Both gas and electric clothes dryers work by heating air that is blown through a duct into a rotating drum. Gas dryers have a gas burner that does the heating; electric dryers have electric heating elements. Both types utilize electricity for the motor that turns the drum and the controls.
You'll want to take great care when working on dryers. Unplug the dryer and turn off the gas supply to a gas dryer at the appliance shutoff valve. If you smell a strong odor of natural gas, stop what you're doing and call the gas utility from outside the house. As with most appliances, maintenance will keep your dryer purring. Clean the lint trap after every load and clean the vent system once a year.
The sensor is one of the best new control features. Instead of a thermostat that simply sets the cycle to meet a desired temperature, a sensor measures the amount of moisture in clothing and sets the cycle appropriately. The benefit of this technology is that it hugely reduces the incidence of shrinkage and other fabric damage during the drying cycle. Another great feature on dryers is steam. Whirlpool, LG Electronics and Maytag are all adding steam to their top-of-the-line dryers. On these models, steam is added to the extended tumble of a cycle to prevent wrinkling, and it can also be used throughout an entire cycle to perk up dry and wrinkled clothing.
Clothes dryers are powered by either gas or electricity. Electric dryers are usually cheaper to purchase but can cost more to operate. Gas dryers typically cost about $100 more than electric models, but they are more efficient and will save you money in the long run. Often the choice is not yours -- the fuel source that is available in your home will dictate what type of dryer to purchase.
Make sure the dryer you are considering purchasing will fit in your laundry space. Full-size models have widths of 27 to 30 inches. Compact models, which are great for closet or under-counter installation, typically measure 24 inches across. You will also need to take a look at the way and in what direction the door of the dryer swings open, especially if there's limited space in your laundry area.
How to Shop for a Dryer
Make sure the dryer you purchase will be able to handle the amount of clothes coming from your washer. Look for a dryer that has a sufficient variety of settings to handle the items that you are likely to be washing.
Consider a dryer that has a cool down cycle and/or an extended tumble or wrinkle release setting. These cycles help reduce the wrinkles in your clothes by periodically moving clothes around after the drying is done, until you retrieve them from the machine. For those who can't remember to check their lint screen, some high-end dryers have an indicator light that reminds you to handle this chore. A lint screen filled with lint after a few uses will greatly slow drying time and excessively run up your energy bill.
If your laundry area is near sleeping quarters, you may want to select a quieter unit with better than average suspension and insulation. It's very difficult to determine how much noise a machine will make, but the best indicator is the db (decibel) rating.
Dryers are big-time energy guzzlers. The most energy-efficient models are the ones with sensors. To get the best performance out of your dryer, it is best to place it in a warm, dry room, not a cold, damp basement, if possible. Since the energy consumption of dryers is so high and doesn't vary all that much from model to model, there is no energy guide required on them and they are not listed in the Energy Star database.
When planning your installation, don't forget to consider venting and power. All dryers except condensation units will require venting. Electric models will require a dryer outlet of 220 volts. A gas dryer will require a gas or propane hookup and access to 120-volt standard household outlet.