Tumble dryer buying guide
How to buy the best tumble dryer
By Matt Stevens
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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.
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 it comes to buying a tumble dryer. You can also use our interactive tool below to help you choose between a vented, condenser or heat pump tumble dryer.
From AEG to Zanussi, we've got the lowdown on all the big-name tumble dryer brands, revealing the models you should consider buying and those to avoid in our round-up of Best Buy tumble dryers.
Our guide on how to buy a tumble dryer explains the various differences between each type of dryer. We also take a look at running costs and explain how our independent tests uncover the speediest tumble dryers around.
Condenser tumble dryers
These can be placed anywhere in your house as 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. Typically, condenser tumble dryers are pricier than vented dryers.
Small condenser tumble dryers
If you're shopping for a machine that will only be dealing with the demands of a small household, you don't need to spend huge amounts on a large dryer. We've put 6kg machines from Bosch, Beko and Miele through their paces, paying close attention to drying times, noise and ease of use.
For a closer look at what this type of dryer can offer, see our advice on condenser tumble dryers.
Vented tumble dryers
This traditional type of dryer 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. Although they're fairly cheap compared with other types of dryer, they're less energy efficient.
Tempted by a vented tumble dryer? Find out more with our vented tumble dryers guide.
Heat-pump condenser tumble dryers
These are essentially condenser dryers with a heat pump inside. They're a lot more expensive to buy than normal condenser dryers, but they're so energy efficient that running costs are halved.
Otherwise, heat pumps are just like other condenser dryers. They can be placed wherever there's a 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.
Before you start shopping, read our advice on heat-pump tumble dryers to make sure you get the best value for money.
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 very few gas dryers available in the UK, and White Knight is one of the few brands still selling them. For more details, see our advice gas tumble dryers.
Integrated tumble dryers
Integrated tumble dryers, also known as built-in dryers, are designed to be hidden from view inside a kitchen unit. Connection points for hinges are found on the front of these dryers to make the process of attaching a cabinet door that little bit easier. Built-in tumble dryers have dropped in price over the years, and we've tested a selection of these machines from Baumatic, White Knight and Montpellier.
If you're set on buying an integrated tumble dryer, make sure you take the measurements of the space in your kitchen unit. But be warned that your options are limited - you'll have an easier time shopping for a machine if you widen your search.
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 however 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.
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 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. Before you part with your money, consider how often you'll use your dryer and how much you'd like to pack into it.
Our interactive tool below shows how many shirts you'll be able to fit inside tumble dryers of varying sizes.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
You can find compact vented tumble dryers from around £120. Compact condenser tumble dryers are more expensive, from around £300.
Depending on the efficiency of the machine you choose, energy costs can be as little as £30 a year. Those that won’t add a lot to your energy bills are awarded an ‘energy saver’ logo. We’ve found others that will cost you as much as £120 a year to run.
Heat-pump condenser dryers are the most efficient, but they are also the most expensive to buy. Gas-vented dryers will also be cheap to run, but there aren’t many available.
Small tumble dryers
It's logical to assume that a low-capacity tumble dryer will cost less to run than a tumble dryer with a bigger drum. But as our extensive lab tests continue to highlight, a small tumble dryer is not always an efficient tumble dryer.
We've rounded up the tumble dryers that keep energy costs low. See our guide to the best energy efficient tumble dryers for 2018.
Nobody wants to spend all day drying their clothes, but that’s exactly what will happen if you pick the wrong model.
Our rigorous tumble dryer lab tests 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.
When it comes to testing tumble dryer speed, we use four different loads of drying, publishing star ratings to show which machines are speedy and which ones will make you wait.
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.
If you only have a small space in your home or rarely dry much, a compact vented tumble dryer might appeal. But be aware - they'll never win any prizes for speed.
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.
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.
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.
The fastest condenser dryers will be as speedy as any tumbler you'll find on the market. But not all machines are lightning fast.
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.
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.
There is such a thing as a mini tumble dryer. You'll also see them referred to as 'small' or 'compact' tumble dryers.
The name tends to refer to tumble dryers with a maximum load of less than 6kg.
If you're looking for a mini tumble dryer, there aren't many of them around. Less than 30 of them were available last time we checked.
Those few that are around are predominantly made by White Knight. Price tends to be quite low – around £140.
You can only buy vented mini tumble dryers at the moment. 'Vented' means it either needs to be installed with a hole in the wall cut for the hot air pipe, or you'll need to hang the pipe out of the window when you're using it. There were some condenser models around 10 years or so ago, but these have disappeared from sale.
The smallest model currently available is the Montpellier MTD25P at 2.5kg. This model mounts to the wall to save space and is designed for small apartments or campers.
At the time of writing we have reviews for a few 4kg and 3kg mini tumble dryers. Those we've tested have performed poorly in terms of time and energy usage. The energy label never goes above a C rating, and some drop down to a D rating.
They also tend to take a long time to dry anything. Almost all use an old fashioned timer control rather than a sensor. This means that the drying is not even and prone to over drying clothes.
But we've also labelled at least one as 'Not bad for a compact'. Check out our mini tumble dryer reviews.
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 in store, which will help give you an idea of whether a tumble dryer is going to be right for you and your home.
Want to know which tumble dryer is best for you? Take a look at all of our tumble dryer reviews.