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.
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.
What should I check in the shop before buying a tumble dryer?
It’s well worth reading our tumble dryer reviews before buying a tumble dryer, as we test things in our labs that are impossible to check when you're out shopping. However, there are certain things you can look at 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.