Choosing a Clothes Dryer: Gas vs. Electric

Choosing a Clothes Dryer: Gas vs. Electric

Lauren Zerbey
May 4, 2011

In our home, we have an older electric dryer that is nearing the end of its life. When the time comes to replace it we'll have to decide between electric or gas, but lately I've been wondering: is one more efficient than the other? In some situations (where fuel sources are limited or existing hookups are already in place) you may not have a choice, but for those that do, here are some tips and advice to help make the smartest decision.

We all know that the most efficient dryer on the market is the ol' clothesline. Unfortunately, in many climates it's just not a viable year-round option and since clothes dryers account for about 6% of a home's electricity bill (second only to the refrigerator), it's important to choose the most efficient option. (Despite the amount of electricity they use, I was surprised to learn that because there is little variation in energy usage between manufacturers, dryers are not required to display Energy Guide labels and are therefore not included in the Energy Star database.)

In terms of basic mechanics, electric and gas appliances work the same way – they tumble clothes through heated air to remove moisture. It's simply the way the air is heated that is the main difference. Depending on the size of the load and type of fabric, it generally costs about 10-30 cents more per load to use an electric dryer (gas dryers tend to run at a higher temperature, reducing the length of the cycle). However, gas dryers cost about $50-$100 more up front (not including any additional costs to run a new gas line to the location). Depending on utility rates, you would likely recoup the extra upfront costs of a gas dryer within the first few years of operation, but that doesn't necessarily make it the clear winner. In fact, utility rates alone are probably the most significant factor when selecting a dryer. Here in the Pacific Northwest, our reliance on hydropower means that electricity is often the more economical choice, but the opposite is true in other parts of the country.

Aside from fuel type, there are new innovations in dryer technology that are not yet widely available but worth keeping an eye on. One example that has been generating some buzz in recent years is a new heating technology called the Dryer Miser System, a self-contained system that dries clothes much faster than gas or electric dryers with less energy consumption. Similarly, heat pump clothes dryers hold the promise of being up to 60% more efficient than standard models.

Evaluating utility rates and choosing the most efficient machine for your location is the first step, but your laundry habits will also play a large role over the life of the appliance. California's statewide energy efficiency campaign, Flex Your Power, has some great tips when it comes to maximizing efficiency and saving money:

Operate to Maximize Efficiency

  • Dry full loads, but don't over-fill. Drying partial loads can use almost as much energy as full loads, and overloading can increase drying times.
  • Don't over-dry your clothes. Over-drying can waste energy, increase shrinkage and shorten the life span of your clothes.
  • Clean the lint filter after each load to improve air circulation, increase energy efficiency and reduce the risk of fire.
  • Separate heavy from light-weight fabrics for faster, even drying. Lightweight synthetics, for example, dry much more quickly than bath towels and natural fiber clothes.
  • Keep your clothes dryer in a heated area if possible. Keeping it in a colder area of the house will make the dryer work harder and less efficiently.
  • Use the moisture sensor feature instead of timed drying.
  • Dry two or more loads in a row to take advantage of the heat remaining in the dryer after the first load.
  • Consider hanging clothes outside on a clothesline whenever the weather permits.

Purchasing Tips

  • Evaluate the household's clothes drying needs. If you generally run full loads in the clothes washer, size the dryer to be compatible with the clothes washer. The dryer should be sized to handle one load from the washer and allow the clothes to tumble freely. Don't buy a dryer that is too small because you will simply run more loads and miss the energy savings.
  • Look for a dryer with a cycle including a "perma-press" period. During the last few minutes of the cycle, cool air is blown through the tumbling clothes instead of heated air to complete the drying process.
  • Look for a moisture-sensor. This feature is now available on most new clothes dryers and can save you up to 15% over standard timed drying.
  • Consider buying a new washing machine with advanced spin cycles.The most efficient clothes washer models on the market now have advanced spin cycles that remove more water from clothes before they are placed into a dryer.

(Image: Design*Sponge)

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