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The Which? guide to buying the best tumble dryer

Find the best full-size, slimline, integrated or compact tumble dryer with Which? reviews

Having a tumble dryer at home can be very convenient, especially if you don’t have space to hang clothes out to dry. But while dryers can be the cheapest of the white goods to purchase, they’re usually the biggest drain on your electricity bills.

Tumble dryers can add anything from £39 to £139 a year to your annual bills, with the average dryer adding about £100. They come in different shapes and sizes and certain types of dryer are much more energy efficient than others. To help you pick out the right tumble dryer for you and your home, here’s the Which? guide to buying a tumble dryer.

Do I need a condenser or vented dryer?

There are several types of tumble dryer available but all of them can be divided into two categories: vented and condenser dryers.

Whether you buy a vented or condenser dryer will be influenced by where you intend to install the dryer at home.

Vented dryers

Vented dryers are the most popular dryer on the UK market and the entry level models are typically the cheapest of any tumble dryer. Vented dryers pump out the warm moisture from the drum through a hose, which needs to be connected to a wall or window vent. As you need to install this hose, not everybody’s home will be suited to having a vented model.

Condenser dryers

Condenser dryers simply need a plug socket. As the name suggests, these dryers condense the warm air from the drum and deposit the water into a container, which you’ll then have to empty. As this process is contained within the machine, condenser dryers can be installed anywhere in the home. However, some condenser models come with a hose you can choose to attach to a drain, like you do for a washing machine. If you choose this option, water will drain away rather than collect in the container, saving you from having to empty the container yourself.

How do gas and heat pump models make a difference?

Both vented and condenser models will have running costs of around the £100 mark, but gas vented and heat pump models offer much better savings.


Heat pump condenser dryers

Heat pump condenser dryers can reduce running costs by more than half. These dryers use a heat pump to draw in warm air from the drum and cool it, separating out the water into a tank (like a regular condenser dryer), before re-heating the air and sending it back to the drum. This process is a lot more energy efficient than condenser dryers. However, heat pump technology is expensive (see prices and running costs below).


Gas vented dryers

Gas vented dryers are normal vented dryers that are powered by gas rather than electricity. Gas models need a qualified Gas Safe engineer to install and maintain a gas dryer, which can be expensive and hard to find. Use the Gas Safe register to check there’s an engineer local to you that can do the work before buying a gas dryer. However, the running costs are around half or less than electricity driven vented dryers (see prices and running costs below).

Typically these more-efficient dryers have an energy rating of A to A+++ whereas regular dryers have a rating of B to D, most commonly C.

How about compact and integrated models?

Once you know what type of dryer you want, you may choose to buy a compact or integrated model, though choice will be quite limited.


Compact dryers

Compact dryers are generally shorter, slimmer versions of tumble dryers. They save on space but typically only allow you to dry 3kg of clothes at once. In our tests we’ve found compact dryers are generally not very good or energy efficient, so it’s better to buy a full-size model if you can.


Integrated dryers

Integrated dryers allow you to install your dryer into your kitchen and then add a furniture panel to an outer door so that it looks like a cupboard. Good for those striving for a seamless look in their home, but there are not very many integrated models available.

How expensive are dryers and what are the running costs?

Once you know the different types of dryer, it helps to understand what you might pay in the shops and what you can expect them to add to your bills.


Vented dryers

Vented dryers can cost as little as £100, but you'll need to spend twice that to get a good vented tumble dryer. Typically, vented models add around £100 to your annual electricity bills, but that figure will vary with the size of the drum. As a rough guide, expect a 6kg-capacity model to add £87 to your annual bills, £102 for a 7kg drum and £113.50 for an 8kg drum.


Condenser dryers

Condenser dryers are a bit more expensive than vented dryers. Prices start just shy of £200 and average energy running costs are about £105, but for the different drum sizes you can expect to pay about £85 a year for a 6kg drum, £107 for a 7kg drum and £123 for an 8kg drum.


