What are 'high-efficiency' dryers?

Do high-efficiency dryers exist?

High-efficiency dryers don't actually exist yet, at least not in American appliance stores. The fact of the matter is that all dryers on the U.S. market today use about the same amount of energy. Energy Star doesn't even rate clothes dryers for this reason. And Energy Star won't even consider rating dryers until a cost-effective model that is at least 20 percent more efficient than standard models is available [source: Taddonio].

So what's with those alluring high-efficiency washer/dryer sets being sold by appliance companies like GE, Maytag, Kenmore and Whirlpool? If you look closely, you'll find that it's the washer that earns the high-efficiency rating. The dryer is just riding on the washer's coattails. The term "high-efficiency washer and dryer" is a marketing tactic that leads us to believe that both appliances are energy-efficient when, in fact, they aren't. Yes, the dryers have some energy-saving functions (more about these on the next page), but they are not using fewer kWh to dry the same amount of clothes.

There are, however, a number of new dryer models in development that aim to meet or exceed the Energy Star requirements. Some of these models, such as the heat pump dryer, are already being sold in Europe and are proving to be twice as efficient as standard dryers [source: Nipkow].

The reason that these dryers are not being sold in the U.S. may be that they cost quite a bit more (about $300 more) than regular dryers. Since energy is more expensive in Europe, it's easier for consumers there to justify spending the extra cash on an energy-efficient dryer. The European dryer will pay for itself with its energy savings faster than it would in the U.S. [Source: Taddonio]. Heat pump dryers currently on the market also take twice as long to dry a load of laundry, definitely a disadvantage over standard dryers. Though this longer drying time has been resolved in prototype models being tested for the U.S. market, a consumer survey found that U.S. consumers still wouldn't consider buying the high-efficiency dryers. The reason? They were too skeptical of the 50 to 60 percent increase in energy efficiency to justify spending the extra money [source: Lowe].

Nevertheless, heat pump dryers may be available in the U.S. soon. And research is currently being done into microwave technology that would dry your clothes the same way it heats your food, but they haven't ironed out all the wrinkles in that technology yet.