Cheapest way to dry clothes in winter - ranked! Tumble dryer vs dehumidifier and more

We look at the cheapest way to dry clothes in winter to help you keep your energy bills down

Mid-section of woman hanging laundry on a clothes airer at home
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Finding the cheapest way to dry clothes in winter is increasingly important as the last of the summer sun disappears and drying clothes indoors becomes more common for the colder months. Rising energy bills (opens in new tab) are a concern for millions of households and many families will be keeping the heating off as much as possible to save energy in their homes (opens in new tab).

Managing director of dehumidifier manufacturer Meaco, Chris Michael (opens in new tab), told us: “The unprecedented cost of living crisis is forcing UK households to cut back on the use of gas and electricity. When it comes to drying washing, it’s natural that people will hang wet washing on clothes racks to dry indoors instead of using tumble dryers, which are one of the most energy-intensive devices in the home. 

"This will be fine at first, but over the coming weeks the wet washing will take longer to dry as we start to close our windows to keep precious heat in and the moisture content in the air increases from the clothes that we have been drying over time. However, the good news is that there are low cost ways to efficiently dry wet washing indoors.” 

Cheapest way to dry clothes in winter - ranked!  

Below, we’ve ranked some of the most common ways to dry clothes in winter by their running costs. To make it a fairer comparison, we’ve also factored in drying time and pros and cons of each method. 

Swipe to scroll horizontally
Drying methodAverage cost to runDrying timeProsCons
Drying clothes outsideFreeDependant on weather but around 2-4 hoursFree, suitable for all laundryDependent on weather, you need to have suitable outside space
Using an airer indoorsFreeAbout 24 hoursFree, suitable for all laundryTakes a long time to dry, can be difficult to dry larger items, like bedding, needs to be used in room with good air circulation
Heated clothes dryer7.5p an hour2 to 5 hoursCheap to run, can also keep room warm, small airers can be bought for around £50, less damaging to clothes than a tumble dryerYou’ll need the space to put it, heavier garments can take longer to dry, mould can grow in rooms with little or no air circulation
Dehumidifier8.5p an hour 3 to 5 hoursHelps prevent mould, cheap to run, you may be able to turn down thermostat, less damaging to clothes than a tumble dryerCan be fairly expensive to purchase, you’ll need to empty the water tank once it’s full
Tumble dryer£1.90 per use30 to 45 minutesFastest way to dry clothes, good if you have a lot of washing to get through, minimal effort requiredExpensive to buy and expensive to run, not all clothes are suited to being tumble dried

The verdict

Drying clothes outside is naturally the cheapest option. But when weather conditions won’t allow this, the cheapest way to dry clothes indoors is to use a heated clothes dryer.

However, how much it costs to run a heated clothes dryer (opens in new tab) will depend on how often you use it, the size and type of dryer you have, including the wattage, and how much you pay for your energy. For our calculations, we’ve used the Energy Price Guarantee’s (opens in new tab) electricity unit price of 34p per kWh and a 220W dryer. However, if you were to use a larger 1,000W heated clothes dryer, this would cost 34p an hour and more than a dehumidifier. 

Goodto.com’s Money Editor Sarah Handley (opens in new tab), says: “It’s important to weigh up the pros and cons of each drying method before deciding what works best for you. 

“Remember that you will need the space for a heated clothes airer and, if the room you plan to use it in is not well ventilated, there is a risk of mould, damp and condensation.”

If the room is not well ventilated, you could be better off using a dehumidifier to dry your clothes - it’s still a much cheaper option compared to a tumble dryer (you can see how much a dehumidifier costs to run (opens in new tab) in our handy guide), and has the added benefit of removing moisture out of the air. This means it can be a great way to stop condensation on windows (opens in new tab).

Founder and chairman of dehumidifier and washing machine manufacturer Ebac, John Elliott (opens in new tab), explains:  “A dehumidifier, combined with a drying tent – a piece of treated material which fits over a clothes horse to create a semi-sealed environment - can save an average family tens of pounds a month when compared with a tumble dryer and prevent the rocketing levels of humidity that cause potentially harmful mould and cause irritation to people with respiratory conditions like asthma. Dehumidifiers work by extracting water from the air which means that your clothes are dried to a preferred level without shrinkage."

The most expensive way to dry clothes is to use your tumble dryer. 

Is it cheaper to dry clothes on a radiator or in a tumble dryer? 

Gas is currently cheaper than electricity which means that in theory, using a gas central heating system and radiator should be cheaper than using a tumble dryer to dry clothes. But in reality, hanging clothes on a radiator will reduce its efficiency and your boiler will have to work harder than usual. 

Energy saving expert at Property Rescue (opens in new tab), Callum Woodstock explains: “When we dry clothes on a radiator, this reduces the amount of heat which is distributed into our homes - which often leads to a temptation to turn up the thermostat. Drying your clothes on a radiator also adds moisture to the room, which means there is more energy required to heat the room itself. This moisture can also lead to mould issues.”

William Hobbs at trades matching website MyJobQuote (opens in new tab), adds: “You’re best putting clothes on an airer near the radiator rather than hanging them directly on it. This will enable you to dry more clothes at a time without creating excess moisture and blocking heat from the room.” 

How can you dry clothes quicker to cut the cost? 

There are a number of tips you can follow to dry clothes quicker and save money. For example: 

  • Use your washing machine’s highest spin setting to wring out as much water as possible to reduce drying time
  • Avoid overloading the washing machine so that clothes do not come out soaking
  • Wash clothes earlier in the day to make the most of any sunlight and give them longer to dry
  • Once washed, roll your wet clothes into dry towels to absorb excess water
  • Turn over clothes on an airer every few hours to help them dry quicker and evenly
  • Invest in a cover for your heated clothes airer to speed up the drying process. 

Finally, when it comes to how much a tumble dryer costs to run (opens in new tab), if you find that you have to use yours, make sure you know how you can keep the costs low as possible.

  • Don't overload your tumble dryer - it makes it less effective
  • Choose the most suitable settings to make sure you are not using longer cycles unnecessarily
  • Be selective about what you tumble dry so you can use it less often to keep costs low
  • Invest in some tumble dryer balls, like these from Amazon - £9.89 for 6 (opens in new tab), to help your laundry dry quicker.

Sarah Turner, founder of Little Beau Sheep (opens in new tab), who makes wool tumble dryer balls, advises: “If you want to make your tumble dryer work quicker and therefore use less electricity, add wool dryer balls to the load. They absorb moisture and separate the clothes so the air can circulate (they also naturally soften to replace the need for single-use dryer sheets or chemical fabric softeners).”  

Rachel is a freelance personal finance journalist who has been writing about everything from mortgages to car insurance for over a decade. Having previously worked at Shares Magazine, where she specialised in small-cap stocks, Rachel developed a passion for consumer finance and saving money when she moved to lovemoney.com (opens in new tab). She later spent more than 8 years as an editor at price comparison site MoneySuperMarket where she helped support the CRM programme, as well as the SEO and PR teams, often acting as spokesperson. Rachel went freelance in 2020, just as the pandemic hit, and has since written for numerous websites and national newspapers, including The Mail on Sunday, The Observer, The Sun and Forbes. She is passionate about helping consumers become more confident with their finances, giving them the tools they need to take control of their money and make savings. In her spare time, Rachel is a keen traveller and baker.