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Cheap Dryers Buying Guide

As we examined user and expert reviews of cheap dryers, the Maytag Centennial MEDC300XW (starting at $448) and Admiral AED4675YQ (starting at $324) rose to the top of the heap. The Maytag MEDC300XW offers more extra features than other machines in its class, and the vast majority of users are thoroughly satisfied with its performance.

The Admiral AED4675YQ is a more Spartan model with fewer options, but is well-liked for its wallet-friendly price and overall drying ability. In the good cheap dryer category, the gas-powered Amana NGD4600YQ (starting at $400) wins over users with its multiple automatic-dryness settings and quiet operation and the Whirlpool WED4900XW (starting at $450) garners kudos for being a good, basic machine with appealing features at an affordable price. Exercise caution if you're considering the Haier Encore RDE350AW (starting at $342), however. Although many reviews indicate that this electric model adequately dries washables, others report a spate of operational failures within the first year.

Dryer Reviews
Electric vs. Gas Dryers and Other Features
Dryer Capacity, Noise, and Maintenance

All cheap dryers present some limitations. There's not much variety when it comes to design. Low-cost models are typically white, boxy, and unexciting to look at. Several skimp on features such as interior lights and end-of-cycle buzzers. Entry-level models offer only the basic drying cycles and temperature options, and controls are typically analog. Starter models tend to be somewhat noisy and their components somewhat less durable than those on mid-range and high-end models. Also, temperature- or moisture-sensing capabilities may not be as finely tuned.

A frugal shopper in the market for a dryer can choose between electric and gas; all of our picks come in both configurations. Electric dryers are cheaper up front and by far the most popular choice. Gas-powered dryers run $50 to $100 more than their electric counterparts but are less expensive to operate. The cost of running a new gas line to the laundry room probably offsets any long-term operational savings, however, so most consumers go electric unless there is an existing gas hookup.

When choosing a cheap dryer, consider the types of fabrics you wash. If you launder lots of delicates, be sure to research cycle and temperature options carefully. Budget dryers have few specialty cycles and some don't offer low or air-dry settings. Additionally, be on the lookout for moisture-sensing technology. This feature both conserves energy and preserves washables by cycling loads only until they're as dry as you want them to be.

Finally, consider whether you prefer a lint trap located up front inside the machine or situated at the top. Although this seems like a minor detail we found plenty of comments on this topic, and reviewers seem to have strong opinions about which they prefer.

Reviews indicate that consumer products experts and budget buyers agree on one piece of advice: Forgo costly extras and buy a basic model, then spend your money where it matters -- on the washing machine. An efficient washing machine will reduce the dryer's workload by producing less-wet laundry and thus curtail the wear and tear on both machine and washables. Note that all dryers are rather inefficient, regardless of price, although proper maintenance will make the most of what you buy.

Common brand names include Kenmore, Admiral, GE, Maytag, Amana, and Whirlpool. There are actually only a few manufacturers behind these names. Amana and Maytag fall under the Whirlpool umbrella, as does the Home Depot-exclusive brand Admiral. Several manufacturers are responsible for products sold under Sears's Kenmore label, although most laundry appliances are made by Whirlpool. To determine the manufacturer for a specific Kenmore model, consult this handy reference table from Appliance 411.

Dryer Reviews

Dryer technology is time-tested and relatively simple, which may help explain why dryer reviews are largely positive for the budget segment. It seems even low-cost dryers can deliver the performance, reliability, and longevity -- if not all the features -- consumers want. That said, some dryer reviews point out that performance can be inconsistent and you may need to test the machine's drying cycles to find those that work best with your laundry. Overall, though, most users seem to find that starter machines dry their washables in a gentle, reliable fashion at prices that can't be beat.

Drying Performance.

One problem that seems to afflict dryers at all price points is drying consistency, and none of our picks is immune to this issue. For example, some consumers who posted dryer reviews at Lowe's complain that the Maytag Centennial MEDC300XW (starting at $448), one of the best clothes dryers on our list, takes more than one cycle to dry a load while some owners of the Admiral AED4675YQ (starting at $324) grumble about the effectiveness of the low-heat setting.

