Wouldn't it be great if you could throw your dirty laundry in the wash before work and come home to clean, dry clothes hanging neatly in your wardrobe? That dream could be one step closer with a washer dryer combo.
At their simplest, washer dryer combos combine a front loading washing machine and a condenser clothes dryer into a single appliance that's 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.
- 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 – no more unloading wet clothes to put them in the dryer.
- 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.
- You'll need to wait for the machine to finish washing and drying before you can add another load. So if you're doing multiple loads of laundry, it will take longer than if you were using a standalone washer and dryer simultaneously.
- They can use a staggering amount of water to dry. This Samsung washer dryer combo won a Shonky award in 2017 for its water consumption
- 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.
Washer dryer combos are a great solution for small houses and small households: they have a smaller footprint than standalone appliances, and the dryer capacity is best suited to one- to two-person households.
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 if you wash full loads, you do have to take half of it out for drying). See our guide to washing machine accessibility for more.
Washer dryer combos are a good solution for small houses and small households
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 means you should probably give those particular ones a wide berth.
And if you're on a budget, buying a standalone washing machine and clothes dryer can save a few dollars if you opt for a cheaper vented dryer (or skip 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.
How do you use a washer dryer combo?
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.
Washer dryer combos wash much the same as a conventional washing machine, but don't do a particularly good job in the drying department
It's also important to know you can use the washing and drying functions independently of each other. In our experience washer dryer combos wash much the same as a conventional washing machine, but don't do a particularly good job in the drying department.
So if you have the option, the good old Hills Hoist will therefore be the best, cheapest and probably fastest way to dry your laundry, but you can relax in the knowledge that you have a wet weather backup plan in case of emergencies.
If you don't have the option of line drying, and don't have the space for standalone appliances, then a washer dryer combo is probably the right choice for you. But to get the most out of your washer dryer, make sure you select the highest spin speed available to extract as much water as possible before the drying phase. Even then it will still take up to 6.5 hours to dry.
We've found most washer dryer combos wash exactly the same way as a conventional front-loading washing machine. Water and detergent are added, clothes are picked up and dropped into the wash water to clean them, then they're spun, rinsed, and spun again. So you'll have a comparable wash experience to using a conventional, standalone washing machine.
But washer dryer combos are much more complicated appliances because of the drying aspect. Unlike standalone dryers, there's a whole bunch of plumbing and water inlets in them for the washing side of things, that's also coopted for the drying component.
Most washer dryers wash the same way as a conventional front loader, so you'll have a comparable wash experience
So how does the drying component work? A washing machine with open vents throughout would be bad news for your carpets, so a washer dryer works as a sealed system, using a condenser dryer.
Unlike a simpler vented dryer which pumps hot wet air straight out, condenser dryers capture the moisture from your clothes. They push warm, dry air through your wet washing to extract moisture, then cool 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.
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 also a washer it already has the plumbing in place.
After a few cycles through the heat exchanger, the cooling water becomes too warm to use, 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.
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 frustrating if you're in a hurry for clean clothes.
And drying in a washer dryer combo uses a lot of water – sometimes more than they'll use for washing. If you use your dryer regularly, you'll probably be better off with a standalone appliance.
Washer dryer combos use the same washing action as an equivalent front loader ... however, their drying often leaves a lot to be desired
They're also 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 separate appliances, but poor drying performance may make this a false economy.
The added complexity also means there's a higher risk of something going wrong. You may also face a bigger repair bill if things go sideways after the warranty runs out. And unlike standalone appliances which can be replaced individually, when your combo dies, you've got to replace the whole thing.
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.
It varies from model to model, but the appliances in our test averaged 35L of water to dry our 3.5kg test load.
That's excluding one particularly thirsty outlier that, for a full load uses a staggering 210L (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).
CHOICE tip: The star rating doesn't include the water used for drying, but the water use does have to be listed as a number on the sticker. 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 an 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.
How energy efficient are washer dryer combos?
If, like most Australians, you wash in cold water, your washer dryer combo will use roughly 10 times as much energy to dry your clothes as it will to wash them.
The energy consumption of a washer dryer is comparable to using a standalone washing machines and condenser dryer. However, if you use a dryer regularly, you're better off using a heat pump dryer as it uses much less energy.
Unfortunately the few heat pump washer dryer combos on the market are prohibitively expensive – around $3000 a pop.
Another quirk of combos is that their washing and drying capacities are different because your clothes can be packed in tightly for washing, but to dry effectively they need plenty of space for air to circulate.
Because most of us only fill our washing machines to half their capacity (which is 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.