Tumble Dryer Buying Advice

Condenser tumble dryer or a vented tumble dryer?

 Tumble dryers have always been one of the simplest of household appliances, but since the invention of condenser dryers they have become more complicated and arguably less reliable.

The first decision you must make when buying one is whether to buy a vented or a condenser dryer. As you’d expect, there are pros and cons for both. This page helps you understand the differences, including the reliability and repair implications. Condenser tumble dryers are becoming more popular but vented dryers still have some advantages and the convenience of not needing a venting hose results in some compromises.

What’s the difference between a condenser tumble dryer and a vented tumble dryer?

The main design difference, is that vented dryers blow the hot damp air out through a large circular opening, which can cause a lot of condensation unless you use a venting pipe to vent it through an outside wall using a proper venting kit, or (less ideally) through an open window.

Condenser dryers divert the hot damp air into a condensing chamber so that it condenses back into water and is collected in a plastic tank, which you have to manually empty. It is possible to plumb in some condenser dryers so that the water goes to a drain – but this is too much messing about for most people.

Which is best, condenser or vented?

 There are pros and cons for both so you have to decide yourself. Vented dryers are cheaper, they are also simpler, more reliable and mostly more economical to run*. According to Which? “on average, vented tumble dryers use about a fifth less energy than condenser dryers to dry a full load of cottons.” *NOTE: this is no longer strictly true, see “super energy efficient tumble dryers with heat pumps” section below.

So why bother with a condenser tumble dryer? Well condenser tumble dryers are a convenience product (like washer-dryers are) but they do offer a solution to a genuine problem for some people when venting the dryer outside is difficult or even impossible. You may also want a more sophisticated dryer with more features.

For more up to date information and test results on the latest dryers see Which? who at the time of writing have reviewed 111 tumble dryers.

Because of their resources and independence, Which? usually have the latest reviews and also collect the opinions and experiences of thousands of members. There’s plenty of free information but will need to be a subscriber (take advantage of the 1 month trial offer) to get the full benefit. (I’m both a subscriber and affiliate of Which?)

Super energy efficient tumble dryers with heat pumps

Condenser dryers have been around a long time now and manufacturers seem to be putting most of their efforts into developing them rather than the vented type which have probably stopped evolving now. Some condensers now have large heat pumps (which look like a fridge compressor) that recycle otherwise lost heat and are said to much cheaper to run. It’s no longer accurate to say vented dryers are always cheaper to run because a few of these condensers are remarkably cheap to run now (the lowest I’ve heard of so far has quoted costs of only £37 a year – Panasonic NH-P80G1).

However, the downside to the “highly efficient condenser dryers” with heat pumps is greatly increased drying times and greatly increased purchase costs. Therefore you need to think about how long it would take to get the extra purchase costs back in reduced running costs. I know of one example where Which? say it could be up to 7 years. Check out the energy labels before deciding whether any particular dryer is more, or less energy efficient.

What are the maintenance and repair differences between a condenser tumble dryer and a vented tumble dryer?

 Having repaired many tumble dryers, both vented and condenser, I have the following opinions regarding the repair side of things –


Vented dryers

  • Easier to work on, fewer parts inside, and easier to get to parts
  • The flexible venting hose can be awkward to deal with, they are sometimes either not long enough to reach a window, or they are too long to vent directly outside behind the dryer. If vented at the back of the dryer the vent hose needs cutting down otherwise it kinks and traps fluff and water. Having done that, the dryer can then (depending on siting) be awkward to get out and then refit.
  • The vent hose is usually delicate and easily damaged so it can wear or tear easily causing leakage of fluff and damp air.
  • If not straight, the vent hose can trap fluff, and even water causing loss of function and overheating.
  • Usually only have one filter to keep clean – but if the filter isn't cleaned very regularly, or it is damaged, fluff can accumulate inside the dryer and cause a fire risk

Condenser dryers

  • They have a lot more parts, some of which can be relatively difficult to get to and require a complete strip down. Replacing a belt for example can be extremely difficult or impossible as a diy repair
  • Less well made models can still let some damp air escape into a room and cause some condensation or mould. [ Which? best buy tumble dryers ]
  • They are more complicated, with more to go wrong than on a vented dryer although overall, tumble dryers are relatively reliable.
  • They can have several filters, some not so obvious, so if not looked after by regular cleaning of the filters, plus the condenser chamber and water reservoir they can quickly become inefficient and cost more to run.
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