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14 October 2021

How to buy the best tumble dryer

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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Which?Editorial team
Woman carrying clothes to a tumble dryer  468437

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.

Or if you simply want to know which are the top-scorers in our independent lab tests, see our full list of best tumble dryers.

Only logged-in Which? members can see our test results and read our expert reviews. Not yet a member? Try Which? to unlock our Best Buys, plus our pick of top three tumble dryers below.

Three of the best tumble dryers

  • 82%
    £1099.00

    This heat-pump tumble dryer may be expensive to buy but it’s very economical to run, thanks to its A+++ energy rating and exceptional energy efficiency. It’s effective too, so it will dry your clothes evenly and precisely, capturing moist air brilliantly – so it won’t make your windows steam up. It’s a Best Buy.

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  • 80%
    £549.00

    This is an exceptionally good tumble dryer, and it’s so energy efficient that we’ve awarded it our Eco Buy label. But it’s not just about energy efficiency, as it also dries evenly, accurately, and without letting steam escape into your home. So, when it comes to energy-efficient drying this Best Buy should be top of your wish list.

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  • 79%
    £949.00

    This impressive tumble dryer was superb at drying clothes thoroughly and evenly throughout the drum. That’s why we’ve made this excellent tumble dryer a Best Buy.

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Prices, recommendations and test scores correct as of August 2021.

Video: how to buy the best tumble dryer

Watch our video to help you decide which type of tumble dryer is right for you.

Should I buy a vented, condenser or heat pump tumble dryer?

Vented tumble dryers

  • Pros They're usually the cheapest type of tumble dryer to buy.
  • Cons High running costs and 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.

Tumble dryer vent

Condenser tumble dryers

  • 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, high running costs and poor condensers run the risk of leaking damp air into your home.

Find out more in our condenser tumble dryers guide or go to our condenser tumble dryer reviews.

Heat pump tumble dryers

  • Pros Like condenser dryers they don't need a vent or hose, and their energy-efficient heat pump technology makes them the cheapest and most sustainable type 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, although prices are gradually coming down.

Find out more in our heat pump tumble dryers guide or go to our heat pump tumble dryers reviews.

Tumble dryer

Gas tumble dryers

  • 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.

Integrated tumble dryers

  • 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.

Find out more in our integrated tumble dryers guide or go to our integrated tumble dryer reviews.

Tumble dryer

How much does it cost to run a tumble dryer?

The most energy-hungry tumble dryers can cost as much as £135 per year to run if you dry roughly three loads a week. Choosing an efficient model could cut this by £94, with annual running costs as low as £29.

Heat pump tumble dryers tend to be both more energy efficient and pricier than cheaper condenser and vented models. But heat pump models can easily pay for themselves in energy savings in just five or six years. In fact, choosing an inefficient dryer could actually end up costing hundreds if not thousands more over its lifetime.

Use our running cost tool below to find the tumble dryer that will cost the most and least over its life, and use the search bar to find a specific model or brand.

Can you buy an eco-friendly tumble dryer?

Eco Buy Logo

The most sustainable way of drying your clothes is always going to be hanging them on a washing line or on a static airer. But some tumble dryers are much more sustainable than others and will reduce the impact drying clothes in a machine has on the environment. 

When your tumble dryer is beyond repair, to help you find the most sustainable tumble dryer for your home, we’ve started recommending Eco Buy tumble dryers. 

To be an Eco Buy a tumble dryer must be among the most energy efficient we’ve tested, do a good job of drying clothes and be long-lasting. And all Eco Buy dryers are heat pump machines, the most energy-efficient type. 

Head to our tumble dryer reviews to see all Eco Buys, or see our round-up of the top five energy efficient tumble dryers.

How much should I spend on a tumble 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, although they will 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 around £48 a year, on average, on energy costs.

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 that cost just over £150.

Sensor or manual tumble dryer?

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.

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 11kg-capacity models. 

