Washer-Dryer combos turn a small space into a laundry room
For those who need to fit a washing machine and dryer into a small space, there are several options. The first is a stackable, full-size washer and dryer. Only washers with flat, smooth tops can be stacked with a dryer (with the purchase of an optional stacking kit), and that limits your choices to front-loading washers with controls on the front, which may not be a drawback since front-loading machines get better reviews for performance. Another benefit to taking that approach is that you get a full-size capacity -- often 3.5 to 4.5 cubic feet for the washer and 7 to 7.5 cubic feet for the dryer -- so you won't need to run as many loads of laundry. You can also replace the washer or dryer separately if one breaks down.
However, there are some drawbacks to this approach. User reviews indicate that shorter individuals might have a hard time reaching the controls when the units are stacked. In addition, there may be space considerations. When stacked, most full-size washers and dryers will measure 27 inches wide but can be more than 80 inches high, which might be too tall for some spaces. If you think a full-size washer and dryer is your best bet, we cover those units in our companion reports on washing machines and clothes dryers.
If you don't have the space for full-size units, these are the two alternate choices:
A washer/dryer combo washes and dries clothing in the same unit. Washer-dryer combo units don't need to be vented to the outside because they have condenser dryers (which make them convenient for those without a place for a dryer vent). Instead of using hot air to dry laundry like a typical dryer, a condenser dries laundry by continually condensing the water vapor in the laundry into water and then pumping the water out through a drain.
This process is repeated until all the water vapor is extracted and the laundry is dry. However, some users say this process doesn't work as well as a traditional dryer, and many reviewers say that combination units take much longer to dry clothes, sometimes hours, and often leave their laundry damp and wrinkled. Others don't mind drying clothes to dampness and then hanging them to finish the process, which they say helps mitigate wrinkling as well.
Washer-dryer combos are very compact, often measuring only 24 to 27 inches wide and 33 to 35 inches tall, and they can be set up in more locations because they don't require a dryer vent (as noted above) or a gas hookup (washer-dryer combos are electric only). However, they usually have much smaller capacities than full-size washers and dryers (sometimes less than 2 cubic feet).
Laundry centers combine a washer and dryer in one stacked unit. Laundry centers are more compact than full-size washers and dryers, and they are available in 24- or 27-inch widths. They are shorter than many stacked full-size units -- typically only 70 to 75 inches high. However, laundry centers also have smaller capacities, so users have to do more loads to wash the same amount of laundry. The 27-inch laundry centers covered in our report have washer capacities of about 3 cubic feet and dryer capacities of about 6 cubic feet. Compact laundry centers (24 inches wide) are even smaller: Approximately 1.5 cubic feet for the washer and 3.5 cubic feet for the dryer. Full-sized and compact laundry centers can come with either gas or electric dryers, although sometimes only an electric option is available.
From a cost standpoint, laundry centers are not much cheaper than a full-size washer and dryer. While they can be found on sale at various times, they're rarely discounted by much and you definitely don't see the deep discounts that can be found on full-sized washers and dryers.
Laundry centers can also cost more to repair, and the entire unit must be replaced if the washer or dryer stops working and can't be fixed. Also, the best-rated laundry centers all have top-loading washing machines, which do not measure up to the washing performance of front loaders in most tests. Still, if your space limits you to a laundry center, you can find some good choices.
Our evaluation of washer-dryer combo sources
Overall, the major benefit to laundry centers and washer-dryer combos is their compactness, but both options have a number of downsides, including lower capacities and longer drying times. That may be why few of these models get good reviews from owners.
Online appliance retailers like HomeDepot.com, Lowes.com and Sears.com are the best place to see user reviews. Some washer-dryer combos get dozens of reviews, others only a handful, but be aware that most retailer sites mix in ratings drawn from elsewhere, usually that manufacturer's web site. User reviews posted at manufacturer sites are as unbiased and uncensored as those poste d directly at retail sites, so reliability is not an issue. The problem is that the same reviews appear repeatedly at different retailers, so we took that into account when making our picks. Laundry centers and washer-dryer combos are not tested by experts.
The best washer-dryer combos
While it's true that washer-dryer combos have their downsides, they still are much more convenient for some people than having to haul their clothes to the laundromat. Among washer-dryer combos, we saw the best feedback for the LG WM3477HW (Est. $1,600). It's particularly popular with condo and apartment dwellers who don't have an outside vent. They say it works well for a combination unit, and is surprisingly quiet. While it takes from 1.5 to 5 hours to cycle through a load, depending upon the settings you choose, users have found ways to make that work for them, such as doing at least one load every day so they don't get behind.
In spite of its compact size, the 2.3 cubic foot LG WM3477HW is well-featured. It has nine wash cycles, five spin speeds, five wash and rinse temperature options, and seven drying cycles. But the features owners really love is the delay start, which allows you to load your laundry and set it to start up to 19 hours in advance. Quite a few reviewers say they toss in a load of laundry as part of their daily chores and set it to run at night, so they do at least one load a day, plus wake up to clean laundry ready to come out of the dryer.
While there are unhappy reviewers who complain about the LG WM3477HW's small capacity, the length of time it takes to run a load, the poor overall drying performance (which, often, is in comparison to a full-sized, traditional dryer), or the general inconveniences of having an all-in-one unit, the majority of owners are very happy, saying that, in spite of its drawbacks, having the WM3477HW in their home is vastly preferable to using the common laundry rooms in their complex or trekking to the laundromat.
If you have a bit more space, and would like a bit more capacity, LG makes a larger washer-dryer combo, the 4.3 cubic foot LG WM3997HWA (Est. $1,900). However, that additional capacity means it's also as wide as a full size washer at 27 inches. It offers all of the features of the 2.3 cubic foot LG combo above, plus a few extras, including more washing programs and a steam function, which is popular for refreshing items you don't necessarily want to dry.
The LG WM3997HWA's feedback from owners is not quite as strong as its smaller sibling, the WM3477HW, but it's close. Compliments and complaints match up with the WM3477HW as well -- most love the convenience compared to shared laundry facilities and say it works well, but they have to hang clothes to get them fully dry. Others say it's simply too slow or they want a unit that will fully dry their clothes like a traditional dryer does.
One tip we spotted: owners note that with any of these washer/dryer combos it's helpful if you don't overfill it. A number noted that they keep two separate, small laundry baskets on hand to control the size of their loads, and they just alternate washing those smaller loads.
If the idea of spending $1,500 or more for a washer-dryer combo leaves you feeling like you've just been soaked, we saw some very strong reviews for a much less expensive option, the Midea 2.0 Cu. Ft. Washer/Dryer Combo (Est. $800). It doesn't have the number of features and wash/dry options of the aforementioned LG machines, but it's also less than half the price.
The Midea is small, but, again, those who have limited space have figured out ways to keep up with their laundry in spite of that. The drying function also gets poor reviews, as we see with all washer-dryer combos, but most say that it's sufficient for their needs and they don't mind hanging clothes to prevent wrinkles and finish out the cycle. They also note that it's very quiet and easy to use. The Midea will fit into a 24-inch wide space, so is a good choice if you're both on a limited budget and have a tiny residence.