The first decision you must make when buying a new tumble dryer is whether to buy a classic vented dryer, 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 popular, but vented dryers still have some advantages and conveniences.
What’s the difference between a vented dryer and a condenser tumble dryer?
The main difference is that vented dryers “vent” the hot damp air out, whilst condenser dryers condense it back to water. Vented dryers are relatively simple appliances. Condensers have a lot more parts in order to condense and collect (or pump out) the water.
A vented dryer can cause a lot of condensation. So a venting kit is required to pump the hot damp air outside. Alternatively it can be vented through an open window, but this is not ideal in winter.
Condenser dryers just divert the hot damp air into a condensing chamber instead. It condenses back into water and is collected in a plastic drawer. This drawer has to be manually emptied after each use. It is possible to optionally plumb in many condenser dryers so that the water goes to a drain.
Which type of dryer is best?
It’s not possible to say one is better than the other. It all depends on your requirements. The best you can hope for is to learn what their differences are and then make an informed choice. There are pros and cons for both. Vented dryers are cheaper. They are also simpler, more reliable and mostly more economical to run. Consumer group Which? said –
.. 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 true if you have a heat pump dryer. However, heat pump dryers can take a long time to dry laundry and have their own pros & cons (discussed later).
So why bother with a condenser tumble dryer?
Although condenser dryers are more expensive and complex, they offer great convenience in exchange. They offer a solution to a genuine problem for some people when venting a dryer outside is difficult or impossible. Or if they don’t want the hassle and expense of knocking a hole through a wall for the vent (Can you use a tumble dryer without a vent hose?)
You may also want a more sophisticated dryer with more features. Vented dryers are arguably primitive in comparison, but their relative cheapness and better reliability means they can still sell plenty of them. They work well, and do the job as they have done for decades.
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Super energy efficient heat pump tumble dryers
We now have a third type of dryer. Heat pump dryers are condenser dryers with a heat pump that looks just like a fridge compressor. They recycle otherwise lost heat, and are much cheaper to run. So it’s no longer accurate to say vented dryers use the least electricity. Heat pump dryers can be remarkably economical. One example I found quoted running costs of only £37 a year.
So should heat pump tumble dryers should be the number one choice?
They are the cheapest to run and have the convenience of not needing a vent hose. The downside to these highly efficient heat pump dryers is greatly increased drying times. They are also much more expensive to buy.
So you should consider how long it might take to get the extra purchase costs back in reduced running costs. In one example, Which? said it could be up to 7 years before the savings in running costs paid back the extra purchasing costs. However, prices do seem to be falling.
Personally I have had 2 different brands of heat pump dryer in our household now. They may be cheap to run, but they take a long time to dry. This is the compromise. By recycling lost heat the dryer is often not that hot, but it’s using “free” heat so it just takes longer.
Below are some pros & cons of vented and condenser dryers. Remember it’s not about which has the most pros or least cons. It’s about understanding them and deciding which is best for you. Also, remember that heat pump dryers are condenser dryers with an added heat pump. Their pros and cons are similar to a normal condenser dryer with the main difference of being even more expensive, taking longer to dry, but being the cheapest of all to run.
- Cheapest to buy
- Easier to work on for repairs
- More reliable (with a lot less parts inside)
- Usually only have one filter to keep clean
- Needs a venting hose (often bizarrely as optional extra)
- Vent hose ideally needs installing to vent through a wall outside
- 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. But 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
- No vent hose required
- Probably has more features as manufacturers seem to focus more on condenser dryers
- More expensive
- 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
- 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 all the filters and cleaning the condenser chamber and water reservoir they can quickly become inefficient and cost more to run, or break down
Tumble dryer reviews
For more up to date information and test results on the latest dryers see Which? who at the time of writing have reviewed 170 tumble dryers. They also have 30 Best Buy and 21 Don’t Buy recommendations.
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More of my Tumble Dryer articles
- See a full list of all my articles under the “tumble dryer” category
- Condenser tumble dryer makes walls run with condensation
- Can you use a tumble dryer without a vent hose?
- Panasonic NH-P80G1 – uses the lowest energy dryer as tested by Which?
- Washing machine spin speed efficiency figures and related tumble drying costs