What the best washer-dryer combo has

  • Compact size. The big reason many opt for a washer-dryer combo or a laundry center (a stacked washer and dryer in one unitized appliance) is that it fits better in the available space. However, some are 27-inches wide (as wide as a standard washer or dryer) while others are designed to fit a narrower 24-inch space.
  • Sufficient capacity. One drawback with narrow washer-dryer combos and laundry centers is that they can't hold very much in the way of clothes. Capacities to vary at least a little, however, so if you have a larger family or that's otherwise a concern, you will be most likely be happiest with the largest capacity machine that will fit your space.
  • Speedy operation. In general, laundry centers and washer-dryer combos don't work as fast as comparable individual appliances. Still, some are better performers than others in that regard.
  • Good features. Generally speaking, washer-dryer combos and laundry centers have fewer features than their individual counterparts. Look for enough cycles and options to handle your expected laundry tasks. A few washer-dryer combos are more feature rich, including a moisture sensor -- something that experts say is worthwhile if you want to protect your clothes from getting scorched, and save a little energy in the process.

Know before you go

Location, location, location. Carefully consider where you plan to install your laundry center or washer-dryer combo. Measure the space --width, depth and height -- carefully. Assess utilities -- including water, electricity, gas (if opting for a gas laundry center), and drainage -- to make sure they are all appropriate for your new appliance, and address any issues before installation day.

To vent or not to vent? Like standard dryers, the dryers in laundry centers should be vented to the outside to prevent unpleasant side effects, such as the growth of mold and mildew from increased moisture. Washer-dryer combos, on the other hand, are typically ventless, so are the best choice if venting is not possible. Their downside is that clothes don't typically dry as well -- a complaint often voiced in user reviews.

Is a laundry center or washer-dryer combo really the best choice? If you are strapped for space, one or the other very well could be. However, if you are considering a full-sized (27-inch wide) appliance, and you are not constricted in other ways (such as in height), it might pay to consider individual stackable washers and dryers instead. Individual appliances generally perform better, have more features, and enjoy much better reviews than all-in-one units of comparable cost. Also, if either the washer or dryer turns out to be a lemon, or otherwise ends its useful life prematurely, you can replace it without having to replace the other appliance. We discuss several stackable washers and dryers in our washer and dryer reports.

Gas or electric? If you opt for a washer-dryer combo, that choice is likely made for you as all that we surveyed were electric-only models. However, laundry centers are available with either fuel source. Ongoing gas utility costs are lower than electric costs in most locations, sometimes by a little, more often by a lot. However, gas-fueled appliances are a little more expensive to purchase -- a difference that could be more than made up for over the life of your laundry center. From an economic point of view, gas probably doesn't make sense if your installation location doesn't already have a gas connection. The cost of having a licensed plumber run a gas line and install a connection can get pretty high, and for safety reasons, this is a job that most homeowners should not attempt.

Should I consider an extended warranty? Like their full-size counterparts, laundry centers and washer-dryer combos usually come with a one-year warranty, though some manufacturers will warrant specific components -- typically the motor, tub or control panel -- for longer. Some manufacturers offer extended warranties, but experts generally recommend skipping them because they are expensive and there's no guarantee that the unit will break down while they are in effect. However, some owners recommend making an exception in the case of washer-dryer combos, saying that their machines required multiple repairs in the first five years.

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