Washer Dryer Combo: Buying Guide

washer dryer combo

A washer dryer combo may be just the thing you're looking for, especially if space is in short supply. These units are also commonly called all-in-one washer/dryers, and they are simply a front-load washing machine and a condenser dryer built as a single unit. This gives them the advantage of squeezing into places where two separate units would never fit.

Although traditional front-load washers are designed with the option to stack on top of a dryer in order to save floor space, some homes are still not able to accommodate two appliances. This makes the washer dryer combo an extremely practical alternative, since the washer and dryer is combined into a single unit. In fact, many models are designed to fit under a countertop!

Why Buy a Washer Dryer Combo

There are a number of reasons why a washer dryer combo may be right for you, but the most common reason is lack of space. Where a stackable washer and dryer are 2 separate units stacked on top of each other, an all-in-one washer and dryer is 1 single appliance that completes both the washing of the laundry and the drying. In fact, once the laundry load has started, the next time you'll need to attend to your clothes is when they are dry and ready to wear!

But beware, with all of the advantages, these units do have drawbacks which make them not suitable for all households. As a general rule of thumb, if your home can accommodate a traditional washer and dryer you'll be better served purchasing the 2 separate units vs. a combo.

Combos aren't capable of handling large drying loads, and you won't be able to run a load of wash at the same time as you are drying a load. They also take longer to dry clothing, which makes them better suited for small households.

Still these a combo has a place and it's worth considering, especially if floor space is limited. Some good fits and common uses are: 

  • RV's and Boats
  • Guest or Vacation Homes
  • Apartments and Condos

What is an All-in-One Washer Dryer?

An all-in-one washer dryer, also known as a combo washer and dryer, is simply a machine that's designed to both wash and dry your clothes within the same unit.

Combo washer and dryers aren't new. They've been around for years and in fact, they've become the standard on boats and RV's. The concept is simple. Place your dirty laundry into the washer, then, without even transferring the load, your clothes are dried and ready to be removed.

Over the last few years, combo appliances have been gaining in popularity. With an improved design and state-of-the-art technology, company's such as Whirlpool and LG have seen a demand for their units in Europe. Now homeowners in the United States are beginning to take notice. 

As the demand within the United States grows, manufacturers are racing to meet the needs by continuing to improve their technology, expanding their model line-up and providing additional options.

How Does a Combo Washer/Dryer Work?

The washer on a combo functions the same as a traditional standalone front-load washer. However, the dryer is totally different and uses condensation to dry the clothes. This method of drying is what provides the combo unit with it's versatility. Let's look at each function individually:

Washer

A combo washer has the door mounted on the front of the appliance, this enables the unit to function in the wash cycle the same as a separate stand-alone front-loader.

One of the benefits of a combo is the ability to program your wash and dry cycle when you start your load. There's no need to finish the wash cycle and then program for the dry cycle, it can all be done at one time in the beginning. Allowing you to start your laundry and not return to it until it has finished!

Dryer

One huge benefit of a combo unit is that the dryer doesn't need to vent the warm and moist air outside like a traditional dryer. Without an outside vent, clothes are dried differently than traditional dryers, which tumble the clothes in forced hot air. These units also don't require the same amount of electrical power that a traditional dryer needs.

Instead of a vent, a drain hose is used to release the moisture. This is a critical difference between a traditional dryer and a combo condensing dryer. Clothes are dried using a condenser which converts steam to water. This method of drying extracts moisture from the clothing and then drains the condensed water down a sink. 

But be aware that this method of drying will also increase the dry time for your laundry. In many cases the average is between 1-1/2 to 3 hours!

Condensation Drying Technology

Condensation dryers use a closed-loop system which prevents moisture, lint and heat from being released into the area surrounding the dryer. In addition, the dehumidifying process also prevents moisture from being released into the air.

  1. Hot air is heated in the drum and is passed thru the laundry.
  2. The air then travels thru a heat exchanger instead of being vented outside.
  3. The heat exchanger cools and condenses the air.
  4. The moisture removed from the air exits the appliance thru a drain line.
  5. The air is then reheated and the process repeats.
Watch this video to see how a condensation dryer works:

How Does a Combo Compare?

If you're thinking about purchasing a combo washer and dryer, you may want to consider the pro's and con's. Keep in mind that these appliances won't require a vent, but they will still need a water source.

Pro's
  • Space saver 
  • Less weight 
  • Washes and drys without the need to transfer clothes
  • No vent needed
  • Uses standard electrical outlet (120v)
  • Easier on clothing
  • Portability
Con's
  • Clothes wrinkle if not removed when cycle finishes
  • Clothes feel damp at end of cycle
  • Small load capacity
  • Condensation drying takes longer than forced air drying

What to Consider when Shopping?

