Evaluating cheap dryers can be difficult. The basic design and features are relatively consistent among models. Standard full-size dryers tend to be large enough to accommodate oversize items such as a comforter, and many now come with sensors to regulate cycle times and prevent overdrying and damage to delicates. To identify the very best choices, we carefully sorted through expert assessments from sources that conduct hands-on testing, including Consumer Reports, Wirecutter, CNET, and Reviewed.com. Equally important was feedback regarding real-world performance and longevity from everyday users in reviews on retailer sites such as Home Depot, Lowe's, Best Buy, and AJ Madison.
No dryer, regardless of price, is immune to criticism. Reviewers gripe that some dryers take multiple cycles to get things dry enough, for example, or that timed-dry settings are imprecise (like a 30-minute cycle that actually clocked in at 39 minutes). We also noticed occasional complaints about drying temperatures in some models (they're said to be too hot for delicate items on even the coolest cycle). Still, the dryers that made it to our list of top picks garner favorable reviews from a vast majority of users.
Standard full-size dryers tend to have about 6 or 7 cubic feet of capacity — which is sufficient to accommodate oversize items such as a comforter. Reviews suggest it probably isn't worth paying much more for an extra half cubic foot of space. While large or "mega" capacity dryers generally come with correspondingly large price tags, we recognize that some bigger families need a bigger dryer and included one top pick. Conversely, smaller or space-crunched households may appreciate a more compact appliance, like our pick for best portable dryer.
Unfortunately, clothes dryers aren't noted for efficiency. One positive development: In the past few years, some dryers have become efficient enough to bear the coveted Energy Star logo, which indicates a 20 percent drop in energy use versus non-qualified competitors. This label is even found on some relatively cheap dryers.
Anecdotally, reviewers seem slightly more satisfied with how quickly gas dryers complete the job. Regardless whether the dryer is gas or electric, keep vents unobstructed to boost efficiency and reduce fire hazards. A model with a moisture sensor, which prompts the machine to shut off when the desired level of dryness is reached, is an efficiency enhancer. Different and more precise than a temperature sensor, which monitors air temperature, a moisture sensor is a definite improvement over dryers that don't use sensors at all and simply shut off after a specified period of time. Moisture sensors can help cut energy consumption by as much as 15 percent, according to the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy.
For the most part, forget about frills or fancy aesthetics on budget dryers. Most models we looked at are plain white boxes, and most have simple but bare-bones dial controls. Despite the lack of distinctive looks among cheap dryers, there are still some notable design differences that inspire reviewers' thumbs-up (or down). One is how the dryer door opens. Most dryers have a door that swings open from the side (which side usually can be changed depending on buyer needs). However, a handful feature hamper-style doors that open from the top and swing down. These get mixed feedback: Some owners like having a platform they can use to fold fresh laundry straight out of the dryer and others find the setup awkward.
Another design feature to note: the location of the lint trap. Some dryers have wider lint traps that slide out of the door. Others have longer, top-mounted lint traps that slide out toward the back near the control panel. For the most part, reviewers prefer the door-mounted version, saying it's harder to clean the top-mounted traps without lint flying everywhere. It may also be easier to remember to clean a door-mounted filter after each load, which helps keep a dryer performing its best and reduces the risk of fire.
Entry-level dryers come with a handful of basic cycle settings. Options such as timed dry, automatic, and no heat or air-only are standard on most dryers, high-end and budget alike, as are a few temperature choices (e.g., high, medium, and low). When marketing for a cheap dryer claims a large number of cycles, it likely means the manufacturer includes every cycle length alongside every temperature level in that number (e.g. delicates, fluff air, 60-minute timed dry, 50-minute timed dry, etc.).
Reviewers are often perturbed to find that some cheap dryers lack a buzzer that alerts them when the cycle is over. A wrinkle prevention option that keeps clothes tumbling for a while without heat after a cycle is over is another feature that appears in many but not all budget dryers. And while an interior light might seem fairly basic, it doesn't appear in most lower-priced dryers.
Purchasers of inexpensive dryers must accept the fact that they aren't whisper-quiet. Manufacturers' attention to noise and more sophisticated sound-dampening is more common on pricier models. Reviews of every model we researched contain some grousing about noise even as others rave about quiet operation. Noise is a special concern for those who must position washers and dryers close to their living quarters. Unfortunately, whether one dryer is excessively noisy compared with others is a pretty subjective call, as most users aren't comparing two dryers side by side.
Warranties on clothes dryers, regardless of price, tend to be relatively short; most cover only one year. Nevertheless, manufacturers say a decent dryer should last at least 10 years or more with normal residential usage.
Dryers are more reliable than washers, with a much lower repair rate, experts say. This is, perhaps, because dryers are technologically simple: Air is sucked in, passed over a heating element, and pulled into the tumbler, where it evaporates the water in the washables. Moist air is then forced out through the dryer vent, to be replaced by another round of hot, dry air. According to HomeAdvisor, if something does go wrong, common issues include squeaky belts (a $200 fix), overheating ($50 to $100), or a busted heating element ($30 to $200).
So which brands are most dependable? Experts who test appliances give the nod to LG for both gas and electric configurations, which boast repair rates that are notably lower than other brands. Samsung is least reliable in the electric segment, while Frigidaire is at the bottom of the heap for gas. Among our picks, no dryer escapes complaints about durability, and it seems there are always some owners who wind up with a lemon.