How to buy the best tumble dryer
By Matt Stevens
Condenser or vented dryer? Automatic or manual? 6 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 buying a tumble dryer. You can also use our chooser tool below to help you pick the best for you.
From AEG to Zanussi, we've got the lowdown on all the top brands and which models you should buy 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 offer a look at running costs and explain how our expert testing uncovers the speediest tumble dryers around.
There are four different types of tumble dryer – below we explain what you need to know about each.
Condenser tumble dryers
These can be placed anywhere in your house – 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.
Find out more about condenser tumble dryers.
Vented tumble dryers
This is the traditional type of dryer and 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.
Find out more about vented tumble dryers.
Heat-pump condenser tumble dryers
Heat-pump tumble dryers are essentially condenser dryers with a heat pump included. They are a lot more expensive to buy than normal condenser dryers, but they're so energy efficient that running costs will halve compared to other electric dryers.
Otherwise, heat pumps are just like other condenser dryers. They can be stored anywhere in the home as long as there's a ready 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.
Find out more about heat-pump tumble dryers.
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 a very limited number of gas dryers available in the UK. Find out more about gas tumble dryers.
Automatic tumble dryers
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 how 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. Avoid these models by checking our tumble dryer reviews before you buy.
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.
Below we explain the pros and cons of the different sizes, and how much you can fit in each capacity of machine.
When shopping for a machine, it's worth keeping in mind that capacities differ for different programs. Our examples below of how much you can fit in each capacity of machine are based on using the cotton 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.
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 latest Which? tumble dryer lab reviews 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.
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 up on 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.