What the best clothes dryer has

  • A moisture sensor. This feature senses when the clothes are dry and shuts the dryer off automatically. In addition to saving energy, moisture sensors reduce the risk of over drying, which can damage clothing. Most clothes dryers include a moisture sensor, but some inexpensive models lack the feature.
  • A drying rack. Many owners say they love this extra, which keeps items from tumbling while the dryer runs. Although the most commonly cited use is for drying sneakers, a rack can also be used to protect bras and other delicates from damage. You'll often find this feature in high-end dryers, but rarely in budget models.
  • Adequate drying cycles and options. More expensive washers usually have a bevy of cycles and options to handle virtually any drying task. However, some reviewers find that too much of a good thing can also make a dryer harder to use. All but the cheapest cheap washers should provide enough flexibility to handle everyday tasks.
  • The right capacity. Big families need big dryers to handle the volume of laundry they produce. For others, big dryers are a waste of space and money. Larger dryers cost more, often take longer to complete their cycle, and tumbling about in a cavernous drum can be rough on clothes if the dryer is run less than full. Larger dryers will also take up more space, so measure carefully.

Know before you go

Think about your laundry-room setup. Measure the space to figure out how large a dryer you can accommodate. Many dryers can be stacked with a front-loading washer to save space, but you'll need to buy a stacking kit. Make sure you know where your dryer vent port is and whether you'll be able to access it. If your laundry room is close to living areas such as the kitchen or bedrooms, look for a quiet dryer.

Check the power requirements. Electric dryers generally require a dedicated 240-volt electrical outlet. Gas dryers typically use a 120-volt outlet, as well as a gas hookup. Be sure to check the manufacturer's specifications, and verify that you have the necessary outlets and wiring in your home. If you are considering a gas dryer and there's not a gas hookup already in place, you will need to budget enough to have a certified plumber run the connection; for safety reasons, installing a gas line is not a do-it-yourself job.

Keep safety in mind. The Consumer Product Safety Commission warns that lint trapped in dryer ducts can lead to home fires. To avoid problems, experts suggest simple precautions. Remove debris from your dryer's lint filter after every use. (If you use dryer sheets, you should also scrub the filter monthly to remove buildup.) Inspect the dryer vent and exhaust system regularly, and clean out any trapped lint. Experts recommend using rigid metal ducts for dryers rather than the flexible foil or plastic kind, which trap lint more easily. Some dryers include sensors to detect when a duct is clogged. These are a great backup, but can't and shouldn't be relied on in place of basic maintenance.

What about steam? Steam settings for removing odor and wrinkles have become a common feature on many clothes dryers. Most of the best-rated dryers now include this feature, and the difference in price between steam and non-steam dryers has dropped. However, experts are divided over just how essential a steam feature actually is. For example, the editors of the Good Housekeeping Research Institute say it's useful for removing wrinkles, while the editors of ConsumerReports.org conclude it's good for freshening but useless against wrinkles.

What about the matching washer? Aesthetics are the main reason many people opt for matching appliances when buying a washer and dryer set. Certainly, having attractive appliances can make wash day more pleasant whether your laundry area is in a closed off room or in a shared space. If aesthetics are not a concern, buying an inexpensive dryer and investing the savings in a better washing machine is perfectly reasonable alternative as washers vary more in terms of features and energy efficiency.

Should you spend more for upgraded finishes? This is strictly an aesthetics consideration. High-end dryers (and washers) are often available in metallic tones and bright colors, but work no better or differently than ones in basic white. If you are looking for less-expensive appliances, white is typically your only choice.

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