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What’s the best way to dry your laundry?

We compare the different options and share pros and cons to help you decide

What’s the quickest way to dry clothes? The cheapest? Which does the least damage to your clothes?

We’ve compared the pros and cons of using popular products we review (tumble dryers, washer dryers and dehumidifiers) to towels rails, heated towel rails, radiators and line drying, to help you decide which way works best for you.

Tumble dryers

Tumble dryers come in four kinds: vented, condenser, heat pump and gas.

The latest tumble dryers adapt running times and settings automatically depending on your laundry type, size and dampness.

You can even buy dryers that come with fragrance capsules to give your clothes a burst of extra freshness.

Our how to buy the best tumble dryer guide can help you land your dream dryer.

Pros:

Fastest method – We’ve tested tumblers that dry clothes at a rate of 14 minutes per kg of laundry. For a medium-sized dryer, that works out at a little over an hour to get through a pretty hefty pile of clothes. This makes it the fastest way to dry clothes.

Speed isn’t an asset all dryers share, though. Some can take as much as 40 minutes per kg, which means more than three hours of tutting and tapping your watch. For an appliance specially built to get your clothes dried quickly, speeds like this can be problematic.

Low effort – It’s a good feeling when all you have to do is chuck in your clothes and press start. For extra convenience you might consider a smart tumble dryer. Although you’ll still need to load it manually, you’ll be able to control and monitor your dryer using your smartphone.


In 2020 Which? is introducing a suite of security tests for smart-enabled products. Keep an eye out for how we can help you buy secure products from brands that take cyber threats seriously.


Capacity – If you have a lot of laundry to get through, a big capacity can be another plus for tumble dryers. You can get dryers with a capacity of up to 11kg of clothes – that’s more than you can fit into most washing machines. Just make sure you have enough laundry to fill it properly.

Cons:

Expense – Tumble dryers can be cheap – vented dryers start from around £100, but you’ll struggle to find a decent one at that price.

Most of the Best Buy tumble dryers we’ve tested cost more than £500, so it can turn into quite an expensive choice if you want to buy a high-quality product. There are cheaper Best Buy dryers out there though, starting from £160.

Energy costs vary heavily between tumble dryer types. Our tests have shown you can expect vented dryers to cost around £80 a year to run, condenser dryers around £89 a year and heat pump dryers around £38. But we have tested dryers that cost as little as £23 a year and as much as £140 a year.

This means depending on which dryer you buy you could pay less than it costs to run your washing machine, or pay several times as much. Look out for our Energy Saver logo to help you find dryers that keep energy use low.

Check out our top five energy-efficient tumble dryers to make sure you get one that won’t bump up your bills too much.

Risk of clothes damage – Some clothes aren’t well suited to being tumble dried. Some more delicate items such as bras and tights run the risk of shrinking and degrading, so a dryer won’t be able to provide for all your drying needs.

You’d be surprised at what items can be dried, though. Some dryers have specific programs for handling the likes of swimwear or even waterproof jackets.

Risk of damp – If you have a vented dryer, you’ll need to place it near a wall vent or window so you can poke out the hose to vent humid air outside.

If you have a condenser or heat pump dryer, you’ll need to rely on the condensation unit to capture the moisture in that air and either deposit it in the water tank or down a drain hose if you’ve had it plumbed in.

Unfortunately, our expert tests find that all too often poorly made condensers lead to humid air leaking out into your home, increasing the risk of damp and mould developing, as well as respiratory disease.

Compare our tumble dryer reviews to see which dryers rate highly for condensation unit efficiency.

Clothes airers

A seasonal saviour, clothes airers can make for an ideal indoor drying solution when you’ve got laundry to dry during cold or wet weather.

There are lots of variables that affect how long it can take laundry to dry on a clothes airer, including room temperature and humidity, ventilation, the fabric of the clothes and how closely hung together the clothes are.

Because of this, drying times vary broadly from around four hours to 24 hours or more.

Pros:

Simple – Sometimes the simplest ways are the best. With clothes airers there’s no tinkering with settings, pressing buttons or separating fabric types. You just unfold it, load it with laundry and let it do its thing.

Cheap – A one-off purchase of around £15-£30 will sort you out will a sturdy clothes airer, and there’s no need to pay for running costs or warranties, either. It’s definitely one of the more economic choices.

