Tumble dryer buying guide
How to buy the best tumble dryer
By Joel Bates
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Condenser or vented dryer? Automatic or manual? 6kg or 8kg drum? This expert guide will help you pick out the best tumble dryer for you.
To narrow down your search for the perfect tumble dryer, you'll first need to choose between a vented, condenser or heat pump model, then select which drum size you need. Our expert guide can help you decide.
We also run through how much tumble dryers cost, including the features you tend to get when you're prepared to pay more. You should also consider how much your dryer will cost to run over time through energy use, and find a dryer with quick running times to help you whizz through laundry day.
Three of the best tumble dryers
This heat pump tumble dryer isn’t just a Best Buy - it’s one of the highest scoring model we’ve tested in years. It has smart functionality and also impresses with its drying: it’s fast, accurate, easy to use and doesn’t leak damp air out into your home.
An excellent tumble dryer that's currently the best condenser dryer we've tested that's still on sale. Its massive 10kg drum can cope with lots of laundry at once and it whizzes through it all. You'll also love its great drying results and user-friendly controls.
This dryer has been knocking around for a few years now, but we're yet to find another vented dryer that beats it. It dries clothes perfectly and in good time, and it has excellent sensors that will shave off running times by ending programs early when they detect your clothes are ready to be taken out.
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- Pros: They're usually the cheapest type of tumble dryer to buy.
- Cons: They use a hose to pump out damp air, so you'll need to feed it through a window or install a vent in your wall.
- Pros: As a container collects the water, there's no need for a hose out of the window or a vent in the wall, so there's more choice in where it's installed.
- Cons: You'll need to remember to empty the container, and poor condensers run the risk of leaking damp air into your home.
- Pros: Like condenser dryers they don't need a vent or hose, and their energy-efficient heat pump technology makes them the cheapest type of tumble dryer to run.
- Cons: Also like condenser dryers, the water tank will need emptying. They tend to be more expensive than the other types of tumble dryer, though prices are gradually coming down.
- Pros: Much cheaper to run than electric dryers as they use gas rather than electricity.
- Cons: Need to be installed by a Gas Safe-registered engineer, which can be pricey. There are very few available in the UK, (White Knight is one of the few brands still selling them).
Find out more in our gas tumble dryers guide.
- Pros: Integrated tumble dryers (aka 'built in') are hidden from view behind a kitchen unit door.
- Cons: Not many integrated tumble dryers are available to buy, installation is more fiddly than a freestanding dryer and usually more costly if you're paying for installation. We are also yet to find a Best Buy integrated dryer.
If your budget is limited, you'll have more choice checking out vented tumble dryers that need a window or wall vent nearby for the hose to dispose of the hot air. You can pick up a Best Buy vented tumble dryer for as little as £160.
There are a few condenser tumble dryers available for less than £250, though they'll likely be lacking some of the programs and functionality you’ll find in pricier models.
Spending a little more is likely to get you sensors in the drum which automatically calculate and adjust program times depending on the size and dampness of the laundry, and a display that tells you how long your program has left to run.
Stretching your budget to around £500 should ensure you don’t get a terrible machine. We’ve only tested one tumble dryer around this price that was bad enough to be named a Don’t Buy.
Spending at least £500 will give you the best chance of buying a good tumble dryer. More than two thirds of the tumble dryers we’ve reviewed that cost more than £500 are Best Buys, with many scoring very highly for how well they dry clothes and how well their condenser unit works.
The most expensive tumble dryers all use heat pump technology which makes them more energy-efficient. Our tests have shown that paying a little more up front for a heat pump dryer will save you on average around £48 a year on energy costs.
See our graph below to see the average Which? test scores for tumble dryers at different price points.
Our testing shows that in general, the more you spend on a tumble dryer, the more likely it is to be a top performer. However, that doesn't mean you can't pick up a bargain Best Buy – we've found great dryers from just over £150.
Sensor tumble dryers, also known as automatic dryers, use sensors inside the drum to detect 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 however long it needs.
A good sensor reduces the risk of opening the drum to find your clothes still wet, 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 several sensor dryers that stop programs too early, leaving clothes wet. Manual tumble dryers don't have sensors and rely on you to set the time.
Just under one in five of the dryers we’ve tested are manual, as sensor drying is quickly becoming the norm. Guide times on manual dryers are often found on the control panel, but there is still some guesswork involved in programming the time.
Tumble dryers come with different capacities, ranging from compact models that can dry 3kg of laundry, all the way up to very large 11kg-capacity models.
As capacity goes up generally so will costs to buy and run.
If you do a lot of laundry, don't spend huge amounts on a large dryer.
Use our gallery below to work out which drum size is best for you.
Drum size 4kg - 10 shirts
Drum size 5kg - 14 shirts
Drum size 6kg - 17 shirts
Drum size 7kg - 21 shirts
Drum size 8kg - 23 shirts
Drum size 9kg - 26 shirts
When shopping for a tumble dryer, it's worth keeping in mind that capacities differ for different programs.
Our examples above of how much you can fit in each capacity of machine are based on using the cottons 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.
Pros of large tumble dryers
- Can make for an 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.
- Buy a dryer you struggle to fill and you'll risk using more energy than you need.
- They are more expensive to buy so it’s worth thinking about whether you need one this big.
Pros of compact or mini tumble dryers
- The price tends to be quite low – around £140.
- Due to the smaller size they are easier to fit into cupboards, making them less of an eyesore.
Cons of compact or mini tumble dryers
- Mini or compact tumble dryers are slower and less efficient than bigger tumble dryers.
- Nearly all of the models available right now are vented.
- There aren't many of them around, so choice is limited.
- Almost all use an old fashioned timer control rather than a sensor.
- Drying is often uneven and some can be prone to over-drying clothes.
Energy running costs for your tumble dryer can be as little as £23 a year, depending on the efficiency of the machine you choose. Others will cost you as much as £140 a year to run.
We highlight those tumble dryers that won’t add a lot to your energy bills by giving them our green circle Energy Saver logo (like the one below) in our tumble dryer reviews.
Looking for the most economical machine you can buy? See our round-up of the five most energy efficient tumble dryers.
What are the most energy efficient tumble dryers?
Heat pump dryers are the most efficient, but they are also generally the most expensive to buy. Gas-vented dryers will also be cheap to run, but there aren’t many available and are expensive to have installed.
Check out our guide on heat pump dryers to find out more about them.
Do small tumble dryers cost less to run?
The 4kg capacity dryers we’ve tested will add £42 a year to your energy bills, which is much less than the £67 a year average of the tumble dryers we’ve tested.
This might give the impression that small tumble dryers are more efficient, but at the time of writing we have reviews for more than 50 tumble dryers with cheaper energy costs than this.
All of those dryers are a much larger capacity than 4kg – many of them more than double. When you consider how much more clothing you could get dried for less electricity, it’s clear that small tumble dryers do not cost less to run.
They are however an inexpensive option if you don’t need to dry much laundry, as larger dryers are only efficient if you fill them up to capacity.
Our tumble dryer tests have uncovered massive differences between the fastest and the slowest machines.
The slowest tumble dryers take nearly 35 minutes per kilo of clothes – that’s more than twice as long as the quickest tumble dryers, which can take as little as 14 minutes per kilo.