Even so, it's safe to say that our picks earn an easy majority of favorable reviews when it comes to drying performance. Most of the 800-plus users of the Maytag Centennial MEDC300XW laud its effectiveness and efficiency, with dryer reviews asserting that clothes emerge dry and relatively wrinkle-free. Most reviews of the Admiral AED4675YQ found at Home Depot report that clothes are thoroughly dry at the end of a standard cycle, and one says this model dries seven towels faster than the washer finishes a load. The Amana NGD4600YQ (starting at $400) likewise draws commendations in dryer reviews for its speed and effectiveness, and, say posts at Amazon, the contents don't get all tangled up and emerge cool enough to touch. The Whirlpool WED4900XW (starting at $450) also impresses users with its drying ability and relative efficiency; it quits when the contents are dry, states a post at Viewpoints, and saves on energy. Even the Haier RDE350AW (starting at $342) attracts support for getting the job done without fuss, according to comments at Lowe's, although it takes some heat for breakdowns too soon after purchase.

Dryer Durability.

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.

In general, budget dryers seem to be reliable, although the Haier Encore RDE350AW presents a spottier track record than others we researched. Users of this model who posted at Fixya point to problems such as lack of heat and failure to start. High-end dryers may be no more dependable than budget models, according to reviews. We found a multitude of negative user comments about the Kenmore Elite Steam Electric Dryer (starting at $987), for example, with gripes ranging from a fried control panel to a loud rattling noise. Expensive dryers also cost more to fix due to their complex inner workings. We saw reports of repair costs on several sites that ranged up to $600.

Buyers of inexpensive dryers do end up with the occasional lemon, of course. One purchaser of a Maytag Centennial MEDC300XW complains of multiple problems after just three years, and a small fraction of comments about the Admiral AED4675YQ report some type of failure (e.g., doesn't work out of the box, gives up drying after a couple of months, etc). Experiences like these seem to be the exception rather than the rule, however.

How long can you expect an inexpensive dryer to last? According to information gleaned from sources such as Appliance.net, the average lifespan of a dryer is eight to 14 years. An expert at Fix It Now gives dryers an "appliance half-life" of 13 years, meaning that half of all 13-year-old dryers are no longer cost-effective to repair.

Review continues below

But estimates are only that and there are no guarantees a dryer will miss or surpass the mark. Although we found that many consumers who recently purchased a cheap dryer were replacing machines that had survived up to 20 years, it's probably safe to assume that those days are long gone, with shorter lifespans the norm for newer appliances.

Electric vs. Gas Dryers and Other Features

Electric Dryers vs. Gas Dryers.

Dryers are powered by gas or electricity. Electric dryers are the most common because the laundry areas of most homes and apartments are configured for electricity. Electric dryers cost up to $100 less than their gas-powered siblings, making them more affordable upfront. In the long run, however, gas dryers are likely to yield a higher return in the form of lower energy bills. According to the California Energy Commission, drying a typical load of laundry costs 30 to 40 cents with an electric dryer versus 15 to 20 cents with a gas dryer. While expert estimates vary, you can expect to save $50 to $100 a year on utilities with a gas model, depending on local rates. If your laundry room has only electric hookups, however, you're probably wise to stick with an electric dryer. The cost of adding a gas line and the appropriate venting would likely offset the lower utility bills. Most dryers, including all those we researched, are sold in both electric and gas configurations.

Reviews make little mention of any difference in performance between electric and gas dryers. The energy source seems to have no effect on how dry clothes get, how long the process takes, how dependable the dryer is, or how much noise it makes.

Dryer Sensors.

Clothes dryers consume more energy than any other household appliance with the exception of refrigerators. Even so, you can take steps to nudge the appliance closer to its maximum efficiency potential. Most critically, keep the vents unobstructed. Also look for a model with a moisture sensor, which prompts the machine to shut off when the desired level of dryness is reached. This feature minimizes energy usage and can save as much as 15 percent on utility bills, according to the California Energy Commission. Many reviewers assert that a moisture sensor is worth paying for and are thrilled about not having to guess how much time clothes need to dry.

The Maytag Centennial MEDC300XW is one of the few low-cost models we researched that incorporates a moisture sensor. The Whirlpool WED4900XW, another top pick, features the AccuDry system, which senses moisture and temperature levels to determine when to shut down the cycle. Both the Admiral AED4675YQ and Amana NGD4600YQ feature temperature sensors (somewhat less accurate than moisture sensors) that end the cycle when the load reaches a preset level of warmth. Ironically, complaints about drying performance seem more prevalent in dryers with moisture and temperature sensors. Most users nonetheless find ways to coax effective drying out of these appliances by limiting load size, drying like fabrics together (always a good tactic), and running an extra cycle for heavier items such as towels and jeans.

