The Rough and Tumble World of the Clothes Dryer

clothes-dryer

What you need to know to be a savvy shopper

Laundry drying in the open air, using sunshine and wind to do the job, sounds great. And while the old-school approach certainly saves energy, it's not practical for most of us. Fortunately, the first automatic clothes dryer hit the market in 1938, and it wasn't long before manufacturers started rolling out competitive features, making life easier for a lot of us.

Let's review questions you might have and the various factors you need to consider before you purchase that new clothes dryer.

When should I replace my dryer?

Dryers have an average lifespan of 13 years, with electrics edging out gas by about a year. If your dryer is working fine and you've had no repairs (or maybe just one), no worries! Keep using it.

But, if there are odd odors, it's making strange sounds, or if you've had two or more repairs and you're closing in on that average lifespan, go ahead and replace it. Or, if it's broken now, and the repair estimate is half or more of the cost of a new one, replace it.

Also, if you're getting a new washer, consider getting the matching dryer at the same time. It's an excellent way to ensure the capacities between the two appliances match.

What size dryer do I need?

This is a bit tricky, as it is not easy to calculate the cubic footage of laundry!

Cnet.com offers some great guidance when it comes to clothes dryer capacities.

"Your standard 'full-size' dryers typically range from about 7.3 cubic feet (cu. ft.) to 8.3 cu. ft., although there are compact units available as small as 3.4 cu. ft., as well as "mega-capacity" offerings as large as 9.2 cu. ft. 

"Which size is right for you? For one to two people only washing light garments and no heavy bedding, a compact unit is probably sufficient. Most people, however, will want a full-size dryer capable of drying heavier items and larger loads, and since the load size is determined by the size of your washer, you'll want to start there. One easy rule of thumb is that the capacity of your dryer should be about twice the capacity of your washer. If your washer has a 3.5 cu. ft. capacity, for instance, then look for a dryer with 7.0 cu. ft. This 1:2 ratio is the sweet spot, giving a full load of wet laundry enough room to dry efficiently without wasting energy."

If it's easier to think in terms of pounds, a large washer that can handle 12 lbs. per load should match to a larger dryer with a drum up to seven cu. ft. Medium washers hold 10 lbs. so the dryer drum should be 5 cu. ft. Compact washers hold about 6 lbs., so the matching dryer should be 3 to 4 cu. ft.

Here's something else to consider. If you're:

  • not fussy about the washer and dryer matching looks or colors…
  • thinking about starting a family…
  • only needing to replace the dryer…

Then go ahead and get a larger-capacity dryer now. That way, when it's time to up the capacity of the washer, the dryer is good to go. 

However, your decision also needs to take into account how much space you have. Larger-capacity dryers are deeper than their smaller-capacity counterparts and can be wider. Plus, you need to allow between 5 in. to 6 in. of space behind the dryer for hookups and at least an inch of air space between the washer. So, measure, measure, measure!

Should I choose gas or electric?

Almost from the very beginning, one of the first choices users had to make was gas or electric. It's still a fundamental decision today.

There are several factors in play here. If you're in a place that already has one or the other, go with it. You'll have to have the gas dryer installed by a plumber, however. An electric one, once you purchase the right power cord, can be DIY.

You may actually have both options already installed. In most parts of the country, your operating costs will be much less with gas—natural gas or propane. Gas tends to be cheaper than electricity and dries clothes more quickly and efficiently, making it significantly less expensive to operate.

If you're starting with a blank space and you want gas, just be aware that it is more expensive out of the gate. A gas clothes dryer is more expensive to buy and more expensive to hook up because it requires a licensed plumber. It also needs to be vented, adding that expense as well. On the flip side, it runs on standard 110/120-volt power, which might already be there. And it's cheaper to operate—by nearly half.

If propane will be your fuel of choice, some gas dryers come with a propane conversion kit or one can be ordered. So, don't let that be a concern.

If you want electric, you'll need the proper 240-volt outlet, a power cord, and you'll need to hardwire one end of the power cord into the back of the dryer. There are ventless options available if running a duct is not practical. We'll cover ventless dryers a bit later in the blog.

What kind of plug do dryers use?

Gas dryers plug into a standard 110/120-volt grounded outlet. However, ff there's an old 2-prong outlet, DON'T use a grounding adapter. Instead, get a proper 3-prong outlet installed. If the gas dryer doesn't come with its own cord, it probably has a pigtail off the back into which you plug your own cord.

