Dryer Buying Advice
Our guide to things to think about when shopping for a new tumble dryer
For the most part tumble dryers are desperately simple devices, you have some thermostats, a heater, a drum, a motor, a timer and some other bits and bobs to make it all hang together. But there are different types available and people are often confused by the terminology used and just exactly what it all means, hopefully this article will clear much confusion for you.
As with all appliances there are good and bad, well engineered, robust and reliable as well as cheap and cheerful which tend not to be as good. What suits you will depend very much on the use you give the dryer and how long you want it to last.
Types Of Tumble Dryer
The first thing to consider when buying a new tumble dryer is what type of dryer you want, what features and what load capacity. We would always say that the first thing that should be considered is durability, you want one that will offer you many years of service and not just be thrown away after a few years as making a wise choice here and perhaps spending a little bit more can get you a dryer that will last decades and not just a few years.
Vented Tumble Dryers
These are the oldest type of dryer and, generally, the most reliable type as well.
It is very easy to tell a vented dryer as they require a "vent hose" that will exit from the front, side, rear or any combination of those three, which expels the hot air produced along with the steam and condensation to the outside. Usually these vent hoses will go through the wall or be hung out the window or door, so they aren't exactly convenient unless you have a through the wall vent installed.
It is important to note that the vent hose must be clear and, even dropping them under floorboards as we've seen can cause problems with condensed water blocking them, or going stale and leading to bad smells.
But that is really the only downside to a vented dryer. On the plus side they are simple to use and tend to be very reliable as well as easy and cheap to fix when they go wrong.
- Simple mechanics
- Easy to repair
- Normally the cheapest option in any range of tumble dryers
- Tendency to be more reliable as there's less to go wrong
- Simple to use
- No or little heat expelled into the room
- No or little moisture expelled onto the room
- Can be installed in colder environments without huge concern
- Must have a vent outlet to outside air that cannot be obstructed
- Choice of models can be limited
Condenser Tumble Dryers
A condenser dryer effectively does away for the need to have a vent hose so that you can, literally, install them just about anywhere.
There are however a few disadvantages.
Condenser dryers have to have a tank or bottle to store the water in the main although there are some that can be fitted to a drain by way of an (often) additional hose. Of course using the additional hose saves the pain of emptying the bottle, but does mean a fixed installation close to a drainage point.
Most of these dryers have either a light or buzzer to tell you when the bottle needs to be emptied, some won 't work until you do so.
Another point to bear in mind is that these things get hot. The reason I say this is because, should you install a condenser dryer in a cold room expecting there to be absolutely no condensation you may be disappointed. You see the box does generate heat (obviously) and this raises the room temperature which can, in some cases, cause condensation to form on windows etc. They are good, but not a totally foolproof solution in every instance.
It should also be noted that condenser dryers tend not to be quite as efficient as their vented predecessors and can be more problematic in terms of repairs. They are more complex and so there is more to go wrong, some are extremely awkward and/or difficult to work on and spares tend to be more expensive for some reason.
These dryers are also more prone to blockages and leaks. They leak as they have to hold the water produced by the steam condensing internally and, occasionally, a seal or hose will go and give leaks. They block as fluff builds up inside, often in the condensing chamber, and cause the machine not to dry although it will heat and tumble as normal.
Good condenser dryers are not cheap, expect to pay £500 or more for a good, well made one that performs very well and will last. The lower cost ones, which you can get for half that, tend to have issues and fall apart. Doors and other plastic parts, heater and thermostats tend to go on the cheaper models.
- Can be placed almost anywhere (see below)
- Good range of choices
- Simple to use, easier if the waste water hose is plumbed in
- Cannot normally be used in low temperature environments, under 5?C
- Cannot be used in high temperature environments, generally over 30?C
- Expels heat into the room
- Expels moisture into the room
- Cannot be used in small rooms
- Needs a supply of fresh air to draw in so cannot be used in closed rooms without ventilation
- More expensive than a normal vented tumble dryer
Heat Pump Tumble Dryers
This is the newest type of dryer and, arguably, the most efficient type from an energy perspective.
Basically these have been used for a while in the commercial environment and they are very good at reducing the energy used from the plug. But (and this is where a lot of eco people make massive mistakes) the cost to produce and maintain can be far, far higher than the energy saved out the plug.
To put that in perspective, a heat pump dryer requires a compressor much the same as you would find in a domestic fridge as well as a condensing unit made from aluminium and a whole load of tubing not normally required.
So, they are good in terms of energy use and, in a commercial situation where they are run for many hours a day they would likely pay back the investment on energy use as well as carbon cost to produce. We have strong doubts as to whether this would be the case in a domestic situation where the use is far, far lower and we suspect that you would have to be using your tumble dryer an awful lot to justify the huge price hike for one of these types.
Whether these dryers are any good or not in terms or durability or reliability we honestly don't know as we've no history on them. The commercial ones work fine but they are a lot bigger and clunkier so only time will tell with the domestic derivatives.
One thing that may well be a very important consideration to you is that these types of dryers tend to be much slower to dry as they operate at lower temperatures that conventional vented or condenser dryers. People will often say that they do not get "hot" when that is not what they really do, they just heat gently and will rarely get anwhere even close to the temperatures that you might expect of a traditional tumble dryer.
It should also be noted that these machines are not cheap, at all.
The pros and cons of these new heat pump tumble dryers are more or less exactly the same as they are for condenser tumble dryers.
Sensor Tumble Dryers
A sensor dryer is more of a hybrid than anything else, or an added feature in some ways.
How it works is that there are sensors on the drum and/or vent that measure the humidity in the air being expelled and effectively control the drying process. So all you have to do, rather than guess at the time required to dry a particular load, is just put the load in, select the dryness that you require and hit the start button. There is little more interaction or intervention needed to get the clothes dry.
The good thing about this is that is saves the dryer running for any longer than need be, thus saving energy quite efficiently and also saves the need to open the door and check if the clothes are dry, which can save service calls.
The sensor feature can be found on some vented dryers, although few these days, and some condenser dryers.
Our preferred choice as engineers would be a sensor vented dryer as they are easy to work on, efficient and cheap to repair. Pretty much the best of all worlds.
However the practicality of knocking a hole in the wall or leaving a window wide open mid-winter when you really have call to use a dryer is, at best, off-putting for many people understandably.
So, based on price and convenience as well as ultimately the actual usability of the dryer we'd have to say that the best buy is a sensor condenser dryer. With that you have the ease of installation as well as the ease and efficiency of use and so, an excellent all-round choice. Just make sure that you buy a good one for many years of trouble free drying.
Ecological Notes For Tumble Dryers
The short of it is that any tumble dryer uses energy, irrespective of to what degree and the most efficient way to dry clothing etc. is to hang it outside to dry. This is unlikely to change.
Another way of drying clothes very efficiently is to use a clothes airer or, just hang them on a line outside.
There are also many options to dry inside without the use of a tumble dryer, clothes horses and the likes, if you can live with it and wait.
Recently White Knight introduced an "A" rated dryer, but the drying cycle that gives that low energy use takes eight hours to complete, so pretty much useless in real world terms. Of course the heat pump dryer is also "A" rated but is unproven in domestic use and we do not know what the environmental cost to produce such a complex machine is, or what the lifespan will be and so, for the moment, we cannot recommend it.