How does a dryer work? Experts explain

Laundry drying inside of a tumble dryer
(Image credit: Alamy)

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?

The best 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 about 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.

3 of the best dryers to buy in 2024

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.

We spoke to Gwylim Snook from, who said: “If your budget is lower, then a condenser may be best. If you have a larger budget but are looking to save money on energy bills, a heat pump model will be the most efficient.” 

“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.”

Inside of a dryer drum

(Image credit: Alamy)

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.” 

Jenny Wood

London-based Jenny has been a features and lifestyle journalist for over 20 years and writes about homes, gardens, shopping and consumer issues for newspapers, magazines and websites.  When not writing about homes, she’s helping redecorate them as an interior designer at, tackling everything from bedroom revamps to kitchen renovations. Jenny believes you can never have too much color, cushions or cacti; loves a genuine bargain; and particularly enjoys road-testing products with her kids, who take the job extremely seriously. 

With contributions from