Heat pump condenser dryers

Heat pump condenser dryers may be able to halve the running costs - but they cost significantly more in the shops, reducing the potential savings. We have seen a heat pump condenser dryer that costs under £500, but a more likely cost is £600-£700. Heat pump dryers tend to do well in Which? tests, not due to speedy drying, but by having very low running costs, typically around £46, though the lowest we’ve seen is £39.


Gas vented tumble dryers

Gas vented tumble dryers offer similar running costs to heat pump condenser models. The gas tumble dryers we've tested are from White Knight, and will cost you around £300, plus installation. Running costs work out to about £45 a year.

How do automatic sensor and manual timed dryers work?

Automatic dryers

Automatic dryers have a sensor inside the drum that should be able to tell when your laundry is dry. It means that you don’t need to tell a dryer how long to dry your clothes for and a good sensor reduces the risk of opening the drum to find your clothes aren’t dry yet. A sensor should also prevent over-drying, which means the dryer won’t be on longer than necessary, minimising energy use.


Manual or timed dryers

Manual or timed dryers do not have a sensor; instead rely on you to programme the time in. Manual dryers are often a bit cheaper than sensor dryers and while guide times are often found on the control panel if not the manual, there is still some guesswork involved.

What programmes are there?

A manual dryer will typically just have two temperature settings to choose from – high or low. But dryers that have a sensor will have different programmes, in the same way a washing machine does.

Cupboard dry

Clothes should come out of the drum dry enough to put straight away into the cupboard.

Iron dry

Clothes left slightly damp will be easier to iron than clothes that are completely dry. So an iron dry programme should leave programmes slightly fairly moist.

Synthetics/Easy care

Programmes for drying synthetic clothing typically allow you to dry about half the amount of cottons you can dry in the same drum. Most 7kg-capacity dryers, for example, will let you dry either 3kg or 3.5kg of synthetic clothing in one go.

Wool/delicates

This is for tumble drying woollens or delicate fabrics with gentle heat and minimal tumbling.

Cool

This is used to cool the clothes at the end of drying so they're cool enough to handle.  You can use this programme to refresh clothes that haven’t been washed – tumbling with cool air knocks the smells and lived-in feel out of clothes, which is ideal if you've been in a smoky atmosphere, for example.

Anti-crease

Some dryers will make the drum move occasionally after the end of a drying cycle until you open the door. The aim of this is to stop creases from forming in the clothes.

What features should I look out for?

Some dryers have almost no features – it’ll just be a case of putting your clothes in, selecting a time and pressing start. Others offer a raft of features and here are some to watch out for:

Child locks

Similar to washing machines, some tumble dryers allow you to lock the control panel to stop kids fiddling with the controls and settings while you’re not looking.

Time remaining display

Some dryers that use a sensor will provide an estimate as to how long your washing will take to dry. Others will ask you to enter the spin speed of your washing machine in order to provide a more accurate estimate.

Delay start

Allows you to delay the start of the drying cycle, you can set the dryer to come on later in the day.

Reversible door

Unlike the majority of washing machines, some tumble dryer will allow you to swap the direction the door opens, which helps increase the number of areas it can be installed in your home.

What can I check in the shops?

Open the door

A good door is easy to open, will not swing back by itself and preferably opens flat against the machine. This all makes it easier to get your clothes in and out the machine.

Check the control panel

A good control panel is easy to read, ideally without having to bend down, and is well laid out so everything is easy to find.

Check the lint filter

Ideally you need to clean the lint filter before or after every drying cycle. Otherwise it can become clogged with fluff and cause your dryer to work harder than it should, becoming less energy efficient. Check the filter in the shop and make sure it’s easy to remove and replace.

Micro filter

Heat pump dryers also have an additional micro-filter which will have to be cleaned. Again it’s a good idea to make sure the micro-filter is easy to get to.

Check the water container

If you’re buying a condenser tumble dryer, make sure the water container is easily accessible and removable. Some dryers have the container at the bottom of the machine which can make it difficult to remove when it’s full of water.