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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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Choosing the best tumble dryer got a whole lot more confusing when Whirlpool admitted, in 2015, that more than five million of its vented and tumble dryers in the UK could pose a fire risk. Those potential-risk dryers included big brands Hotpoint and Indesit.

But fear not. Our video guide above runs you through the key things you need to think about when buying a tumble dryer. You can also use our chooser tool below to help you pick the best for you.

And from AEG to Zanussi, we've got the lowdown on all the top brands and which models you should buy and those to avoid in our round up 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 placed 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

Heat-pump tumble dryers are essentially condenser dryers with a heat pump included. 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.

Heat-pump tumble dryers are expensive, but the most energy-efficient.

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 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.

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 10kg-capacity models.

Below we explain the pros and cons of the different sizes, and how much you can fit in each capacity of machine. 

When shopping for a machine, it's worth keeping in mind that capacities differ for different programs. Our examples below of how much you can fit in each capacity of machine are based on using the cotton program. 

They're also based on filling the machine to 70% of its capacity, as this would allow air to circulate around the clothes, making drying more efficient.

Large capacity machines: the pros and cons

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.

Large capacity machines can be the most efficient.

As you pay more for a machine with a bigger drum size it’s worth thinking about whether you need one this big. But if every day is laundry day in your home, a big drum is worth considering, as drying more at once will save you time.

How much can you fit in an 8kg tumble dryer?

These machines are big enough to dry around 23 shirts in one go. Dryers with this size of drum will be suitable for all but the very busiest homes.

How much can you fit in an 9kg tumble dryer?

In these machines you'll be able to dry a whopping 26 or more shirts in one go.

How much can you fit in an 10kg tumble dryer?

Massive 10kg machines aren't as common as 8kg and 9kg machines, but we have tested a few 10kg models from Whirlpool, Hoover and Candy. These machines can dry almost two washing-machine loads at once. 

Visit our washing machine reviews and use the left-hand menu to select the capacity you’re interested in.

Average capacity machines: the pros and cons

The most common drum sizes are 6kg and 7kg-capacity tumble dryers. With so many competing 6-7kg models on the market, there's plenty to choose from. 

How much can you fit in an 6kg tumble dryer?

A 6kg load of cottons works out at around 17 shirts. 

How much can you fit in an 7kg tumble dryer?

As a rule of thumb, you should be able to fit 21 cotton shirts into a 7kg drum, and is about the correct size for most homes.

Compact capacity machines: the pros and cons

Compact tumble dryers have capacities from as small as 3kg. They're also noticeably smaller than standard-sized machines at less than 70cm high, around 50cm wide and 50cm deep. 

So, if you live on your own, or are tight for space and want a tumble dryer, a compact one could be a good solution.

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. 

Compact tumble dryers are slower and less efficient.

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

How much can you fit in an 4g tumble dryer?

A machine of this size will be able to dry 10 to 12 men’s shirts in one load.

How much can you fit in an 5g tumble dryer?

For these machines, you'd be able to fit in around 14 shirts in one load. For most households, even a capacity of 5kg will feel a little on the small side, so consider a dryer with a bigger drum if you regularly have mountains of clothes to dry.

Are tumble dryers expensive to run?

Depending on the type of machine you choose, and how energy efficient it is, they can cost as little £30 a year to run. When we test tumble dryers, we measure exactly how much energy they use, so that we can estimate how much each will cost to run a year.

Those that won’t add a lot to your energy bills are awarded an ‘energy saver’ logo. But we’ve found others that will cost you as much as £120 a year to run.

Heat-pump condenser dryers are the most efficient type, but they are the most expensive to buy. Gas-vented dryers will also be cheap to run, but there aren’t many available.

We've rounded up the most efficient tumble dryers that will help to stop your energy bills spiral.

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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