Clothes dryers are relatively simple machines, less complex than most washers and with fewer features.
All dryers use a small electric motor to turn a large drum that holds the wet clothes, and an electric fan
to distribute heated air. The main difference is whether the machine uses electricity or natural gas to
heat the air inside the drum.
An electric dryer plugs into a 240V wall outlet. About 80% of all dryers
sold are electric, according to
Consumer Reports. An electric dryer generally costs about $50-
$150 less than a comparable gas dryer, but can be more expensive to operate. The California Energy
Commission estimates that it costs about 30 to 40 cents to dry a typical load with an
electric dryer, compared to 15 to 20 cents with a gas model.
A gas dryer uses natural gas from the local utility, or with an additional LP
conversion kit (typically $20-$50+) a line can be run to a tank. Both a gas line and a 110/
120V electric outlet are typically required to run a gas dryer. If a gas hook-up is not already
in place, installing a new gas line
can cost $50-$150 as a do-it-yourself project; $150-$250 for professional installation to extend
an existing gas line another 10'; $300-$750 to install a new 20-30-linear foot line from the
manifold; or $800-$1,000 or more for a complex installation in an area with high labor rates.)
Full-size dryers typically have capacities of 5 to 7 cubic feet, and compact/portable dryers typically are about 3 cu. ft. Materials expand as they dry, so a general rule of thumb is to get a dryer with a capacity as least double that of the washer it's paired with. For example, a 3.5-cu.ft. front-load washer might be paired with a 7.3-cu. ft. dryer.
Dryers are often relatively straightforward, with a choice of heat levels, automatic and timed drying cycles, and a few fabric settings like permanent press or normal. High-end dryers offer a wide range of specialty cycles that sound attractive, but may not be strictly necessary. For example, a special 15-minute speed-dry cycle could be exactly the same as setting the dryer for 15 minutes of high heat.
A moisture sensor detects when the load is dry, and turns off the dryer to save energy while also preventing over-drying and shrinkage. Most basic dryers just use a thermostat to turn off the machine, but sensors are more accurate, and less likely to overheat a load. Some consumers love these sensor systems while others have reported problems with auto-sensors that stop the dryer while the load is still damp. There seem to be fewer reported problems if there's a sensor that weighs the load in addition to measuring the moisture, or a way to manually set the load size for small, medium or large.
Steam cycles in dryers are promoted as removing odors and reducing wrinkles. Many consumers like this option for refreshing clothes, but this feature can add $200-$500 or more to the cost of the dryer. Consumer Reports has had mixed results in testing steam dryers, finding that these machines provide better odor removal than conventional models, but with visibly wrinkled clothing. When considering a dryer with a steam cycle, check whether the machine has a reservoir that must be filled manually, or needs to be hooked up to a water line.
Although the name of the cycle varies, many dryers have wrinkle prevention features which come into play when the drying cycles ends. If the clothes aren't removed immediately, the machine periodically tumbles them, usually without heat. Exact settings vary by manufacturer, but a dryer might rotate a dry load every five minutes for up to three hours after the drying cycles ends.
Lint can be a fire hazard, and a dryer's lint screen needs to be relatively durable, easily accessible and large enough to handle the dryer's capacity. Always examine the lint trap before choosing a dryer, because some are small and flimsy.