Dryer Cycle Options.

Entry-level dryers come with basic cycle settings. Options such as delicate, heavy duty, and normal are standard on nearly every dryer, high-end and budget alike, as are temperature choices (e.g., high, medium, and low). The Maytag Centennial MEDC300XW gives users 10 cycle options, including seven timed cycles (one for "freshen up") and a wrinkle-prevention cycle. The Admiral AED4675YQ boasts 11 dryer cycles including auto-dry setting and extended tumbling. The Amana NGD4600YQ also features 11 automatic cycles, such as energy-preferred and wrinkle prevention. The Whirlpool WED4900XW offers 13 automatic drying cycles, including heavy, jeans, and delicate, as well as the trade-marked Wrinkle Shield that helps prevent wrinkles.

Pricier units include more specialized dryer cycles for towels or wool care and custom "personal cycles." Some also boast steam-cleaning capabilities to help eliminate wrinkles and odors and sanitizing cycles for delicate or non-washable items. Frugal shoppers can take comfort in knowing that an old-fashioned steam iron and a box of Dryel or Dry Cleaner's Secret can accomplish much of what pricey steam dryers promise for a fraction of the cost.

Custom dryer cycles aren't necessary for satisfactory drying performance, but check carefully to make sure the cheap dryer you're considering offers options for the types of items you launder.

Dryer Capacity, Noise, and Maintenance

Dryer Capacity.

Although reviews indicate consumers care about dryer capacity, the volume of the drum varies little among standard-size dryers, typically running 6 to 7.5 cubic feet. Capacity on all our top picks falls well within this range and is sufficient to accommodate oversize items such as comforters or winter jackets. (Space-saving units feature drum capacity of 3.5 to 4.5 cubic feet, and the capacity of stacked washer/dryer units hovers at a standard 5.9 cubic feet.) Drum size isn't a big differentiator and it probably isn't worth paying more for an extra half cubic foot of space.

Dryer Noise.

If you choose to buy an inexpensive dryer, accept the fact that it won't be whisper-quiet. Reviews of every model we researched contain some complaints about noisy operation even as some proclaim them unexpectedly, and blessedly, quiet. If minimal noise is a key concern, the Amana NGD4600YQ and Whirlpool WED4900XW receive the most positive reviews for their quiet cycles.

Users also express divided opinions about the buzzers that signal drying is complete and/or the end of a cycle. On models that buzz, like the Maytag Centennial MEDC300XW, Whirlpool WED4900XW, and Haier Encore RDE350AW, many reviewers gripe about the sound. On models that don't buzz, including the Admiral AED4675YQ and Amana NGD4600YQ, many reviewers wish they did.

Dryer Maintenance.

Clothes dryers consume more energy than any other household appliance, with the exception of refrigerators, but one way to make a dryer more efficient is by thoroughly cleaning the lint trap, dryer hose, and venting system. A lint-clogged dryer takes longer to dry clothes, often requiring two or more cycles, which wastes energy and generates higher utility bills. Lint also affects safety. Lint accumulation is a leading cause of dryer fires, according to the National Fire Protection Association, so it's critical that the filter be easily accessible and easy to clean.

Lint traps are typically situated on top of the unit near the controls or in front of the drum directly behind the dryer door. Reviews we read indicate that consumers have strong opinions about which location is more convenient. Some like having the filter on top so they don't have to stoop to access it. Many say these lint traps are harder to clear, however, and allow lint to fall into the machine before the filter is fully removed for cleaning. Others appreciate having the lint trap right inside the dryer door and say it reminds them to purge the fluff after every cycle.

Dryer vent cleaning is an equally important chore. Moist lint often accumulates in the tubing that connects the unit with the outside air, which blocks airflow and is highly flammable once it dries. Experts recommend dryer ducts made of metal (as opposed to plastic or foil) because they are less likely to trap lint and better able to contain a fire should one break out. Experts also urge annual cleaning and inspection of dryer vents; how-to guides are available online. If the ventilation ductwork isn't readily accessible or repairs are required, however, you'll need to call a professional. Regularly servicing a dryer may extend its durability and save you from junking a machine you might otherwise have believed faulty.



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In this review:
  1. Best Cheap Dryers
  2. Discount Dryers Features Comparison Table
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