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How does a dryer work?

Top Ten Reviews logo Top Ten Reviews 1/28/2023 Jenny Wood
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When it’s too cold and wet to dry laundry outside, a tumble dryer is your best friend. But with three different types available, how does a dryer actually work?

Tumble dryers can be vented, condensing, or work via a heat pump. Each type has advantages, so we asked heated laundry expert Gwilym Snook, from, to explain a bit more, and to give his advice on the differences between them.

And before you dry, if you want to get the best clean from your washing machine, check out our handy guide to the best front load washers to find the right model for you.

Condensing tumble dryers

A condensing tumble dryer extracts moisture from your laundry before draining it away as condensed water. They're generally on the less expensive end of the spectrum, so they might be a good choice if you have a smaller budget to stick to.

“It circulates air within the drum, and this air heats up as it is circulated through the laundry,” says Gwylim. “The hot air picks up any moisture, then passes through the condenser coil and stores it in a removable tank which you then empty.”

Gwylim advises the benefit of a condensing tumble dryer is that it can be placed in any room of the home as it doesn’t need venting pipes to be installed. “Condensing tumble dryers do tend to cost more than venting tumble dryers, but are more energy efficient,” he says.

Vented tumble dryers

A vented tumble dryer draws air from the room it’s in and heats it. “This warm air is then circulated throughout the drum, causing moisture in the laundry to evaporate,” explains Gwylim. “The warm air from the drum is then vented (blown) outside as steam.”

Venting tumble dryers cost less than condensers, but you will need to install venting pipes leading to the outside of your home, or put a flexible venting tube through an open window whenever the dryer is in use. “Another benefit is that as all the moisture in a vented tumble dryer is taken outside, there’s no water reservoir that will need emptying,” adds Gwylim.

Heat pump tumble dryers

In a heat-pump model, hot air is sent into the drum and the warm vapor is then compressed and passed through a piece of equipment called an evaporator. “The water is then extracted into a water tank (similar to that found in a condenser model) or straight into the drain,” says Gwylim. “The main difference with a heat-pump model is that the warmth from the air is recycled, rather than being pumped outside via a vent.”

He explains that drying cycle times are longer with a heat pump and that these dryers are more expensive than other types. “However, because heat-pump models reuse the hot air, they are the most energy-efficient dryers in the market,” reveals Gwylim. “They’re also much quieter and more gentle on your clothes due to the lower temperatures required to run the appliance.” 

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