For those who want 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. The 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 height considerations. When stacked, most full-size washers and dryers will measure 27 inches wide but can be more than 80 inches tall, which may be too high for some spaces. If you think a full-size washer and dryer is your best bet, we cover these 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 products 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 sources 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: around 1.5 cubic feet for the washer and 3.5 cubic feet for the dryer. Both 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. The best laundry centers cost at least $1,200, and it's possible to buy a decent front-loading washing machine and a matching dryer for a similar price. 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.
The last alternative is a washer-dryer combo, which 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 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. They're also expensive, with the best washer-dryer combos costing more than $1,500.
Like full-size washers and dryers, 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.
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. Owner feedback at user review sites like Buzzillions.com and Epinions.com is a good way to evaluate laundry centers and washer-dryer combos, but most models get low to middling ratings. Online appliance retailers like HomeDepot.com, Sears.com and BestBuy.com also have some ratings, but here again, most models are not highly rated. Professional reviewers such as ConsumerReports.org don't test laundry centers or washer-dryer combos. Overall, owners at user-review sites appear much more satisfied with their full-size washing machines and dryers, because they can handle more laundry and process it more quickly.