You can get heated clothes airers too for a bit more money (around £20-£100), which shouldn’t cost too much to run. They plug into the mains and come with a cover that you need to put on for them to work properly.

Cons:

Slow – Even drying synthetic clothes in a well-ventilated, warm room can take longer than it would for the slowest tumble dryers to complete the same task. Some forward planning is required with airers if you have an outfit you need washed and dried.

Risk of damp – The moisture coming off your clothes does not just disappear, which is why ventilation is so important when drying using air indoors.

Be careful to avoid keeping your airer in a room with little or no air circulation, as the moisture will often collect in the corners of ceilings and invite mould to grow. It also increases the risk of respiratory disease.

Space required – They might fold away handily, but setting them up can be a bit of a headache if you live in a smaller property.

Dehumidifiers

A dehumidifier can help dry your clothes more quickly and deal with the moisture that evaporates into the air, stopping it forming condensation.

Many dehumidifiers have a specific laundry setting, which lowers the relative humidity to around 40% and whacks the fan speed up to maximum, drying the air faster and driving the dry air over the wet clothes – recreating the conditions you’d have outside on a warm, breezy day.

If your dehumidifier doesn’t have a laundry setting, you can still use it to dry your washing, though. Hang your clothes on a clothes airer and place the dehumidifier nearby. Whereas you should open a window when hanging clothes indoors normally, close the window when you’ve got your dehumidifier running, or it’ll have to work harder to dehumidify a greater area.

Dehumidifiers start at about £50 and go up to more than £400. The very cheap ones haven’t tended to perform well in our tests, but we do have some Best Buys for less than £150.

If you have a small home and are likely to need to keep moving your dehumidifier in and out of storage for drying clothes, use our dehumidifier reviews to find one that’s easy to move about.

We also check how energy-efficient dehumidifiers are, and how quiet – so you can see which ones would disturb you if you work or study from home a lot.

Pros:

Multi-purpose – If you’ve already bought a dehumidifier to deal with high humidity in your home, you can also use it for speeding up the drying process.

Gentle – Manufacturers say that dehumidifiers dry your clothes more gently than tumble dryers. As they don’t use heat, they shouldn’t shrink or otherwise damage fabrics.

Fights damp – The risk of damp is lowered as dehumidifiers keep condensation at bay by lowering the overall humidity in your home.

Cons:

Water tank – Like heat pump or condenser tumble dryers, you’ll need to empty the water tank once it’s full so that it keeps collecting.

Many dehumidifiers can be set up for continuous drainage if you have access to a drain hose outlet, though you’ll often need to buy the hose separately.

Line drying

There’s nothing quite like the smell of line-dried laundry. And it’s cheap too. Here are the other pros, and the cons:

Pros:

Can be quick – If it’s sunny and breezy!

No risk of damp

Cons:

Weather-dependent

Outdoor space required

Washer-dryers

The multi-talented cousin of washing machines and tumble dryers. Unlike tumble dryers, washer-dryers come in one combo type, using condensers to remove moisture from laundry.

As they double up as washing machines, there’s no need to empty the water tank with washer-dryers. Waste water just drains out the same way as it does during wash cycles.

Check out our handy guide on how to buy the best washer-dryer.

Pros:

Space-saving – If you only have room for one appliance it’s not likely you’ll be sacrificing your washing machine. Washer-dryer combos remove the need for a separate washer and dryer, making them a choice option for people living in smaller properties who need their laundry washed and dried in a hurry.

Minimal effort – With the ability to combine wash and dry programs, what went in dirty will come out both clean and dry. Doing laundry does not get simpler than this.

Find out which brands are at the top of the pile by reading our washer-dryers brands guide.

Cons:

Smaller capacities for drying – You may be able to combine wash and dry cycles, but that means your wash load will need to be smaller. The drying capacity of a washer-dryer is around half the wash capacity, so if you’ve got a 7kg capacity washer-dryer, you’ll only be able to wash and dry 3.5kg of washing in one go.

You could take half of your washing out and run two separate drying cycles – but that’s both inconvenient and costly.

