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Tumble dryer buying guide

How to buy the best tumble dryer

By Matt Stevens

Article 1 of 2

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.

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To find the best tumble dryer you first need to decide whether you want to buy a condenser, vented or heat pump model and what drum size you want. 

This article will help you choose, plus give you advice on running costs and explain the pros and cons of automatic sensors and drying speeds. 

Or you can go straight to our shortlist of the Best tumble dryers from our reviews. 

Read on for the pros and cons of:

And find out the answers to:

Or use our tool below to work out which type of tumble dryer is best for you.

Vented tumble dryers 

Pros: Generally the cheapest type of tumble dryer

Cons: Pump out the warm damp air from the drum through a hose which has to be connected to a wall or window vent, less energy efficient than other types. 

Condenser tumble dryers 

Pros: No need for a hose out of the window or a vent

Cons: Condenser tumble dryers turn the warm damp air from the laundry into water. This needs to go somewhere. In some models this is a container within the dryer which you need to remember to empty. Other condenser dryers are fitted with a hose that you attach to a waste pipe to drain the water away directly. 

Typically pricier than vented dryers. 

Heat pump condenser tumble dryers 

Pros: No need for a vent or hose as they're essentially condenser tumble dryers with a heat pump inside, incredibly energy efficient so running costs are halved. 

Cons: Alot more expensive to buy than standard condenser tumble dryers (but prices are coming way down), you'll need to remember to empty a water tank. 

Gas tumble dryers 

Pros: As gas tumble dryers use mains gas rather than electricity, they're much cheaper to run than electric dryers.

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).

Integrated tumble dryers 

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. 

Automatic sensor or manual tumble dryer? 

Automatic sensor tumble dryer 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 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.

What size tumble dryer do I need? 

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. 

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. 

The most common drum sizes are 6kg and 7kg-capacity tumble dryers. 

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.

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.

Compact tumble dryers have capacities as tiny 3kg – that's less than six shirts per load.

They have smaller dimensions: less than 70cm high, around 50cm wide and 50cm deep.

But these mini or compact tumble dryers are slower and less efficient than bigger tumble dryers.

You can only buy vented models right now. There aren't many of them around, so choice is limited.

They're predominantly made by White Knight. Price tends to be quite low – around £140.

They 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.

Check out our mini tumble dryer reviews


How much does it cost to run a tumble dryer? 

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 dryers reviews

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.

We've rounded up the tumble dryers that keep energy costs low. 

Which tumble dryer dries clothes fastest? 

Our tumble dryer tests have uncovered massive differences between the fastest and the slowest machines.

The slowest tumble dryers take nearly 33 minutes per kilo of clothes – that’s more than twice as long as the quickest tumble dryers. 

Which? members can view our shortlist of the fastest drying tumble dryers. Not a member? Join now.

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.