Electric dryers are trickier. As a rule, they don't come with a power cord, so you'll have to buy one. First, see what kind of wall outlet you already have.

Whether it's 3-slot or 4-slot, there's a power cord to match. 4-slot matches current code and if there's no electrical outlet there, that's what the electrician will install. But if there's a 3-slot in place, don't worry. It's perfectly safe and you don't need to replace with a 4-slot unless you want to. Either way, just buy the cord you need to match the outlet and the amperage required for the dryer.

But, be aware that the power cord has to be hard-wired into the back of the electric dryer. There's no convenient pigtail to tie into.

How well do ventless dryers work?

Ventless dryers are a subcategory of electric dryers. Unlike conventional dryers that simply vent the moisture-filled hot air out the vent pipe, ventless dryers reuse the hot air. There are two kinds of ventless—condenser and heat pump. Both are ideal for places where it is impractical to run a vent to the outside. They do, however, have a secondary lint trap that needs to be cleaned every month or so. And both collect moisture that's been extracted from the hot air and discharge it into a pipe or collection tray. So, although there's no vent, you do have to deal with getting rid of the water.

What's the difference between the two kinds of ventless? According to greenbuildingadvisor.com:

"Some condensing dryers use a metal plate that is air-cooled and some use a scheme that requires a steady supply of cold water...

“A heat-pump dryer is a kind of condensing dryer. Like pretty much every heat pump device, the heat pump in a heat pump clothes dryer has a cold coil and a hot coil. This works out perfectly for a condensing dryer as the cold coil can be used to cool the warm moist air coming from the drum (and to provide a condensing surface for the moisture in the air) and the hot coil can be used to heat the air before sending it back."

But, heads up! Handyhomeguide.com warns:

"It’s important to keep a condenser tumble dryer in a room with plenty of ventilation, as that will allow warm air to escape. Warm dry air exiting from the dryer raises room temperatures and can cause condensation to gather on walls or windows, which can cause issues like mildew or mold building up in rooms that are small or lacking in ventilation."

Both ventless kinds are more expensive to buy than the traditional electric or gas tumble dryers.

What kind of features should I look for?

There are a lot of bells and whistles out there. You need to decide which are the most useful to you. The more sophisticated the dryer, the higher the price tag.

Features to look for include:

  • Location of the loading door—front or top
  • If front load, do you want the door to swing to the side or swing downward?
  • Large lint filter—it makes the dryer run more efficiently
  • Light inside the drum so you can find any stray socks
  • Material of the drum—stainless steel or plastic. Stainless steel won't chip, rust, discolor, or crack but it is more expensive
  • Kind of controls—digital/touchscreen or mechanical
  • Blocked vent indicator
  • Moisture sensor to prevent drying clothes longer than necessary
  • Ability to turn off the end-of-cycle buzzer
  • Dryer rack so items can be dried flat inside the dryer while still receiving heat
  • Extended tumble—tumbles the clothes periodically after the cycle is done to help prevent wrinkles
  • Drying modes like eco cycle, express dry, steam, delicate, sanitizing/allergy, air-only
  • NSF (National Sanitary Foundation) ratings to indicate the dryer can destroy allergens and bacteria found on fabrics
  • Dual drums—one normal and one small for delicates
  • ENERGY STAR certified—these use 20% less energy than conventional models
  • Noise-reduction package
  • WiFi connectivity with a smart app—this provides a way to use your smartphone to monitor a cycle's remaining time, schedule when to start the dryer, and be notified when the dryer's done

When's the best time to buy a clothes dryer?

Most sources agree that September and October are great months to look for deals. Three-day holiday weekends are also good times along with the month of January and the Fourth of July.

One option to consider, if aesthetics is not an issue, is scratch-and-dent dryers. Deals on these are available year-round. They can be hard to find, but you will save some bucks.

Decision time

You're now better armed with the information you need to buy the clothes dryer that meets your needs—the kind (gas, electric, vented or ventless), capacity, and features. Plus, you now know the best times to bargain hunt!

Should you need ducting, power cords, gas connectors, or even steam dryer hookup accessories to go along with that new dryer, explore our line of Certified Appliance Accessories. They're an excellent match to today's clothes dryers.