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.
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, and how to choose a dryer that will help you whizz through laundry day.
Three of the best tumble dryers
This is a great heat pump tumble dryer. With its low running costs, impressive drying results and effective condensation unit, it goes straight to the top end of our Best Buy leader board. But if you're always washing in a hurry we've found other dryers that have quicker cotton programs.
This is one of the best condenser tumble dryers we've tested. Although it uses a fair amount of energy, it's put to good use drying your clothes quickly, accurately and evenly across the load. The filters are super-easy to clean too but make sure you don't install it in an enclosed space - it leaks damp air which could lead to condensation.
If you're after a vented dryer, this model is a good choice. It gets the basics right, with fast and accurate drying, making it a worthy Best Buy. But there are some downsides - it isn't the most efficient model we've tested, nor is it the easiest to use compared to some of our other Best Buys.
None of these picks right for you? See our full round-up of the best tumble dryers.
In this article:
- Pros: They're usually the cheapest type of tumble dryer.
- 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.
- Find out more in our vented tumble dryers guide or go to our vented tumble dryer reviews.
- 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 they tend to be a little pricier than vented dryers.
- Find out more in our condenser tumble dryers guide or go to our condenser tumble dryer reviews.
- Pros: Like condenser dryers they don't need a vent or hose, energy efficient technology halves running costs
- Cons: The water tank needs emptying, they tend to be the most expensive type of tumble dryer.
- Find out more in our heat-pump tumble dryers guide or go to our heat pump tumble dryers reviews.
- 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, 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 or go to our gas tumble dryer reviews.
- Pros: Integrated tumble dryers (aka 'built in') are hidden from view behind a kitchen unit door.
- Cons: Very few 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.
- Go to our integrated tumble dryer reviews.
If your budget is limited, you'll have more choice of vented tumble dryers that need a window or wall vent for the hose.
There are a few condenser tumble dryers for less than £250, though they'll lack some of the programs and functionality of pricier models.
Spending a little more may get you sensors in the drum to automatically calculate program times and a display that shows how long your program has left to run.
Paying more still opens you up to heat pump dryers (which are more economical to run over time), as well as smart capabilities letting you operate your dryer through your smartphone.
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 models from just over £150. See all the best tumble dryers revealed by our testing and filter by price to find a top performer on the cheap.
Automatic sensor tumble dryers have a smart sensor inside the drum that is there to figure out 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 tumble dryers don't have a sensor and rely 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 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.
- 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.
- 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.
See which models impressed us by taking a look at our large tumble dryer reviews.
- 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.
- 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.
Check out our compact and mini tumble dryer reviews.
Energy running costs for your tumble dryer can be as little as £30 a year, depending on the efficiency of the machine you choose. Others that will cost you as much as £120 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 roundup of the five most energy efficient tumble dryers.
What are the most energy efficient tumble dryers?
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.
Do small tumble dryers cost less to run?
A small tumble dryer is not always an efficient tumble dryer.
Which tumble dryers are easiest to use?
A tumble dryer that's a pain to use is a headache. Do yourself a favour and compare your chosen model again our checklist before you buy.