Initial Cost

Since combo units are designed with the door on the front of the unit, the user will benefit from all of the advantages of a stand-alone front loader:

  • Better cleaning performance than top-loaders
  • Less detergent and water used

However, even though everything is contained within a single unit, a combo washer and dryer is still significantly more expensive than a top-load washer and dryer set, and frequently more expensive than a front-load washer and dryer.

Energy Usage

Combo units use less water than traditional top load washing machines and condensing dryers use less energy than vented dryers. In fact, 50 to 70% less! They are also UL listed and frequently NSF certified.

Because of the portability of an all-in-one, they are only available with an electric dryer. Gas is not an option.

Convenience / Ease of Use

A washer dryer combo requires less attention during the laundry cycle than a traditional washer and dryer set. There's no need to move your laundry from the washer to the dryer since once the unit is finished washing the clothes, the unit automatically starts the drying cycle. Simply start your load and in one long cycle the combo will both wash and dry your laundry.

However, washer/dryer combos share the same challenge as front-load washers, in that they may be physically difficult to use, especially if you have back problems. It's necessary to bend down to access the laundry within the tub. However, if vertical space allows, the unit can be placed onto a pedestal which will not only raise the combo unit, but also provide additional storage space beneath. When selecting a pedestal always be careful to find one that fits your specific unit.

From a day-to-day maintenance standpoint, it's important to remember that combo units aren't immune to mildew and mold problems. Since they share the same design as a front-load washer and the drying process creates a humid, moist environment, after a load finishes, it's critical to wipe down the gaskets and interior of the tub in order to prevent mildew growth.

Many users find them easier to operate because they don't offer as many cycle options as an individual front-load washer and dryer, and one of the conveniences is that a combo unit can be connected to a sink with the use of a snap coupling to provide it's water supply.

Although, both the washer and dryer cycle can be run separately. If you only want to dry your clothes, you don't need to use the washer first (and the reverse is true).

Capacity

Compared to a stand alone washer and dryer,  combo models have a smaller load capacity.​​ It's extremely important to note that the capacity of the unit when washing clothes will always be larger than the drying capacity. The drum should only be half full in order to run a full wash and dry laundry cycle.

The amount of laundry that can be done at any one time varies depending on the size of the unit. However, the average combo is able to wash between 13 to 15 pounds of laundry, yet it can only dry between 7 to 9 pounds.

However, there are workarounds since the unit is capable of washing larger loads. One method is to run a full wash load and then remove half of the clothing so that it can be air dried. Many users purchase a drying rack, which are inexpensive and fold away when not in use. 

Home Design

This is the number one reason people choose a washer dryer combo. Many apartments, condos and other small living spacings simply don't have the floor space to accommodate a traditional washer and dryer - even if they are stacked. When space is an issue, the combo unit can be a life saver and keep you from spending hours in a laundromat.

Not only are these units frequently designed to fit under a standard height countertop, if outfitted with an optional portability kit they can even be rolled out of the way when not in use! Just be sure to purchase castors that accommodate your model. 

What Makes a Combo Washer and Dryer a Great Fit
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    Compact: Combos are capable of squeezing into spaces where 2 separate units won't fit. Both horizontally and vertically.
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    Portability: Many combo models are designed with the option for wheels, which allow the unit to be moved from one location to another.
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    Weight: If you are concerned about the amount of weight your appliances place on your flooring and structure, a combo unit can really shine in solving this problem. The weight of a combo unit is roughly the same as a traditional washing machine (without the separate dryer).
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    Venting: Washer/dryer combos don't require an outside vent since they use a condensation based ventless drying process.
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    Electrical: No special wiring is necessary. Combo units are designed to plug directly into a standard 120v electrical outlet.

Reliability

This is an area of controversy. We've found that people either love their combos or hate them, there really isn't much middle ground. 

Since there's only one unit to maintain and repair, in many cases there's less opportunities for breakdowns. Still the technology is different and many feel they are extremely likely to require more professional repairs. Yet, others have found them to be quite reliable.

We recommend doing a little upfront research on the repairability of the specific brand and model before making a buying decision. You want to know if parts will be available a few years down the road. Many lesser known and some very popular brands, don't carry parts for their models beyond a year or two.

Consumer reports credits LG as manufacturing very reliable products, and in addition they also have a reputation of having parts available for older models.

Performance

Since combo units use condensation drying, which is very different from traditional dryers, a frequent complaint is that the laundry is damp at the end of the dry cycle. But this is actually just a byproduct of the drying method since the dryer is humid. Simply remove your clothes one item at a time while giving them a quick shake. Within a few seconds they should feel dry. 

Also, once the dryer has completed it's cycle, it's important to remove your laundry to prevent it from wrinkling. Since the air inside the drum is humid, when the dry cycle finishes it will cause your clothes to wrinkle.

However, one of the benefits of condensation drying is that it is much easier on your clothing. Traditional dryers place a lot of wear and tear on clothing.

Time

Since condensation dryers take longer than traditional dryers, your overall load time will also be longer. This is probably the biggest adjustment people have to transitioning to a washer dryer combo.

