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How to buy the best tumble dryer

By Matt Stevens

Condenser or vented dryer? Automatic or manual? 6 or 8kg drum? This expert guide will help you pick out the best tumble dryer for you.

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Our video guide above runs you through the key things you need to think about when buying a tumble dryer.

Don't miss our full tumble dryer reviews and recommendations of Best Buy tumble dryers.

Buying the best tumble dryer for you

To help you start your journey to picking the ideal tumble dryer, our dedicated interactive tool will walk you through the key features and buying decisions to consider.

Tumble dryer types

There are four different types of tumble dryer – below we explain what you need to know about each.

Condenser tumble dryers

These can be plugged into the wall anywhere in your house – you don't need to connect the exhaust hose to a vent or window. Condenser tumble dryers work by condensing the warm damp air from your laundry into water and depositing it into a container, which you have to empty. Alternatively, some condenser dryers can be fitted with a hose that you attach to a waste pipe to drain the water away directly, saving you from emptying the water tank yourself.

Find out more about condenser tumble dryers.

Vented tumble dryers

This is the traditional type of dryer and is generally the cheapest. Vented dryers pump out the warm damp air from the drum through a hose, which has to be connected to a wall or window vent.

Find out more about vented tumble dryers.

Heat pump condenser tumble dryers

Condenser dryers that have a heat pump can be called heat pump condenser dryers or just heat pump dryers. They are a lot more expensive to buy than normal condenser dryers – but they're so energy efficient that running costs will halve compared to other electric dryers.

Otherwise, heat pumps are just like other condenser dryers. They can be stored anywhere in the home as long as there's a ready power supply, and water removed from clothes will make its way to a water tank that needs to be removed and emptied before it gets full.

Find out more about heat pump tumble dryers.

Gas tumble dryers

Gas dryers work in the same way as electric vented tumble dryers, but the air is warmed using mains gas rather than electricity. They’re much cheaper to run than electric dryers, but need to be installed by a Gas Safe-registered engineer, which can be pricey. There are a very limited number of gas dryers available in the UK.

Find out more about gas tumble dryers.

Want to know which tumble dryer is best for you? Take a look at all of our tumble dryer reviews.

Should I buy an automatic sensor tumble dryer?

Automatic tumble dryers

These modern dryers have a sensor inside the drum that should be able to tell when your laundry is dry and stop the machine accordingly. This means you don’t need to set the program time on your tumble dryer – you just pop your clothes in the machine and let it run for how long it needs.

A good sensor reduces the risk of opening the drum to find your clothes aren’t yet dry, but should also prevent your tumble dryer from running for longer than necessary, which is good news for your energy bills.

Our tests have found several automatic dryers that stop programs early, leaving clothes wet. Avoid these models by checking our tumble dryer reviews before you buy.

However, our tests have found that several automatic dryers stop programs early, leaving clothes wet. Avoid these models by checking our tumble dryer reviews before you buy.

Manual or timed tumble dryers

This traditional type of dryer doesn’t have a sensor and relies on you to program the time in. Manual dryers are generally cheaper than automatic dryers. Although guide times are often found on the control panel, there is still some guesswork involved.

Tumble dryer capacities: large, average or compact? 

Tumble dryers come with different capacities, ranging from compact models that can dry 3kg of laundry all the way up to very large, 9kg-capacity models

Below we explain the pros and cons of the different sizes. 

Large drum size - capacity of 8kg or more 

Using a large-capacity tumble dryer can make for a low energy-efficient way of drying your laundry, as long as you're able to fill the drum to the program's capacity every time. 

Per kilo of laundry, bigger machines will take less time to dry clothes than smaller or compact dryers. But buy a dryer you struggle to fill and you'll risk using more energy than you need. 

The largest dryers have capacities of 8kg or more and tend to be most suitable for families and large households that have stack of washing to dry. 

The biggest tumble dryer we’ve tested is a Bosch with a massive 10kg capacity, meaning it could dry almost two washing-machine loads at once. That tumble dryer has now been discontinued, but we've also reviewed and rated several 9kg-capacity tumble dryers. 

Average drum size - 6-7kg capacity

The most common drum sizes are 6kg and 7kg-capacity tumble dryers. We fill dryers to 70% of their maximum capacity to simulate how they are used at home. That means a 6kg drum could dry 17-18 men's cotton shirts at once, and a 7kg model could dry 20-21 shirts.

If that sounds about right, these are the right size dryers for you – and with so many competing 6-7kg models on the market, there's plenty to choose from. 

