How to Buy a Dryer

Learn which features to prioritize when choosing a clothes dryer for your laundry room. Review these basics and features to help you select the right model for your needs.


A well-chosen clothes dryer will help you get the laundry done faster with wrinkle-free results and minimal hassle. Clothes dryers use heated air and tumbling action to evaporate water from garments and linens, then exhaust the humid air through a lint filter.

Basic budget-friendly dryers come with white exteriors, mechanical controls, and only a few temperature settings (low, medium, and high). Cycles likely include only timed-dry (you pick the amount of time) and air-dry (no heat). As prices increase, the dryers add more sophisticated timers and settings. High-end dryers likely include touch pad or touch screen controls and dozens of choices for heat temperature and cycles that you might be interested in. Expensive dryers are also more likely to come in fashion colors with matching washers -- a boon if you're locating a laundry room near high-traffic living areas such as the kitchen or family room.

Here are some basic choices, styles, and features to consider as you pick a new clothes dryer.

Gas or Electric?

Clothes dryers need to create heat to dry clothes efficiently. There are only two options: natural gas or electricity. Your house or apartment hookup will likely dictate which energy source you can use.

Gas dryers require a gas hookup and a dedicated 120-volt outlet. Gas dryers have a higher price tag than electric dryers but are less expensive to operate on a day-to-day basis. A gas dryer might be the right choice for you if you want to save money over time and have an existing gas connection or are willing to pay to have one installed by a professional.

Electric dryers require a dedicated 240-volt outlet, which is twice the strength of ordinary household current. Although initially cheaper than gas dryers, electric dryers cost more to run. An electric dryer might be the right choice if you want to spend less for the initial purchase and can plug the dryer into an existing setup.

Editor's Tip: Because there is little difference in how much energy different dryers use, the Department of Energy's Energy Star program does not label this type of appliance. If you are concerned about energy consumption, you might want to choose a dryer with a moisture-sensor cycle, or choose one with a high spin cycle. Both choices reduce how much drying time is needed and save energy as a result.

Controls & Cycles

Clothes dryers feature a wide range of settings to regulate drying time and temperature. High-end models come with electronic touch pad or touch screen controls. Basic dryers use mechanical dial controls. Whether a dryer features electronic controls or dials, the mechanism to choose cycles and functions should be easy to read and operate. The basic functions include dryness control and temperature control. 

Dryness Control

Depending primarily on price, clothes dryers offer three ways to set the cycle to dry clothing. Each uses a different method to determine when clothes are dry, and each provides a different level of control.

  • Timed Drying: You use a dial to set the amount of time you want to dry a load of laundry. The dryer stops when this time is reached. Some timed-drying cycles include a cooldown period before the dryer stops. The quality of your drying results will depend upon how accurately you evaluate drying time based on fabric type and amount of moisture present. Lower-priced dryers might offer only this type of drying cycle.
  • Automatic Drying: Dryers typically offer three basic drying cycles: delicate/knit, permanent press, and regular. You choose the cycle, then designate the desired degree of dryness (from more dry to less dry) on the control. The load dries as long as it takes to reach that temperature and moisture level. A cooldown period usually initiates before the dryer stops. This approach minimizes guesswork and the likelihood of overdrying.
  • Drying with Moisture Sensors: High-end dryers use an electronic moisture sensor that actually touches the clothes while they're drying to determine the degree of wetness. Less-expensive dryers estimate moisture levels based on exhaust air temperatures. In both cases, you decide how dry you want the clothes to end up -- completely dry or damp -- and the machine determines how long to dry that particular load of laundry. This is the most efficient way to dry clothes.

Temperature Control

Each load of laundry requires you to choose a temperature based on fabric content. In general, the more expensive the dryer, the more choices you will have for temperature control. The basic selections:

  • High or Regular: Use this setting for laundry such as bath towels and clothes made of heavy-duty fabrics (such as blue jeans). A short cooldown period minimizes wrinkles.
  • Medium or Permanent Press: Because its longer cooldown period helps reduce wrinkles, use this setting for fabrics such as polyester and nylon that don't require ironing.
  • Low: This setting works well for knits.
  • Extra-Low or Delicate: Use this setting for lightweight fabrics, loosely woven fabrics, and those labeled "tumble dry" (which means they might shrink when exposed to heat).
  • Air-Dry: Use this setting (sometimes called air-fluff) for items such as shower curtains or clothes made with elastic that should be dried without heat. This setting is also good for fluffing items filled with down.

Dryer Capacity

The larger the dryer's capacity, the more you can dry in a single load, which translates into saving time and money. Also, when clothes have more tumbling room, they end up less wrinkled at the end of a cycle. Most full-size dryers can hold a typical load of washed clothes.

  • Full-Size Dryers are usually 27-29 inches wide and can manage a typical wash load (about 6-7.5 cubic feet). This is the most practical choice for most families or small households that want the ability to wash bulky items such as comforters.
  • Space-Saving Dryers usually measure 24 inches wide or less. Their drum capacity is usually half that of full-size models, or about 3.5 cubic feet -- making them a good choice for small households or small spaces.
  • Combination Washer-Dryers come in both 24- and 27-inch widths, with gas or electric dryers. You can choose a unit with a front-loading washer and a stacked dryer, or a single unit with both washer and dryer built in. The latter is ideal for locations where a separate full-size washer and dryer would not fit.

Dryer Features

Today's clothes dryers offer a variety of cycles and features that save time or steps, and increase safety. Evaluate your household and the way you do laundry to decide which combination of features fits your life best.

  • A sanitize cycle (which uses high heat or steam) helps get rid of allergens and bacteria by sanitizing items that can't be washed.
  • An express or speed cycle uses increased airflow for faster drying.
  • A steam setting removes wrinkles and freshens clothes. This high-end option might require a water hookup, although some models include a drawer that you fill with water from the tap.
  • A noise-reduction system (e.g. added insulation and improved suspension) minimizes the sound of a running dryer -- a good choice if the unit will be located near living spaces.
  • Reverse-tumble drums change direction as they run to keep clothes from clumping as they dry.
  • Stainless-steel drums boast the smoothest finish and are less likely to chip, crack, or scratch than plastic or porcelain ones.
  • An interior dryer-drum light helps you locate small items.
  • A pedestal base raises the dryer 15 inches to minimize bending and provide handy storage space for laundry staples.
  • A large, easy-to-access lint filter makes it easy to clean the filter, which helps your machine run efficiently and reduces the risk of fire.
  • A lint-filter light reminds you to clean the filter before each use.
  • A vent-blockage monitor indicates lint buildup in the ductwork connecting to your dryer -- a potential fire risk.
  • A removable stationary rack allows shoes to be dried without tumbling.
  • A pull-down door (also known as a hamper-style door) holds laundry for you while loading or unloading the machine. But side-opening doors make it easier to reach the back of the drum. 

Shopping Tips
  • Review your household's laundry habits and cleaning challenges before deciding on your dryer's priority features and styles. You might want to consider a matching set where washer and dryer are designed to work together.
  • Read reviews and compare prices for dryers before visiting the home center or appliance dealer.
  • Measure before you buy to make sure the model you want will fit the space you have in mind. You'll also need to know that the dryer can fit through doors and up or down stairwells (depending on location). Take the tape measure with you to the store.
  • Evaluate the manufacturer's customer service record and warranties.
  • If saving money is a priority, buy a basic white model with mechanical controls and a limited number of cycles and features.

Shop Now: Clothes Dryers Buying Guide

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