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Dryers used to be tumbling hot boxes that liberated housewives from having to line-dry clothes and iron everything. Now dryers have grown up to be more energy-efficient and include new sensors and settings that protect clothes from one-size-fits-all high heat. They can even produce wrinkle-free clothes--no iron needed. And most are sold in stylish, modern, or colorful sets with matching washing machines that are side-by-side or stacked. Here are the basic types of clothes dryers you'll find when you start your appliance hunt:
These models are standard fare. They take up permanent space in your kitchen and are built in with a drop-down hinged door. They now come in stainless steel or can blend into your cabinetry style. Most standard-size dishwashers take about 2.4 gallons of water to wash a load.
Power requirement: 240-volt outlet
Who it's best for: The budget shopper who wants to plug the dryer into an existing laundry area in their home or rental.
Most gas dryers cost $50 to $100 more than their electronic counterparts. But over time, they are more cost effective to operate. The only hitch is that you need a gas hookup in your laundry area to install the dryer.
Power requirement: Gas line
Who it's best for: Budget-conscious homeowners who want to save money over the long haul and can afford to install the necessary gas line
Laundry centers come in gas or electric and are typically integrated stacked units with a top-loading washer on the bottom and front-loading dryer on the top. They are found in many apartments and condos behind a closed closet door. There also are compact electric dryers that have about half the capacity of full-size dryers and can be stacked on top of matching washing machines.
Price: $850-$2,000 for laundry center; $300-$500
Power requirement: 120-volt or 240-volt outlet or gas line
Who it's best for: People with big budgets who do small loads of dishes and have limited cabinet space
A dryer should last you 8 to 12 years, but overstuffing is a washer or dryer killer. So when shopping around it's important to look for the right capacity from the get-go. Here are the capacity ranges on the market:
Width: 27 to 29 inches
Capacity: 5 to 7.3 cubic feet (cu)
Consider a full-size model if: You're going to be washing clothes for a large family or want to be able to wash items like comforters or sleeping bags.
Width: 24 to 27 inches
Capacity: 3.5 to 5 cubic feet (cu)
Consider a space-saver model if: You have fewer than two people in your family, smaller living quarters or tend to line- or rack-dry some of your clothes or delicates.
Clothes dryer manufacturers now offer a wide range of settings to control how dry or wrinkle-free your clothes will get. Manufacturers will have different names for the majority of dryer settings out there, but the functions break down into common categories including:
Basic temperature and time-dry settings: You probably already figured out that jeans or towels take longer to dry than a cotton tank top. Most fabrics last longer and keep their color if they are dried using the correct temperatures. Most dryers offer basics temperature and timed settings such as Whites, Darks, Cotton, Permanent Press, Delicate, Air Fluff, Heavy Duty, More Dry, Normal Dry, Damp Dry or Less Dry options.
Custom settings: Higher-end dryers tend to come with seven or more temperature drying cycles beyond the basic settings. You can usually mimic most of these settings via basic controls. But if you want a wider range of controls at your fingertips, you can investigate custom settings, including:
Lint filter and warning light: Experts say the quality of a unit's lint filter says a lot about how long the dryer will last. And keeping the "lint trap" clean is also a fire-prevention issue. If the lint filter is large and sturdy, it will capture more lint and extend the life of your unit. Also, newer models actually come with a warning light or buzzer that reminds you to clean the lint filter, and top-mounted filters that are easier to access.
Drying rack: If you want to dry items like running shoes, pillows, sweaters or small rugs, for example, look for a unit that comes with a drying rack that attaches to the inside of the drum and dries your shoes without tumbling them around.
Pedestal and bottom drawer: To make it easier to reach inside your dryer, and to add bonus storage, some units come with a 15-inch pedestal to raise the unit and provide a drawer for storing detergent or clean laundry.
Work surface and tower: Some models include a rubber work surface that can be placed on top of your washer-dryer combo to create a table top for folding laundry or treating clothes for stains, for example. Others include a "tower" of drawers that fits in between the washer and dryer for extra storage space for detergent or bleach.
Drum: The main inside feature of a dryer is the tumbler--or drum--and though they now come in stainless steel, which some manufacturers claim prevents snagging, it's not a necessity. Most models now come with a drum light as well.
Doors: Stylish models often include a window in the door or stainless-steel rims for tight closure. Doors also come with left- and right-mount options.
Condensation dryers: Versus using just tumbling action, heat, and a venting system, a condensation clothes dryer will condense the moisture in the hot air to water and drain it through a pipe, which allows the dryer to be installed in more locations such as cupboards.
Dryers have not only been updated from the basic white box with drop-down doors to more modern, even space-age looking units. They also now include new features that make your dryer closer to a personal dry-cleaning service, such as:
Steam: This is probably the biggest innovation in dryers in recent years. Whirlpool, Kenmore and others have added a steaming feature to allow you to toss items into the dryer and steam away wrinkles and odors in less than 15 minutes in some cases. Some models require a manual water fill-up before use, and others like the new Whirlpool Cabrio model can be connected to the cold-water tap used for the washing machine.
Sensors: Moisture and temperature sensors are a growing feature in newer models including models by Samsung. They detect the moisture in the dryer and can tell when clothes are dry and automatically stop the cycle--sensors save energy, utility costs, and laundry duty time.
Noise reduction: Like all new appliances, clothes dryers now increasingly come with "quieting" technology to hush down one of the loudest appliances in your household. Look for features such as extra insulation and sound-dampening pads.
LED buttons: For those who think dials are too retro, touchpad controls are another feature in higher-end models, such as units by LG. You can select cycle variables, track a cycle's progress, or save favorite settings.
Much of going "green" with your clothes dryer choice has just as much to do with how you use your dryer as what kind of model you buy. For example, using your dryer's settings properly to make sure you don't overdry items, hanging delicates out to dry, and cleaning the lint filter after every use. Along with those tips, here's how to shop for a more energy-efficient model:
Consider gas models and models with sensors: Gas models are known for being more energy efficient and sensors are helpful with shutting off of the dryer when the clothes are actually dry (not fried).
Get a higher spin washer: Dryers actually aren't regulated by the government and don't have to come with EnergyStar or EnergyGuide labels. But one tactic is to buy a washer that comes with a higher-speed spin cycle that will wring more water out of clothes and require less drying time.
Auto-dry: Use your model's auto-dry setting for the type of clothes you're drying vs. timed dry. Also keep the laundry loads flowing and dry loads one after another if you can to take advantage of the warmed-up drum.
Resource-saving cycles: Look for models that include features such as dual temperature heating elements to maintain and lower heat as needed.