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Are washer dryer combos any good? 

Two-for-one sounds great, but do combination washer dryers actually get the job done? We find out.

rainbow towels loaded into front loader washer
Last updated: 13 March 2020

Wouldn't it be great if you could throw your dirty laundry in the wash before work and come home to clean, dry clothes neatly hanging in your wardrobe? That dream could be one step closer with a washer dryer combo.

What is 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 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.

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.

It's also important to know you can use the washing and drying functions independent of each other. Even with the option of drying built in, your best option will still be to wash your clothes in the combo but then take them out and hang them on the clothes line to dry (or in other words, use your washer dryer combo as a regular washing machine). 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 therefor be 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 up your (damp) sleeve in case of emergencies.

What if you don't have the option of line drying, and don't have the space for standalone appliances? Well a washer dryer combo is probably the right choice for you, but whatever the wash cycle you choose, you're going to want to make sure you select the highest spin speed available to extract as much water as possible before the drying phase, making it as easy as possible for your appliance. Even then you'll need to settle in for the long haul and wait it out, because it will still take up to 6.5 hours to dry. Maybe put it on overnight?

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 machine 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, drying 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.

How do washer dryer combos work?

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 unsurprisingly you'll have a comparable wash experience to using a conventional, stand-alone washing machine, and it's perfectly fine to use one as such. In fact this is what we'd recommend anyway, provided you have facilities to line dry your clothes.

Although washer dryer combos wash about the same as a conventional washer, they're much more complicated appliances, because of the drying aspect, which is where they get really interesting, because unlike stand-alone dryers, there's a whole bunch of plumbing and water inlets in them, for the washing side of things, but also coopted for the drying component. So how does the drying component work? Well as a sealed system (a washing machine with open vents throughout would be bad news for your carpets), 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.

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 washer dryer combos use to dry?

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.

Pros and cons

Pros

  • 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.

Cons

  • 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. This Samsung washer and dryer 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.

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.

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