A dryer is an indispensable appliance in almost every household (unless you long for the days when people lugged heavy baskets of wet laundry out to the clothesline and rummaged through the neighbors’ shrubs for the boxer shorts that blew away). Dryers have always saved time and labor, but today’s smarter dryers can also keep your favorite sweater from shrinking while saving energy and money at the same time. Pronto’s Dryer Buying Guide will help you choose the best dryer for your needs and budget. It won’t put an end to laundry, but it might make it a little less of a chore.
Go with the dryer type your home is equipped for – electric dryers require a 240-volt outlet; gas dryers require a gas hookup. If you have both available, go with gas dryer. You’ll pay more up front but save on operating costs over time.
Choose a dryer with a moisture sensor for the most efficient drying. The sensor automatically ends the drying cycle when the moisture in the dryer drum dips below a certain level, protecting clothes from overdrying and saving energy.
Measure your space carefully and choose either a full-sized (27-inch to 29-inch wide) dryer or a compact (24-inch) dryer. Compare dryer capacities by checking the cubic footage of the drum, and make sure it’s comparable with your washer’s capacity.
Basic dryer features on inexpensive models will get the job done in most households. Skip pricey extras like specialized drying cycles unless you really need them, but do spend for truly useful features like a drying rack, a drum light, wrinkle control and quiet mode.
The coordinated washer/dryer “matched pair” is a great look, but if you need to replace one in the future, it might be tough to find a match. Expensive dryers don’t have as many performance advantages as expensive washers, so an “unmatched” pair with a less-expensive dryer can give you comparable performance at a more attractive price.
A device that stops the dryer’s cycle when the moisture in the drum falls below a certain level. This guards against over-drying, which can damage clothes, and also saves energy. Dryers with moisture sensors perform more efficiently than inexpensive models that use thermostats.
The volume of the dryer’s drum, which determines how much clothing can fit inside. Dryer capacity is measured in cubic feet (cu/ft), with full-sized dryers averaging around 7.0 cu/ft and compact dryers about 3.5 cu/ft.
A feature on some dryers that tumbles intermittently after the drying cycle to prevent clothes from wrinkling if they aren’t removed right away.
A removable rack that can be positioned in the dryer tub to dry items that shouldn’t be tumbled, like sneakers, pillows or sweaters.
A dryer with front-mounted controls that can be stacked on top of a front-loading washer to save space.
The decision of whether to choose a gas or electric dryer may have been made for you, based on the utilities you have in your home. Electric dryers require a 240-volt outlet (these take a big three- or four-prong plug) while gas dryers require a gas line in your laundry area. Most homes have one or the other, but not both. If you do have a choice—you’re building a house or adding a new laundry—there are a couple of things you need to know.
Electric dryers cost less than gas dryers up front, but the costs to operate a gas dryer are lower. It will probably take a year or two to break even, and after that you’ll come out ahead with gas. Don’t be tempted to run a gas line to your laundry room in hopes of lower gas costs, as the expense for this would wipe out any benefit and then some. But if you happen to be a lucky homeowner who’s already equipped for either an electric or gas dryer, choose a gas dryer and enjoy the long-term savings.
The most important performance feature to look for when you’re shopping for a dryer is a moisture sensor. This little device replaces the traditional dryer thermostat and measures the amount of moisture in the dryer drum. When the dryer’s moisture level drops below a certain level, the sensor ends the cycle. A dryer with a moisture sensor only tumbles your clothes until they’re dry. This guards against over-drying, which can damage fabrics, and saves energy.
Most dryers now offer moisture sensors, but you should check whether the dryer you’re considering has one, especially if you’re hunting in the bargain range. Some budget-priced dryers still use thermostats. It’s worth paying more initially for the efficiency and long-term energy savings a dryer with a moisture sensor delivers.
You need to make sure your new dryer will fit where you plan to put it. Start by getting out the measuring tape and measuring the space where you plan to put the dryer. Then measure the opening of every door you’ll pass through to get there. Dryers are solid units, so there are no parts to remove if they won’t squeeze through a door.
Full-sized dryers are 27 to 29 inches wide. If that’s too large for your laundry area, look for compact dryers that are just 24 inches wide. Stackable dryers are another way to save space. These dryers have front-mounted controls and can sit on top of a front-loading washer, minimizing the appliance footprint in the laundry area.
When comparing dryer capacities, ignore manufacturers’ marketing lingo like “super capacity” or “extra large” and look for cubic feet (cu/ft). Most full-sized dryers, including budget models, have a 7.0 cu/ft drum. This is plenty of capacity for most households. If you frequently dry bulky items like comforters, look for a dyer with a larger 7.3-7.5 cu/ft drum. Compact 24-inch-wide dryers have a capacity of around 3.5 cu/ft., which is good for singles or couples but too small for a family of four.
If you already own a washer, make sure you choose a dryer with a comparable capacity. If you have a compact washer, don’t buy a mega-capacity dryer-the little loads won’t fill it to its optimum level, and you’ll burn a lot of unnecessary energy. If you have a cavernous washer, make sure your dryer has enough cubic feet to dry the epic loads in a single shot.
Most dryers come with a basic set of features, including a few preset heat levels, a handful of fabric settings (“regular” and “permanent press”) and a choice of either timed or automatic drying. High-end dryers offer lots of specialized cycles. Pay for them if you’re sure you’ll use them, but ask yourself if you really need an antibacterial cycle or “super speed-dry” on a regular basis. Pricey touchpad controls and stainless steel drums are nice, but they don’t affect performance.
There are also a few dryer options that improve performance and flexibility, making them worth consideration.
Dryer rack. Slide it into the drum to dry items that can’t be tumbled, like sneakers and sweaters.
Wrinkle protection. Clothes wrinkle fast if you don’t get them out of the dryer right at the end of the cycle. Wrinkle protection tumbles the clothes intermittently, without heat, for 2 hours or more, sparing you from extra ironing.
Drum light. It can be hard to see the whole interior of your dryer drum, especially if your laundry room is in the basement or another dim space. Switch on the drum light, and you’ll find every sneaky sock hiding in the dryer’s recesses.
Lint filter warning light. If your lint filter is clogged, your dryer can’t work efficiently. A warning light will prompt you to clean it when needed.
Quiet mode. Will your dryer be near a bedroom or kitchen? Look for a model that has extra noise-dampening features and adjustable buzzer volume.
Bored with basic white? Will a sleek, stylish dryer take some of the drudgery out of laundry day? If you’re willing to pay extra for good looks, you’ll find a range of high-end dryers in colors like Glacier Blue and Wild Cherry Red, with chrome-rimmed glass doors and LCD displays. A “matched pair” washer-and-dryer set has extra eye-appeal, with some models edging almost into sculpture.
Think carefully about how much of a premium you’re willing to pay for the twin beauties. While expensive washers do have performance benefits over their modestly priced counterparts, dryers are simpler. A $1,100 dryer won’t dry your clothes much better than a $600 dryer, just look better drying them. And remember that if you buy a matched pair and one appliance breaks down in a few years, it may be tough to find a match for the remaining functional one. If your budget is tight, skip the matched pair and buy a solid, moderately-priced dryer that will do a beautiful job drying your clothes, even if it’s not a looker.