To make matters worse, you won't be able to run a load of laundry in the washer at the same time you're drying. This is where separate units can really speed up the process, and this limitation only further magnifies the amount of time necessary to finish your laundry.

Not only is each load of laundry going to take longer to complete, but you're also limited to running smaller loads.

Why Do Combo Washer and Dryers Take So Long to Dry?
  1. Since all-in-one washer and dryers use 120 volts of electricity they just don't have the energy to deliver the same amount of heat as a 240 volt dryer.
  2. The condensation drying process simply takes longer than traditional forced hot air drying that requires outdoor venting.
  3. Traditional dryers require large drums that allow the clothes to freely tumble. But condensation drying needs enough air space for moisture to dissipate from your clothing, which means smaller loads. A combo can always wash more than it can dry at any one given time.

How to Select an All-in-One Washer and Dryer?

If you've determined that an all-in-one washer and dryer is the right appliance for your household, here are a few things to consider when selecting a model.

Size Capacity

The fact that combo washer and dryers are designed to fit into tight spaces is often a major selling point. Unfortunately, the smaller load size capacity and longer drying times is frequently a hinderance. 

It's true, combo appliances aren't capable of handling the same large loads of laundry that an individual washer and dryer set can. However, if space is in short supply, a combo can get the job done while preventing long hours at a laundromat.

All-in-one washers and dryers can be found with load capacity's as small as 1.6 cu. ft. But the most common size, with the largest selection to choose from, has a load capacity of 2.3 cu. ft. This size can generally accommodate the laundry for 1 to 2 people.

If you have a household that generates a lot of laundry, the 4.3 cu. ft. size should meet your needs. Without a doubt they are more expensive, but they're also more powerful and designed with additional bells and whistles.

We suggest when selecting a combo washer and dryer that you purchase the largest capacity that fits within your allotted space that your budget will allow. 

Built-in Water Heater

Some washer and dryer combos offer built-in water heaters which will allow for additional washing options, such as steam-cleaning and an extra-hot wash temperature setting. 

With a built-in water heater, the appliance will be able to achieve higher temperatures at a faster rate, and with the additional washing settings you'll have the ability to sanitize your laundry.

Spin Speed

A high spin speed will ultimately result in shorter drying times. This is because your clothes will be dryer when the drying cycle begins.

A high spin speed results in more water being wicked from the laundry.

Power

Nearly all of the combo washer and dryers are designed to run on 120v, which is a standard electrical outlet. This is one of the main benefits that allows the appliance to be so portable, it can literally plug into any standard outlet. 

Some manufacturers are building larger units that utilize 220v of power. Although, this is a relatively new option, it is worth considering. Keep in mind, that you may need to hire a electrician and you'll lose the benefit of portability.

Dryer

The majority of combos are manufactured with a condensing dryer. However, there are a few brands, such as LG, which has come out with a heat-pump dryer, and as you might expect, the price is currently much higher.

Heat-pump dryers are able to dry clothes faster than condensing dryers. However, they still aren't as fast as a traditional dryer. Although, they are more energy efficient and use roughly 45% the amount of electricity of a traditional dryer.

Types of Dryers (and how they work)

Traditional Dryer: Air is heated and then blown into the drum chamber. The hot air absorbs the moisture from the clothing and is exhausted thru a vent outside. The vented air is full of moisture.

Condensing Dryer: Air is heated and then blown into the drum chamber. The hot air absorbs the moisture from the clothing and is pulled from the drum and cooled until the moisture condenses and collects into a tray or drained thru a hose. The cool, dry air is then heated and blown back into the drum chamber.

Heat-Pump Dryer: A heat-pump dryer has 2 coils, 1 cold and the other hot. The cold coil is used to cool the warm, moist air as it comes out of the drum and removes the moisture within the air. The hot coil is used to heat the air as it returns back into the drum.

Should I Buy a Combo Washer and Dryer?

If you have the space, we recommend purchasing separate washer and dryer appliances. They have a proven track record, are capable of handling a larger load capacity, and allow you the option of washing and drying your laundry at the same time. 

With that said, in the right situation, especially if space is limited, a combo unit may be an excellent option.

There is clearly a demand for all-in-one washer and dryers, and as technology improves, their drying performance will also improve. A few manufacturers, including LG, are releasing washer and dryer combos with inverter heat-pump drying technology. This has the potential to be a real game changer since it will significantly reduce drying time.

Whirlpool is also preparing to release a new model called the Smart All-in-One Care Washer and Dryer Combo. It's rumored to offer a vented dryer connection with 240v of electrical power. Of course, this will prevent the unit from being portable, but it should still be able to fit into a tight laundry room.

Today many of the early issues that combos experienced in the past have been corrected. There's also many manufacturers, options and models to choose from. If space is an issue in your home, you should be able to find a combo to fit your lifestyle needs. However, we don't recommend trying to save space by buying a combo unit if you have the space for a washer and dryer set.