Heated airers vs dehumidifiers - there's a surprise winner for drying clothes fast on a budget

Our team love heated airers and dehumidifiers, but if you can only choose one this is what our pick would be

A wooden clothes airer with drying clothes
(Image credit: Future PLC)

Last year, the perfect storm of soaring energy bills and a chilly winter saw the rise in popularity of heated airers and dehumidifiers as a thrifty alternative to a tumble dryer to dry clothes quickly. As a homes journalist and owner of both gadgets, I was bombarded with friends and family asking whether the best heated clothes airer or the best dehumidifier is better for drying clothes, and which to invest in. 

This year those questions have continued and are likely to do so in the face of the increased January energy price cap, making you wince at the cost of running a tumble dryer. Plus with houses getting smaller, I know I'm not alone in not having the luck/space/ money to have a tumble dryer at home.

I was an early adopter of the heated airer, snapping up Lakeland's Dry: Soon heated airer when it launched and packing it off to university with me in 2015. Since then I have tested the Russell Hobbs 20L Dehumidifier and the new Minky heated airer available at Argos to dry my clothes. 

Throughout my adult life, I have never owned a tumble dryer, but it does mean I have become something of a pro at drying clothes fast in winter without a tumble dryer, making me well-placed to work out which gets the job done the best.

How does a dehumidifier work?

Dehumidifiers work by drawing moisture out of the air, they then cool it to turn it into water that gathers in a water tank and pushes out warm dry air into the room. 

Dehumidifier in living room

(Image credit: Future / Heather Young)

There are two main types of dehumidifiers, the most common is the compressor dehumidifier which uses a fan to draw air in and then run it over a cold coil. The second type is a desiccant dehumidifier, these work by passing air over a desiccant chemical which absorbs the moisture from the air and pushes out warm air into the space. 

Many dehumidifiers dry clothes with the help of a dedicated laundry function. This will dial up the fan to extra high, and bring humidity levels down to 40% perfect for drying laundry. Half the drying time of laundry by absorbing the moisture from the wet clothes, the best dehumidifiers will differ in their ability to do this so look for one with a high extraction rate for speedy drying.

How does a heated airer work?

Heated airers are a bit like a portable radiator, at their most basic they are clothes dryers with a plug that has heating elements running through the bars that you hang clothes on. The more advanced versions including Dry:Soon and Minky offer a cover with perforations to hold in the warmth, but allow the moisture to escape to further cut down on drying times.

Heated airer three-tier

(Image credit: Lakeland)

Drying pods are a slightly different alternative to heated airers that work on a similar principle, heating up the clothes inside a covered space to dry them faster. These operate a bit like a large hair dryer using a fan to propel warm air around an enclosed space to speed up the drying speed. However, the additional fan function does mean they can be quite noisy and they are limited in the amount they can dry at one time.

Which one dries clothes fastest?

The consensus among our reviewers at Ideal Home is that a standard heated airer takes a little longer to dry a load of laundry than a dehumidifier, taking closer to 12 hours to dry things completely.

In practical tests, our reviewer found that our top-rated dehumidifier for drying laundry, the Pro Breeze 20K Premium dehumidifier, was able to dry a full load of laundry, including thick towels and bedding within 8 hours.

In my experience, I found that the drying time for both my Russell Hobbs dehumidifier and my Dry: Soon heated airer where pretty neck and neck. I have also managed to dry a set of bedding in 8 hours before on a heated airer, but it did involve a lot of strategic repositioning. 

Fitted sheet over a heated airer

Heated airer in my Flat

(Image credit: Future / Rebecca Knight)

The only appliance I've seen a truly stark difference in drying time with is the Minky heat pod, I was able to dry a load of laundry in around 5 hours, but it has limitations around the amount of laundry you could dry in one go.

Likewise, our product tester, Amy Lockwood swears by the JML DriBUDDI Heated Indoor Airer, saying 'This drying pod is now my go-to whenever I need to dry clothes indoors fast. On testing, I was extremely impressed with its drying times, with clothes bone dry in 1-3 hours using the DriBUDDI (dependent on thickness) compared to 8-12 hours on a classic heated airer. 

'The only downsides are that you're limited as to how much washing you can fit inside at once – you can only fit 18 items on hangers inside the pod in any one go without overloading it. Plus, the fan that circulates the warm air is noisy – especially compared to a silent heated drying rack'.

Where the dehumidifier has the heated airer beat in terms of drying ability is that it can dry a much larger load(s) of laundry. The heated airer is restricted by what you can fit on it. If you have a couple of the best clothes airers already, a dehumidifier will be able to tackle them all in one go which will speed up laundry day.

Are there any differences in drying ability?

Both a dehumidifier and a heated airer will require you to move clothes around to get an evenly dried result. When I was testing the dehumidifier I had to flip my clothes horse around halfway through, and with a three-tier heated airer the top and second layers dry significantly faster than the bottom layer so requires moving around.

If you're craving that warm-out-of-the-tumble-dryer feeling, the heated airer will be far better suited to delivering this. I must admit this is one of the main reasons I favour drying clothes on my heated airer. But many of our team did find that in a small room a powerful dehumidifier contributed to heating up the room and clothes to speed up drying.

Do dehumidifiers dry clothes?

