Choosing a washer-dryer combo or laundry center

Strapped for space? One option may be a laundry center, which includes a washer and dryer in one stacked unit. These machines come in 24- or 27-inch widths, and they are a little shorter than full-size stackable washer and dryers, usually measuring between 70 and 75 inches high. However, a laundry center typically has fewer features than a full-size washer and dryer, and its capacity is much lower; you'll have to run more loads to wash the same amount of laundry. In addition, with some of the smaller, 24-inch-wide laundry centers, the washer and dryer cannot be run at the same time.

The most compact option is a washer-dryer combo, which washes and dries laundry in the same tub. These units typically measure 24 to 27 inches wide and 33 to 35 inches tall, and they can fit into smaller spaces than stackable washers and dryers or laundry centers. They don't require a vent to the outside and run on standard 120-volt outlets. However, most washer-dryer combos have very small capacities, and long drying times are a frequent complaint on user-review sites. This option is likely best for consumers who don't have much laundry, because owners often report that it can take several hours to complete even a small load.

In general, experts say to consider the following when shopping for a laundry center or washer-dryer combo:

  • Remember, separate washers and dryers can often be stacked to save space. However, only models labeled as stackable can safely be stacked. Consumers will also need to buy a kit to mount the appliances. It's also important to keep in mind that the total height of the stack may make the dryer hard to reach.
  • Laundry centers are easier to reach than stacked washers and dryers. However, they tend to have fewer features than separate appliances, and 27-inch units take up almost as much floor space. Twenty-four-inch units will often fit in a closet or kitchen, but they don't hold as much laundry.
  • Washer-dryer combos can be used in rooms without outside dryer vents. This makes them a great choice for apartment dwellers, but they do have some serious drawbacks. They have limited capacity, may take several hours to finish a load of laundry and are prone to breakdowns.
  • Front-loading washers use less water and electricity than top-loading washers. Their fast spin speed removes more water from clothing to cut drying time, which also makes them easier on fabrics. Most laundry centers are top-loading, and washer-dryer combos are typically front-loading.
  • It's worth paying extra for a moisture sensor in the dryer. A moisture sensor monitors the level of moisture in the load, automatically shutting the machine off when clothes are dry. Although it costs extra, a moisture sensor helps save energy and reduces wear and tear on fabric.
  • A gas dryer will cost less to run over the long haul. Gas dryers are more expensive initially, but experts say they typically cost less to operate, depending on your local utility rates. All the laundry centers covered in our report are available in both electric and gas versions. Washer-dryer combos, however, are electric only.
  • Think carefully about extra warranties. Like their full-size counterparts, laundry centers and washer-dryer combos usually come with a one-year warranty. 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 during the warranty period. However, some owners specifically 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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