A washer dryer combo being loaded
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Watching the clothes go round

Are Washer Dryer Combos the Next Big Thing in Laundry?

Daren Wang
March 6, 2024

For many people, one of the quietly joyful moves into full-fledged adulthood is the day you move into an apartment or home with a washer and dryer. No more hoarding quarters, no more long afternoons sitting around the laundromat while friends are out enjoying themselves, no more folding your underwear in public.

Sitting on your own couch watching TV while the washer and dryer chugs away in the background is one of the great, under appreciated luxuries of modern life.

But not all apartments or condos are set up for a washer and dryer. The units take up a lot of space and special electrical and air handling facilities. A dryer, in particular, is a problem. A conventional dryer requires a special 220-volt electric outlet, and access to a vent to the outside, so it can pump the warm, moist air from the dryer drum.

But a new generation of high-tech washer dryer combination units are aiming to bring home laundry to the unwashed masses of people without standard laundry hookups, and although single washer-dryer combination units have been on the market since Dwight D. Eisenhauer’s first term, these new models solve for many of the challenges those old models presented.

But first off, what is a washer dryer combo unit? Many people think they’re just conventional washers and dryers built vertically, but those are known as “stacked” units. Combo units wash and dry all in the same machine, saving half the space as a stacked unit and allowing the operator to avoid the step of moving the clothes from the washer and dryer.

And although the sleek new machines that are just now showing up at your local big box retailer feature a lot of ai-assisted high-technology, washer-dryer combos have been a long-time favorite in Europe, where compact versions can be found tucked under kitchen counters or in closets. In fact, Switzerland banned traditional clothes dryers in 2012 in favor of new drying technology.

Pumping Heat but Really Moisture

So how do they work? The washer part of a washer dryer combo functions much like traditional washing machines, employing cycles of washing, tumbling, rinsing, and draining excess water and detergent. It’s the drying part where things benefit from new technology.

Most of the new combo units take advantage of heat pump technology to dry the clothes. A heat pump clothes dryer collects and concentrates the heat from the ambient air of the room it’s in and sends it into the same drum where the clothes were washed just minutes before. That air, now cooler and damp, is passed through an evaporator where the water condenses. The same air, now dry, is then run through the loop once again, eliminating the need for a vent.

And because the air is warmed using heat pump technology, it requires much less energy than a conventional dryer and can run on a standard 110-volt outlet, just like a television or a table lamp.

These units offer many advantages. For example, they're space savers. Washer-dryer combos, functioning as one unit, can fit in much tighter quarters than stacked units. As they operate ventlessly, they are not reliant on an exhaust vent. They can be positioned against any wall with a water line and a normal electric outlet, even in kitchens or bathrooms.

Running separate washing and drying cycles is always an option with these units. Air drying delicate garments or using a clothesline in the yard for that extra fresh smell, is always a nice efficient option.

Another big advantage for combo units and heat pump dryers in general is that they run at much lower temperatures than vented dryers. Subjecting your clothes to those near-scorching temperatures is a big contributor to wear and tear, shortening the useful life of your wardrobe significantly.

Washing With Your Phone

Many of the available units bring the digital age to bear on your laundry as well. Although they all have control panels, many depend on phone apps for the most complex controls.  Some feature an AI control that determines exactly how much detergent the clothes in the unit requires and draws that amount from a built-in reservoir.  With overuse of detergent a growing problem, that automation can even reduce the amount of detergent sent into wastewater, which is also an important environmental concern.

They can also be scheduled to run overnight, so that even the reduced power draw happens when rates are lowest in time-of-use areas. There’s even special settings to make these already quiet machines even quieter so they don’t interrupt your sleep.

All-in-one units promise an end to cycle monitoring or the need to spring into action upon hearing a buzzer. Combos offer convenience by enabling one-time loading and automatic wash-and-dry cycles. Some of the machines even avoid the need for lint filter maintenance, by sending the lint down the drain with rinse water.

A Matter of Preference

Although the units are a boon to those who can’t install a 220-volt line in their home or run a dryer vent through a wall, they aren’t for everyone.

Long drying times are a drawback. It can take hours to dry a load of clothes in a combo machine, with a full wash/dry cycle running between three and four hours. And, of course, simultaneous washing and drying is not possible. All-in-one machines lack the capability to wash one load while another dries. Completing four loads in a day can consume nearly 12 hours.

Drum capacities are constrained. Washer-dryer combos come in sizes from compact to full-sized, with drum capacities ranging from 1.6 cubic feet to 4.8 cubic feet—more akin to washing machines than dryers. Traditional gas and electric dryers typically offer drum capacities ranging from 7 to 9 cubic feet. This translates to less air circulation space, prolonging drying times. Extended drying times contribute to lower drying performance. Additionally, only the largest capacity combos can accommodate large, bulky items such as comforters. If you go with a combo, opt for as large a unit as possible to improve both drying performance and time.

And after all that, combo units can be pricey. All-in-one washer dryers often exceed $2,000 in cost. But if your home can’t accommodate a traditional washer/dryer pair, the upcharge may be worth it for you. But even if you do have traditional hookups, a modern combo washer-dryer is more efficient, uses fewer resources, and is a worthwhile investment for the climate.

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