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Finding the right washer-dryer combo

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 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, a laundry center is another option. These 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 may come with either gas or electric dryers.

From a cost standpoint, laundry centers are not much cheaper than a full-size washer and dryer. Laundry centers can also cost more to repair, and the entire unit must be replaced if the dryer or washer stops working and can't be fixed. Also, the best-rated laundry centers all have top-loading washing machines, which do not equal the washing performance of front loaders in most tests.

A washer-dryer combo, which washes and dries clothing in the same unit, is another alternative. 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 leave their laundry damp.

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 or 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), and drying times are extremely long. Although a full-size dryer can dry a load of laundry in as little as 30 minutes, a washer-dryer combo can take hours to dry a smaller load. User reviews also indicate that washer-dryer combos can leave laundry more wrinkled than traditional dryers.

In terms of efficiency, laundry centers and washer-dryer combo units may be Energy Star-certified, which indicates that they meet certain criteria for energy and water consumption. However, Energy Star ratings only apply to the washer portions of units. Dryers are not included in the program because all machines use about the same amount of energy. Choosing a laundry center or a washer-dryer combo with an Energy Star rating can save you money on your utility bills, and you could also be eligible for an appliance rebate.

Finding the best washer-dryer combo reviews

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 posted directly at retail sites, so that's not an issue. The problem is that the same reviews appear repeatedly at different retailers, so you need to take that into account before deciding that one washer-dryer combo or another is an overwhelming favorite. These duplicate reviews have been factored into our weighting when naming the Best Reviewed washer-dryer combos.

Unfortunately, top professional reviewers rarely if ever test laundry centers or washer-dryer combos, though several, such as ConsumerReports.org, Good Housekeeping and Reviewed.com report on a number of stackable washing machines and dryers; once again, those appliances are covered in full detail in their own ConsumerSearch reports.

A few less-rigorous sites, such as TopTenReviews.com and WasherDryerComboz.com, offer takes on various machines but don't conduct hands-on testing. Of those, WasherDryerComboz.com offers the most information on specific models, plus some articles on combos and general laundry topics that some might find helpful.

 

Elsewhere in this report

Laundry Centers
Made up of a unitized top-load washer below and a separate dryer above, we look at the available models and name the top performers.

Washer-dryer combos
The most compact option as they wash and dry in the same tub, and the easiest to install since they don't require a vent to the outside, but can you live with their downsides? Editors explain, and name the best choices.

Buying Guide
What are the upsides, downsides and other considerations you need to know before buying a laundry center or washer-dryer combo? Our Buying Guide explains the ins and outs, and how to find the best choice to fit your needs and budget.

Our Sources
Here are the reviews our editors used to find the best washer-dryer combos. Each review is rated and ranked according to its helpfulness.

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