Usually, 4kg capacity can dry up to 10 shirts and 9 kg capacity can dry up to 26 shirts. 

However, when shopping for a tumble dryer, it's worth keeping in mind that capacities differ for different programs.

Our examples in the image 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.

Should you buy a large tumble dryer?

As capacity goes up generally so will costs to buy and run, although this also depends on the model. 

If you do a lot of laundry, don't spend huge amounts on a large dryer. 

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.

Cons of large tumble dryers

  • Buy a dryer you struggle to fill and you'll risk using more energy than you need.
  • They're more expensive to buy, so it’s worth thinking about whether you need one this big.

Should you buy a mini tumble dryer?

Just because a small tumble dryer usually costs less to buy, it doesn't mean it will cost less to run. 

We look at mini tumble dryer running costs in more detail in the section after the pros and cons.  

Pros of compact or mini tumble dryers

  • The price tends to be quite low – around £140.
  • Due to the smaller size they're 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.

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 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.

What to check before buying a tumble dryer

A tumble dryer that's complicated and fiddly to use is a headache. Our checklist below can help you make sure you’ve done all the necessary checks before you buy your tumble dryer and avoid getting stuck with a poorly designed machine. 

Door

A good door is easy to open, won't swing back by itself and will ideally open flat against the machine.

Control panel

It should be easy to read without having to bend down.

Lint filter

Ideally, clean the lint filter before or after every cycle, otherwise it can get clogged with fluff causing your dryer to become less energy efficient.

Check the filter in the shop when you're buying, and make sure it's easy to remove and replace. Some filters are double-sided with tricky hinges and catches, making them hard to clean.

Micro filter

Heat pump dryers also have a micro filter to clean – make sure the micro filter is easy to get to.

Water container

If you're buying a condenser tumble dryer, check the water container is easy to access and remove.

Some dryers have the container at the bottom of the machine, which can make it difficult to remove when it's full of water.

Water outlet

With gas models, it helps if the water outlet slides open and closed rather than needing to be screwed or pressed shut.

Features and programs

Watch our video at the top of the page to find out more about the different programs that could make your life easier.

Dimensions

The standard dimensions of a tumble dryer is 85cm x 60cm x 60cm (height x width x depth). Make sure you compare how much space you have to the dimensions of the dryer as depths can vary. If you choose a vented dryer, allow extra space for the vent hose.

Where to buy a tumble dryer

When buying a tumble dryer, make sure you're handing your money over to a reputable seller. Check the retailer's returns policy, and pay attention to customer feedback and reviews. For more details on shopping online safely and arranging refunds for faulty products, see our advice on shopping online

AO.com, Argos, Currys PC World and John Lewis are some of the most searched-for tumble dryer retailers at the time of writing. We’ve included links to these retailers handpicked because of their stock availability, best value price or warranty options. 

  • John Lewis sells a mixture of condenser, vented and heat pump tumble dryers. Prices start at less than £200 for basic models and go up to around £1,300. John Lewis offers a two-year warranty at no extra cost and you'll get free home delivery for orders over £50. The well-known department store also scores highly in our annual retailer survey for home appliances.
  • AO.com stocks a wide range of tumble dryers, all of which can be delivered for free and returned within 100 days if you're not happy with it. It promises to price match other UK retailers and you can decide to opt for a finance plan rather than buying outright. Like John Lewis, AO.com also impresses in our annual survey of home appliances retailers. 
  • Argos offers a sizeable selection of budget-friendly tumble dryers from brands including Beko, Bosch and Indesit. You can get same-day in-store collection at selected Sainsbury's stores and if you have a Nectar card, you'll get two points for every £1 you spend. 
  • Currys PC World has more than a hundred tumble dryers in stock, all from a wide variety of different brands. You'll get free delivery on all orders and if you find the tumble dryer priced cheaper elsewhere, Curry's promises to match or beat the price of all other retailers.