accessibility.
But if you use your dryer regularly and you've got a big family (or just big laundry requirements) then you're probably better off with standalone appliances – you'll get much better drying performance, and one load can be in the dryer while the next one's washing.
If you're on tank water or worried about the environment then the high water consumption (when drying) for some combos in particular means you should probably give these particular ones a wide berth.
And if you're on a budget, buying a stand-alone washing machine and clothes dryer can save a few dollars if you opt for a cheaper vented dryer (or skipping the dryer altogether in favour of a clothes horse). You're also hedging your bets if something breaks down, because you only need to replace one appliance, not both at once.