Compact tumble dryers - 3-5kg capacity

Compact tumble dryers have capacities from as small as 3kg. If you live on your own, or space is very tight, and you'd like a tumble dryer, a compact dryer will be able to dry small loads. 

Unfortunately, compact tumble dryers are slower and less efficient than bigger tumble dryers. Their size also means they aren’t ideal for getting a family's clothes dry quickly. 

You can find compact vented tumble dryers from around £120. Compact condenser tumble dryers are more expensive, from around £300.

Which tumble dryer dries clothes fastest?

Nobody wants to spend all day drying their clothes, but that’s exactly what will happen if you pick the wrong model. But how fast or slow a tumble dryer might be is invisible when you’re browsing between different models in the shops. 

That’s where our tests come in. We’ve compared vented, condenser, heat pump and compact tumble dryers to find out which is fastest. Our latest Which? tumble dryer lab reviews have uncovered gargantuan differences between the fastest and the slowest machines, with the worst offenders taking nearly 33 minutes per kilo of clothes – that’s more than twice as long as the quickest tumble dryers. 

We measure how long it takes each tumble dryer we review to dry clothes. We use four different loads of drying in our tests and in each of our tumble dryer reviews we publish star ratings to show which machines will do a speedy job of clothes-drying and which ones will just make you wait. We’ve analysed our tumble drying test results for the last four years – using data from a total of 231 machines in all – to share what you need to know about drying speeds. 

How fast are compact vented tumble dryers?

The quickest compact vented tumble dryers we’ve tested aren’t bad for speed, taking around 18 minutes per kilo. But the slowest take much, much longer, clocking around 32 minutes for the same kilo of clothes. 

Our verdict – If you only have a small space in your home or rarely dry much, a compact vented tumble dryer might appeal. But just be aware – they’ll never win any prizes for speed. 

How fast are full-sized vented tumble dryers? 

A fast vented tumble dryer will take less than 14 minutes to dry a kilo of laundry, so faster than a compact machine and you’ll be able to dry much more. But slow vented machines take about eight minutes longer. 

Our verdict – Vented machines won’t be for everyone, due to the need to vent away warm damp air through a hose. But the best vented dryers can be as quick as any tumble dryers. 

How fast are condenser tumble dryers?

Condensers can be among the quickest tumble dryers with times of 15 minutes or less per kilo not uncommon and the fastest taking just 13-and-a-half minutes. But not all condensers are record breakers – we’ve seen some that take 12 minutes longer per kilo. 

Our verdict – The fastest condenser dryers will be as speedy as any tumbler you’ll find on the market. But not all machines are lightning fast. 

How fast are heat-pump tumble dryers?

Energy-saving heat-pump dryers cut energy use in half but they’re famed for taking their time to dry clothes with the slowest we’ve seen taking close to half-an-hour per kilo. However, their tardy reputation is changing, with the very best new machines taking not much longer than 15 minutes per kilo of laundry. 

Our verdict – Energy-wise, you can’t beat a heat-pump dryer and now that prices are falling and drying times are being slashed, they’re becoming ever more compelling a purchase. But make sure you get a quick one – sluggish heat-pump dryers are among the slowest you’ll find. 

Whatever kind of tumble dryer you buy, be it vented, condenser, heat-pump or compact, check out our Don’t Buy tumble dryer reviews before you buy to make sure your choice isn’t a dud.

What should I check in the shop before buying a tumble dryer?

We test tumble dryers for things that are impossible to check when you're out shopping. However, there are certain important factors you can check up on in store, which will help give you an idea of whether a tumble dryer is going to be right for you and your home.

A good door is easy to open, will not swing back by itself and will ideally open flat against the machine.

Open the door – a good door is easy to open, will not swing back by itself and will ideally open flat against the machine. This all makes it easier to get your laundry in and out.

Check the control panel – it should be easy to read, ideally without having to bend down, and 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. Some filters are double-sided, with hinges in the middle and tricky catches, which makes them twice as hard to clean.

Check the micro filter – heat pump dryers also have a micro filter that 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 easy to access and remove. Some dryers have the container at the bottom of the machine, which can make it difficult to remove when it’s full of water.

Check the water outlet – if buying a gas model, it helps if the water outlet slides open and closed rather than needing to be screwed or pressed shut.

Check it has the features and programs that you need – watch our video at the top of this page to find out more about the different tumble dryer programs that could make your life much easier.

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