The Canadian guide to ventless dryers
Here's what you need to know
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At last estimate, about 81% of Canadian homes are equipped with clothes dryers. The majority of these are traditional hot boxes—the kind that use heat to dry clothes and pump exhaust outside through a vent.
But what about homes that lack space for a laundry room, or where a landlord forbids punching a hole in the wall for a dryer vent? Is there anything to save us from multiple trips to the laundromat?
Fortunately, yes: The answer is ventless dryers. While ventless dryers do have their limitations, they can also provide real benefits for consumers. Here we'll go over the basics of ventless dryers, so you can determine if they might be the right solution for your home.
In Europe, they're just called "dryers"
While ventless dryers might seem unusual to most of us, they've been popular in Europe for generations.
That's because Canada and to a greater extent, the U.S. are anomalies in the world of appliances. American consumers prefer large, vented dryers, and because most Canadian appliances are sourced from our neighbours in the south we end up with a similar range of products. In Europe, however, small homes in centuries-old buildings mean that large, vented dryers just aren't feasible, and 24-inch machines are the only available option. The benefits are obvious: You don't need a dedicated laundry room and you can stick one anywhere there's an electrical outlet. (Keep in mind, most ventless dryers still require 220V power.)
Not only are vented dryers unpopular in Europe, but in some places, they're actually illegal. Switzerland has outlawed them since 2012—fair warning for everyone hoping to bring their Maytag on a trip to Zürich.
How do condenser dryers work?
Vented dryers are basically hot air vacuums. They pull room-temperature air in from your laundry room, heat it up, tumble your clothes in it, and then blow the exhaust—full of evaporated moisture—outside. To call this process less than energy-efficient would be an understatement.
Unless you live in a temperate climate, your vented dryer is likely taking in climate-controlled air from your home and pumping it outdoors. In winter, that means your furnace has to work harder to make up for that air. The waste is even worse in summer, where your dryer has to heat up air that's been artificially cooled by your air conditioner.
The majority of ventless dryers sold in Canada, however, are condenser dryers, which don't exhaust air. Instead, they use a dual loop airflow system that’s much more efficient.
To learn more, we spoke with Mike Peebles, who has served as the Technical Services Manager in Laundry for Bosch parent company BSH Home Appliance Corporation in North America and Canada for the past 13 years. Peebles knows his stuff: Although Bosch's 24-inch ventless dryers are niche models in Canada, Bosch is the laundry market leader in the rest of the world.
As he explained it to us, the first airflow loop draws a small amount of ambient air into the dryer—much less than is needed in a conventional unit. The air passes through the condenser for initial heating. The heated air is then pushed into the drum, where it heats up the wet laundry and causes water to evaporate.
Instead of venting that hot, wet air outside, the air is looped back into the condenser where it's cooled down—that's the second airflow loop.
From there, the air that’s already inside the condenser is reheated and sent back into the drum to repeat the process until the clothes are dry. The evaporated water either goes down a drainpipe or collects in a tray that the user must empty after a cycle.
The Condenser Difference
Aside from not needing a vent, the most direct advantage to this system is that your furnace or air conditioner doesn't have to make up for any air that's vented outside.
Since condenser dryers don't get as hot as vented models, they can also be more gentle on clothes. In our tests, we’ve found that condenser dryers typically ran 30-50°F (0-10°C) cooler than vented counterparts, depending on the cycle—that makes a really big difference.
Though consumers often complain that clothes coming out of ventless dryers lack the warm, toasty feel they're used to, that's actually good news for your fabrics.
"Vented dryers have a history of overdrying, which is where the majority of fabric damage occurs," Peebles said. "On the other hand, fabric tends to be cooler coming out of a ventless dryer, so consumers think it's still wet even though the clothes are close to zero percent excess moisture."
Ventless dryers also require less maintenance than their vented counterparts. While the dryers themselves may need to have their secondary lint traps emptied out every month or so, it's far less cumbersome than cleaning a long dryer vent.
"Condensers rarely have to be cleaned," Peebles explained. "It's recommended that you do it once a month, but I've spoken to consumers who do it every three. I usually clean mine about once a year."
What about heat pumps?
Condenser dryers aren't the only option. Heat pump dryers are increasingly common. These ventless machines replace the condenser with a heat pump, which works like an air conditioner running in reverse: As they recirculate hot air in the drum, they also remove moisture from laundry.
Heat pump dryers are more efficient than condenser dryers since they can achieve the same result at even lower temperatures. The average heat pump dryer uses half as much energy as a vented model.
Another benefit: Some manufacturers, like Whirlpool, make full-size heat pump dryers, so you don't have to sacrifice load size to get better efficiency. However, the tradeoff is longer cycle times and higher price tags, plus a more sophisticated design that could require additional maintenance.
The drawbacks of ventless dryers
In Canada, ventless dryers only make up a small percentage of the overall market, and most are sold to people who have space or venting limitations.
That's because they lack the size, speed, and low ticket prices that most of us are used to. While the average vented dryer can hold more than 7 cu. ft. of laundry, compact condenser dryers are usually about half as big.
Ventless dryers also take longer to get your clothes dry. A vented dryer might finish a Normal load in about 45-50 minutes, but a condenser or heat pump dryer could run for an hour and a half. Want to dry a bulky blanket or comforter? You could be waiting more than three hours.
To top it off, ventless dryers are at least as expensive (if not more so) as conventional ones. The least expensive condenser dryers start at just under $1,000, which is about twice as much as an entry-level, full-size vented dryer. While a heat pump dryer offers significant energy savings—and may be eligible for rebates from local utility providers—it might be hard to stomach an initial purchase price of $1,899.
Is a ventless dryer right for you?
So, now that you know the pros and cons, is a ventless dryer right for you? It depends.
At the end of the day, it's hard to imagine condenser dryers gaining mainstream popularity in the U.S. They're just too small and slow for the majority of consumers. Still, their compact size means they could be the best (and only) choice for those who live in smaller homes, where space is at a premium. Even the worst condenser dryer is better than a pricey remodel—or frequent trips to the laundromat.
Heat pump dryers, however, offer significant energy savings and are gentler on clothes. They're even sold in sizes that wouldn't look out of place in most American laundry rooms. If environmental concerns or clothes care are of particular concern for you, it might be time to check out a heat pump dryer. Just be prepared to pay a lot more for the new technology.
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