(Image credit: Meaco)

The biggest difference in the drying ability is the moisture produced by the heated airer, which can make the room and clothes smell a little damp if you don't completely dry them in one blast. This isn't an issue with a dehumidifier which works by lowering the humidity in a room. 

Chris Michael, managing director of Meaco point out that 'you won’t dry clothes fast in a damp room.' So you need to consider what is happening to the moisture that comes off a heated clothes airer and how it can slow down the drying process and even lead to mould, condensation and dampness in your home.

Chris Michael headshot
Chris Michael

Chris has been advising on humidity solutions and dehumidifiers since 1991 and is well known within the dehumidifier industry across the world as a lead on innovation and sustainability. Since the mid-90s Chris has been a guest speaker at numerous conferences to teach museum conservators how to measure relative humidity. With a wealth of experience in the industry, Chris is committed to helping provide low-energy and low-noise solutions appliances that improve the lives of customers.

Which is easiest to store?

A heated airer is in my opinion the easiest to store out of sight when not in use. I don't have any large storage cupboards in my small flat, but the Lakeland Dry:Soon heated airer folds flat and can be zipped up in a case which I slot behind my sofa on its side easily out of site. If you have vertical space available the Minky heated airer is also incredibly easy to store as it folds up completely flat against the wall.

Heated airer three-tier

(Image credit: Lakeland)

In contrast, the best dehumidifiers for drying clothes are quite bulky, mine has to be on permanent display in the main room we use it in. You also need to factor in that with a dehumidifier you will also need to find room to store a clothes airer.

A dehumidifier is definitely better suited if you have a dedicated room for drying clothes, or you're prepared to use it for other purposes to justify the real estate it takes up.

Russell Hobbs 20 litre dehumidifier in hallway

(Image credit: Russell Hobbs)

Which is easiest to use?

Both a heated airer and a dehumidifier are among the easiest appliances you can use. Most dehumidifiers will have a dedicated drying button and all the heated airers I've tested have largely been a simple plug in and go situation.

However, the heated airer is actually the one that the Ideal Home team have struggled the most to use. This is down to how you arrange the clothes so that it actually makes a difference to drying time. There is a careful art to it, if you get the space or positioning wrong, you could still have soggy clothes 24 hours later. In comparison a dehumidifier requires a little less care, all you need to do is make sure the clothes have space between them for air to circulate.

Which is cheaper to run?

In terms of price difference, the heated airer cost to run just beats the dehumidifier as the cheaper one to run. To break it down let's start with the running cost, a dehumidifier that can extract up to 20 litres a day, with a wattage of 480w would use 0.48 kWh, meaning that an hour’s usage would cost just under 13p. A 300W three-tiered heated clothes dryer such as the Lakeland Dry:Soon heated airer which has a drying capacity of 15kg should cost around 10p to run for an hour.

So to work out how much a dehumidifier costs to run overall, since it takes around a day or 8 hours to dry a load of laundry, it would cost £1.04 to run. While a heated airer does take longer to dry a load of laundry, due to the residual heat from the clothes airer you don't need it turned on for the full drying time. I rarely have mine for more than five to eight hours at a time meaning it only costs 80p to run a day.

Utility room with dark grey cabinetry, wall panelling and wallpaper

(Image credit: Future PLC/James French)

What is the price difference?

In terms of upfront cost the isn't much of a price difference. Our top-rated dehumidifier for drying laundry, the Pro Breeze 20L Premium Dehumidifier with Special Laundry Mode, will set you back over £200, however, you can pick up some dehumidifiers for under £100, and our top-rated dehumidifier overall the MeacoDry Arete One Dehumidifier costs around £150 and does a great job of laundry drying. 

Overall, heated airers are a tiny bit cheaper with the most expensive Dry: Soon Deluxe 3-tier heated airer costing just under £200. But you will need to purchase a cover (around £40) on top of this. However, at the bottom end of the price scale, you can pick up a winged heated airer that is also cheaper to run for under £50.

Final verdict

While we have been addressing this as an either/or debate, many of our team actually prefer the heated airer AND dehumidifier approach. If you're on a budget you could invest in a smaller dehumidifier and our most affordable heated airer for around £100, and fake a cover with a bedsheet. To keep the running cost the same I recommend running the heated airer and dehumidifier for half the time (4 hours) and you should get the benefits of both and still cost less than turning to your tumble dryer.

However, when pushed most of our team agreed that if they could only invest in one of them a dehumidifier was the better option for drying clothes quickly, and protecting your home from the damp. 

I'm an outlier as I stand by my heated airer as the best option, due to the fact it's easy to store, cheaper to run and I also use it to keep me warm when working from home. 

It all comes down to personal preference, but if you do opt for the heated airer over a dehumidifier do keep in mind you will need to find a way to ventilate or absorb the extra moisture in the room in winter.

Rebecca Knight
Deputy Editor, Digital

Rebecca Knight has been the Deputy Editor on the Ideal Home Website since 2022. She graduated with a Masters degree in magazine journalism from City, University of London in 2018, before starting her journalism career as a staff writer on women's weekly magazines. She fell into the world of homes and interiors after joining the Ideal Home website team in 2019 as a Digital Writer. In 2020 she moved into position of Homes News Editor working across Homes & Gardens, LivingEtc, Real Homes, Gardeningetc and Ideal Home covering everything from the latest viral cleaning hack to the next big interior trend.