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How we test tumble dryers

By Matt Stevens

Find out how Which? tests to find the very best tumble dryers, and warn you about the worst ones that will simply leave you frustrated.

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You can't tell in the shops which tumble dryers offer quick, quiet and energy-efficient drying – so this is where Which? comes in. We tumble dry more than 1,200kg of clothes over a year to find the models that excel in all these key areas.

Watch our video above to see why a Best Buy tumble dryer will make a real difference.

Our reviews answer crucial questions about tumble dryers:

Our rigorous tests find the best tumble dryers that excel in all these key areas and the ones that will let you down. Find out which are the best and worst models by visiting our tumble dryer reviews.

How long will it take to dry my clothes? 

The best tumble dryers need just 13 minutes per kilo of laundry to get your clothes dry, and the worst will take more than 40 minutes per kilo. That means the fastest dryers on the market will dry 6kg of laundry in around an hour and a half, whereas the slowest will take four hours.

We test two drying programs, giving a star rating to each to show how quickly they dry your clothes. We fill the drum to the tumble dryer's maximum capacity for synthetics and 70% for cottons, measuring how long it takes for the clothes to be dry enough to put away in a cupboard.

Cottons cupboard dry (70% load) The cottons that come out of the drum should be dry enough to put straight into the cupboard. We load the dryer with a mixture of the kinds of clothes you'd dry at home, such as jeans and towels.

Synthetics/easy-care cupboard dry (program capacity) The maximum capacity for drying synthetic clothing (man-made fibres such as polyester) is typically about half the amount of cottons you can dry. Most 7kg capacity dryers, for example, will let you dry either 3kg or 3.5kg of synthetic clothing in one go. The load is made up of polyester, poly-cotton and some cotton items.

How much will it cost to run? 

We test how much energy each tumble dryer uses so we can guide you to the ones that are cheapest to run. The star rating we award for energy use looks at how much energy is expelled by each of the two programs listed above.

The most efficient dryers will cost around £23 a year to run, and the least efficient will cost you more than £140

We estimate how much a dryer will cost you to run each year based on the energy use recorded in our tests. The most efficient dryers will cost around £23 to run a year, while the least efficient will cost you more than £140.

The yearly running cost is based on drying three cotton loads a week for a year.

For products that successfully marry Best Buy performance with superb energy efficiency in our in-depth tests, we make them a Which? Energy Saver.

Our Energy Saver award is only given to Best Buy tumble dryers that get the maximum five-star rating for energy efficiency.

The Energy Saver logo is a Which? rating and is not in any way endorsed or associated with official EC labelling laws or regulations. 

Will it actually dry my clothes? 

You'd think that all tumble dryers would excel at drying – but that's not the case. Our tests have shown that lots of dryers fail to dry a load properly, having wasted time and electricity. 

This is why we test dryness of clothes and award a star rating for it in our tumble dryer reviews.

Determining when clothes are ‘dry’ involves weighing them before and after programs to see how much water they contain and also measuring their humidity. We do this three times for each of our two test loads.

Automatic dryers that use sensors to determine when your clothes are dry are especially susceptible to falling foul of this rating. A bad sensor may stop the drum when the clothes are still damp and need more drying, or alternatively might cause the clothes to be over-dried.

Over-drying means the program runs longer than it should, and adding more to your energy bills and increasing the risk of clothes being damaged.

We added this star rating for dryness of clothes to our reviews back in 2013.

Will my clothes be evenly dried and not creased? 

Clothes taken out of the drum at the end of a cycle should be evenly dry or damp regardless of how well dried the clothes are overall – no sopping wet shirts and crispy socks should share the same drum.

We weigh individual items of clothing after the cottons program to determine how evenly the load has dried and award a star rating for evenness of drying.

When it comes to creases, our lab technicians study shirts after the synthetic program, grading the creases on the back of the shirt and the button line from one to five.

For all machines tested since 2013, if a machines gets four stars from us for creasing, it leaves about the same amount of creases as if you'd just taken a garment out of the drum and left it to dry naturally.

How noisy will it be? 

We rate the noise of the dryer at the noisiest part of the program. We consider how loud the sound of the motor is and also the noise made by tumbling laundry in the drum. 

If a machine gets three stars, you should be able to hold a conversation near the dryer but with raised voices.

Will the condenser trap steam inside as it should? 

Condenser and heat pump tumble dryers should trap and condense all the moisture taken from your laundry in a water reservoir or tank. Poor condensers will let moisture leak into your home, increasing the risk of damp and mould developing, as well as respiratory diseases.

We compare the amount of water in the water tank or reservoir after the program has finished to the amount in the clothes before drying. Any discrepancies will tell us how much water has leaked out into the air as steam.

The best machines trap and condense up to 95% of the moisture from your clothes. The worst we've seen will only hold on to 45%, leaving most of the moisture to leak out into your home.

95%The best condenser dryers trap almost every bit of moisture removed from clothes in its water tank.

How easy to use will it be? 

An easy-to-use tumble dryer will make your laundry days smoother and safer. Our usability tests include how easy the instructions are to follow, how clear the program markings are, how easy it is to fill and empty the machine, and how easy the lint filter, water reservoir and heat exchanger are to clean. 

We carry out dozens of checks to get to grips with convenience. Here are some examples:

Loading and unloading We look for dryers with a large door that requires little strength to open and close, using either a handle, push catch or press button, and which doesn’t swing shut during loading.

Lint filters and water reservoirs These should be easy to reach from a standing and sitting position and require little force and simple actions to remove, clean and replace.

Control panel We look for buttons and dials that are clearly marked with self-explanatory captions nearby, are well spaced and have different shapes for different groups of functions. They should protrude from the instruction panel and be easy to grip, and require little force or one-handed and simple actions to activate.

Should I buy it? 

All the ratings and measurements for the tests above go into creating test scores that tell you overall whether a machine is worth buying.

68%The minimum score required for regular condenser dryers to be Best Buys. Vented dryers need to score 65%, and energy-efficient heat pump dryers need to score 72%.

Here is how the scores are broken down for condenser and heat-pump tumble dryers:

  • 50% drying exactness
  • 10% energy consumption
  • 10% ease of use
  • 10% condensation efficiency
  • 10% programme time
  • 5% creasing
  • 5% noise

Vented dryers do not condense water, so there's no test for condensation efficiency. This is how we break the score down for vented dryers:

  • 55.5% drying exactness
  • 11.1% ease of use
  • 11.1% energy consumption
  • 11.1% program time
  • 5.6% creasing
  • 5.6% noise
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