As appliances go, clothes dryers are a simple lot. They have one job, which most clothes dryers do fairly well, and they all do it in virtually the same way. The major difference is in the way they produce heat: some dryers use electric heating coils, while others use gas burners.
If your laundry room at home has hookups for both, which do you choose? Let's examine the gas vs. electric dryer's pros and cons in detail.
While there isn't a huge difference in price, gas dryers tend to cost between $50 and $100 more than their electric counterparts. Expect electric dryers to cost between $500 and $1,800, and gas dryers between $600 and $1,900, according to the CNET buying guide.
Electric dryers don't require any professional installation; as long as there's a working 240-volt outlet in the wall, installation is a matter of plugging the dryer in and making sure it's level.
For gas dryers, it's strongly recommended that they be installed by a licensed plumber or technician. Because installation involves working with natural gas lines and venting exhaust to the outdoors, an honest DIY mistake could be very dangerous. Shop around for a good price, but be sure to choose a reputable installer -- this is about safety, after all. Installation could add between $75 and $150 to the upfront costs, depending on service call fees in your area.
Another installation consideration is that gas dryers must be vented to the outdoors, which makes some areas of the home impractical for installation. Most electric dryers also require venting for hot, humid air, but some models are ventless and use cooling coils to dehumidify and recirculate air. If the best room in your home for a dryer is a bad place to install vent pipes, a ventless electric dryer may be the best choice.
This is where gas dryers really edge out the competition. Depending on the price of electricity and natural gas in your area, a gas dryer could cost about half as much to operate as an electric dryer.
The main reason for this difference is that natural gas is both a cheaper and more efficient fuel than electricity for producing heat. An additional reason is that gas dryers heat up faster and tend to get hotter than electric dryers, so if you're vigilant about timing your laundry -- or if you have a dryer with a moisture sensor -- you can benefit from shorter cycle times.
Natural gas is significantly cheaper than electricity throughout most of North America, but there are exceptions. If you live in an area where gas is expensive, the cost of fuel could wipe out the long-term savings advantage of a gas dryer. The prices of both gas and electricity are also constantly fluctuating. It's worthwhile to check your local rates before making a decision based on operating costs.
There's little difference between gas and electric dryers when it comes to routine maintenance. Cleaning the lint trap after every load is a must, and a more thorough cleaning behind and underneath the dryer is recommended every few months. You should also periodically inspect the vent to the outside to make sure it's clear.
Gas dryers don't have special maintenance routines, but when it comes to repairs, they are more prone to problems that will require a repair professional. DIY enthusiasts may be able to replace a broken tumbler belt on either machine without much trouble, but when the heating elements in a gas dryer have trouble, they shouldn't be repaired by anyone without the requisite training. It's a matter of safety.
Dryers of either type are safe, as long as they're properly installed and maintained. But in those rare circumstances when things go wrong, there's more that can go wrong with a gas dryer -- and with worse consequences.
There are two unique dangers to gas dryer malfunction: gas leaks, which can occur in gas lines or connections and create and explosion risk, and carbon monoxide leaks, which can fill a home with a colorless, odorless and deadly gas. Proper installation is the best means of preventing these accidents.
If there's a gas leak, you should be able to tell by the distinct rotten egg odor. You should vacate your home, leaving doors and windows open on your way out if possible, and call your local gas utility to report the problem. To safeguard against carbon monoxide leaks, you should install a carbon monoxide detector near your laundry room. If the detector alerts to a carbon monoxide leak, get everyone out of the house immediately and call your local gas utility or fire station.
Electric dryers don't produce either of these risks, but there is a small risk of electrical fire due to faulty wiring. Clogged lint traps can also produce a fire risk.
Overall, if you have affordable natural gas in your area and can afford the additional upfront costs of a gas dryer, gas will be the more affordable option over the long term. But there may also be arguments for sticking with electric, such as high regional natural gas prices or the need for a ventless dryer.
Whichever you choose, don't forget to clean the lint trap!