Aug 18, 2023
Heat Pump Dryers Come to Town
By Published Heat pumps are one of the key technologies that will save the planet from the unfolding climate crisis. In addition to heating our water and heating and cooling our homes, in their latest
Heat pumps are one of the key technologies that will save the planet from the unfolding climate crisis. In addition to heating our water and heating and cooling our homes, in their latest incarnation, they can now also dry our clothes. Yes, heat pump dryers are an exciting, mostly uncharted, use of heat pump technology with three to four times the efficiency of a standard dryer. In Europe, heat pump dryers already make up at least half of the market. Our family recently jumped on the bandwagon and purchased our first heat pump dryer last year (spoiler alert, we love it).
While dryer energy use is small compared to space and water heating, and could be replaced by hang drying, the dryer does consume around 7% (700 kWh a year) of the average home’s electricity. With more heat pump dryer models coming to the market, and rapidly improving technology, we figured it was a good time to look into what this technology is all about.
Heat pump dryer. Image courtesy of Miele.
As the name suggests, heat pump dryers use the seemingly magical technology of heat pumps to more efficiently dry clothes. Instead of creating heat, they capture it from the air using refrigerants and recycle that heat over and over again rather than wastefully venting it outside. ENERGY STAR has a great one-minute video explaining how they work.
Image courtesy of Massachusetts Clean Energy Center.
There are three types:
Combo washer and heat pump dryer. Image courtesy of GE.
From our perspective and a year of experience, there are lots of benefits and just a couple drawbacks to heat pump dryers. First, the fun benefits:
Heat pump dryer savings. Right column shows savings compared to standard dryers. Image courtesy of ENERGY STAR.
All of the benefits of heat pump dryers are condensed in a 1 page shareable factsheet here
While heat pump dryers are happily drying clothes in millions of homes across the world, in the US, there are still a couple limitations associated with a maturing technology.
Heat pump dryer growth over the last five years. Source: 2022 webinar with ENERGY STAR compared to current ENERGY STAR product list.
Our table of some of the heat pump dryer prices, sizes and efficiencies available. Full table here.
After mostly hang-drying our laundry (including cloth diapers and Airbnb sheets) for the past decade, we decided to buy a heat pump dryer in August of 2022. We were eager to test the new technology and Naomi was particularly excited about eliminating the ever-present drying rack under our ductless heat pump in the winter. After a lot of research, we went with the cheapest option: Best Buy’s Insignia heat pump dryer.
Our heat pump dryer.
One of our big questions was, “Will it actually dry clothes?” After a year, our answer is a resounding yes! It dries clothes as well as any other type of dryer, but it takes about 1.5 times longer. Occasionally we have to add a little extra time to the cycle, but getting clothes dry is not an issue.
We also haven’t noticed any increase in our electricity usage (even though we rarely used our dryer before) so we’re confident the energy use is minimal. Our happiness matches other customer satisfaction surveys studies from Northwest Energy Efficiency Alliance and Center for Energy and the Environment, which found users are very pleased with the technology.
Customer satisfaction with heat pump dryers in NEEA and CEE studies.
Our one challenge is that bulky loads with sheets, duvet covers, and towels take a couple hours to dry, and we often have to check the load once during the cycle to make sure the laundry isn’t twisted up to make drying harder (though this can happen in any dryer).
In addition, our dryer’s fan belt broke during its first year. It was still under warranty, so it was fully covered and apparently a fluke. But the repair tech told us that a best practice with heat pump dryers is not to fill them fully to reduce stress on the dryer drum. We were stuffing it pretty full, so that might have impacted the fan belt.
Overall we love the newest heat pump in town and the fact that a veritable heat pump army now efficiently, and inexpensively, heats (and cools) the air, water, and clothes in our home.
This article is part of a series called Decarbonize Your Life. With modest steps and a middle-class income, our family has dramatically reduced emissions and is sequestering what remains through a small reforestation project. Our life is better for it. If we can do it, you can too.
Don’t miss Electrify Now’s free webinar on heat pump dryers, on August 23, and Hang Dry Week’s celebration of sun dried laundry, August 19-26.
Joe Wachunas and Naomi Cole are passionate about decarbonizing their lives. They both work professionally to address climate change — Naomi in urban sustainability and energy efficiency and Joe in the electrification of buildings and transportation. This passion, and their commitment to walk the walk, has led them to ductless heat pumps, heat pump water heaters, induction cooking, solar in multiple forms, hang-drying laundry (including cloth diapers), no cars to electric cars and charging without a garage or driveway, a reforestation grant from the US Department of Agriculture, and more. They live in Portland, Oregon, with their two young kids and write about their decarbonizing adventures at decarbonizeyourlife.com.
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