High energy use – Unfortunately our tests have found washer-dryers to be quite high on energy use. The washer-dryers we’ve tested cost around £85 a year on average to dry your clothes, which is similar to the £89 a year average for the condenser tumble dryers we’ve tested – the most expensive type of dryer to run.

Finding a cheap-to-run machine is a bit of a minefield – we’ve found washer-dryers that will set you back as much as £170 a year in energy costs for drying, and that’s not even counting the extra energy they’ll use when washing.

Make sure to buy a washer-dryer that won’t cost the earth by checking out the energy costs in the Tech Specs tab of our washer-dryer reviews.

They’re expensive – Combining your washing machine and your tumble dryer comes at a price. You can find a Best Buy tumble dryer for as little as £160, but the cheapest Best Buy washer-dryer at the time of publishing costs more than twice as much, at £349.

Like tumble dryers, you’ll likely need to pay a premium to give yourself the most Best Buy options – our tests show you’ll need to spend at least £500 to get the broadest choice of top washer-dryers.

Take a look at our Best Buy washer-dryers to make sure that when you buy, you buy smarter.

Why you should never dry clothes on your radiator

Radiators can seem a handy option for drying your laundry. You’ll likely have them in your home already, so popping your clothes on your radiator seems a simple and easy way to save money, right?

Wrong. Drying your clothes on your radiator could end up being the most expensive option of all.

  • Radiators work to establish an ambient temperature in your home. If you switch the heating on and set it to 20 degrees, your radiators will work to pump out heat until your they detect your home is at 20 degrees.
  • Putting cold and wet laundry on your radiators will make your clothes act as a barrier between the heat your radiators give off and the temperature of your home. Your radiators will think your home is the temperature of your clothes.
  • This will make the radiators work much harder than they need to, as they will ramp up the heat to try to remedy such a drop in temperature.
  • This will cause your heating bills to sky-rocket. You may end up with dry clothes, but you’ll also end up with a colder home and lighter wallet. Radiators are not designed for clothes drying and should not be used as such.
  • Drying your clothes this way will also cause all of the moisture in your laundry to be released into your home as humid air, which is a quick route to damp, mould and respiratory disease.

Heated towel rails

There are however radiators that are specifically designed for drying fabrics, so if you’re going to sorely miss drying using your radiator, perhaps you should invest in a heated towel rail.

You can get electric ones that work independently from your central heating, but even ones that are linked to it won’t be fighting to reach an ambient temperature. Its job is to dry towels, so it won’t panic and start overheating when you put clothes on it. It will heat at the temperature you set regardless.

However, if you do have one connected to your central heating it can be problematic in summer. You won’t want to heat your home while drying your clothes then.

If you want to dry your clothes year-round using a heated towel rail, it’s best to get an electric one that works separately from your central heating.

Pros:

Quick – As with every drying option, the type of fabric and how wet it is will largely dictate how long it takes an item to dry, but in most cases cranking up the heat on your towel rail will give you dried clothes in nothing more than a few hours.

This makes heated towel rails the quickest way to dry clothes outside of investing in a large appliance.

Cons:

Small capacity – Most heated towel rails are only big enough to keep a few towels warm and dry, and certainly aren’t big enough to handle a full washing machine load. If you have a lot of clothes that need drying, a heated towel rail will likely leave you with a pile of wet clothes that need to wait in a queue for a space on the rail.

More likely than not, your heated towel rail will also already be occupied by wet towels. They take up a lot of space, and if you need it for drying clothes you’ll need to find a new spot to hang your towels. This could mean you’ll need to wait until your towels are dry before replacing them with laundry.

Can be expensive to run – If it’s connected to your central heating, you’ll be adding extra costs to your gas bills every time you keep it on for longer than you would to keep your home at a comfortable temperature. And of course it can be tempting to leave it on for a little longer to help your clothes dry.

If you have an electric one your electricity bills can also take a hit due to the power needed to run the heating element. How much of a hit depends on how much you use it and the towel rail you use – wattage can vary quite significantly between towel rails. If you get a 1,000W towel rail, you should expect it to cost around 12p-13p an hour.

Risk of damp – Ventilation is still very important if you’re going to dry your clothes this way, as the moisture from your clothes will still be released into your bathroom. Thankfully most bathrooms will already be equipped with a vent or extractor to handle the steam that comes with showering.

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