Depending on how much use it gets, a washing machine will generally work well for about a dozen years before it starts acting up. Dryers have fewer moving parts (and no water), so they tend to last longer. But most people replace both these appliances at once, partly for aesthetic reasons—it’s nice to have a matching set, especially if they’re in a highly visible location.
For all these posts, we’re consulting with the knowledgeable Andrea Zaff of Boston-based Zaff Architecture, who specializes in helping her clients source appliances, to get her expert tips and advice.
Here are 12 questions homeowners often ask when swapping out their old washer and dryer for shiny, high-functioning new ones.
How do I know if my new washer and dryer will fit in the existing space?
These appliances do come in a range of sizes (see below). But if your old ones are standard size and your new ones are, too, you should be fine. Still, before you order, always measure your existing space and check the specifications of your new appliances, or just compare the dimensions of your existing washer/dryer to those of the new set. “Since most people have their washer/dryer in a basement or laundry room, where they’re not necessarily surrounded by cabinets, the new ones may not need to be the exact same size as the old ones,” says Andrea. “But many people, especially urban folks, don’t have the luxury of a room designated only for laundry, and size is more of an issue.” If you’re in doubt, ask the appliance store if they’ll make a site visit before they deliver.
What are the standard sizes for washers and dryers?
A standard washer and dryer, whether top-loading or front-loading, measures 27 inches wide, 27 to 28 inches deep, and 34 to 43 inches high (the back control panel on a top-loader explains that 43-inch height).
Space-saver or compact appliances are 21 to 24 inches wide, 22 to 24 inches deep, and 33 to 34 inches high. They’re handy for people who don’t have room for a full-size set. Some are portable, and since most compact dryers are condenser models (also called ventless dryers, since they don’t need to be vented outside), their location is more flexible. Another way to save space is to stack a dryer on top of a front-loading washer. You can do this with most full-size and compact units, using the manufacturer’s stacking kit. The width and depth of stacked appliances depend on the brand, but the height is usually over six feet. “The controls can be hard to reach if you’re only five feet tall!” says Andrea.
High-capacity front-loading washers and dryers are 27 inches wide, 32 to 34 inches deep (that is, deeper than the standard size), and 35 to 42 inches high. “These are a great choice if you have a large family,” says Andrea.
A unitized washer-dryer combo—with both components combined in one appliance—has half the footprint of side-by-side appliances. It could be either 24 or 27 inches wide, but anywhere from 72 to 78 inches high. There aren’t many available, since most consumers prefer to buy two separate appliances so they can replace just one of them, if necessary, rather than the entire unit.
It’s also possible to buy a combination washer/condensing dryer that washes and dries laundry in the same tub. Designed for smaller spaces, these can be installed in a kitchen or bathroom—the dryer doesn’t need an exhaust duct, and a standard 120V outlet will suffice. But ventless dryers get low ratings because of their slow performance.
How much space do a side-by-side washer and dryer need?
A standard washer or dryer is 27 inches wide, so you need a minimum of 54 inches to fit both units. Consider adding at least an inch on each side and one in between to allow for air circulation. You’ll want at least two feet of clearance above a top-loading washer and in front of a front-loading unit to allow the doors to open fully for easy access. You also want to make sure any nearby doors can open and close without obstruction. “Keep this in mind if you’re replacing a top-loading washer with a front-loader,” Andrea says. Most installers recommend six inches of clearance behind washers and dryers to accommodate hoses and vents.
If possible, it’s ideal to have 48 inches of free space in front of your washer and dryer, to give yourself plenty of room to move around when doing laundry. A minimum of 42 inches is recommended.
“Note that front-loading washer doors and dryer doors should swing in the opposite direction so that laundry can be easily transferred,” says Andrea. “While dryer doors are often reversible, most front-loading washer doors are left-hinged and can’t be reversed. If the existing plumbing doesn’t accommodate this setup, there are a small number of right-hinged and reversible front-loading washers available.”
My washer has quit but the dryer still works. Should I replace both appliances at the same time?
“It does make sense aesthetically, and perhaps for performance matching,” says Andrea. But, she adds, it generally isn’t necessary, unless you have stacked appliances and can’t find a new washer or stacking kit that will fit.
Dryers often outlast washers. “For example,” Andrea says, “when we moved into our new home, we bought a new washer but decided to wait for the old dryer to break down before getting a matching one. It’s been seven years and that dryer still works perfectly.”
Do I have to buy a matching set—that is, a dryer that matches the washer?
“I wouldn’t be too concerned, if your machines are out of public view,” says Andrea. “We don’t mind, as ours are in the basement. Since the washer and dryer are different heights, we installed a countertop to create a level surface. But if you’re buying a new washer and dryer at the same time, I’d match them.” And if you plan to stack your machines, it’s necessary to purchase them as a unit.
I’m upgrading to a fancy new washer/dryer. Will I need to upgrade the wiring and/or plumbing?
For a professional, installing a washer and dryer in a space where all the necessary electricity, plumbing, and vents are already in place is typically a straightforward job, taking less than an hour. Most likely the setup for your existing appliances will suffice.
If you have an electric dryer, your laundry area needs three different circuits:
- A 20-amp circuit to supply the 120-volt power for the washer.
- A 30-amp dedicated circuit for the dryer.
- A 15-amp circuit for the light fixtures.
“If you’re unsure whether changes will be required, consult with a licensed electrician or plumber,” says Andrea. For instance, if you’re upgrading from compact to full-size appliances, you may need to upgrade your plumbing and electrical setup. A few other things to keep in mind:
- Most washers only need a standard 120-volt outlet. If your new washer requires 240 volts, you may have to install a dedicated circuit.
- Electric dryers bought today require a special appliance cord with a four-prong plug that must be used with a 120/240-volt receptacle. (Older dryers typically had three-prong cords that fit only three-slot outlets. The National Electrical Code no longer allows these to be installed.)
- While an electric dryer needs its own 240-volt circuit, a gas dryer can share a dedicated 120-volt electric circuit with the washer.
- The electrical outlet for the washer should be well removed from the machine’s drain hose and water lines.
- Any outlets within six feet of a sink must have ground-fault circuit interrupter protection.
- As for the plumbing, if your existing arrangement is up to code you probably won’t need any changes. But you may want to install optional upgrades, such as braided stainless steel supply hoses to avoid leaks, or a drip pan under the washer for the same reason.
What do I need to know about installing my new washer/dryer in a different spot?
If you’re relocating in the same room, you’ll probably have to extend the drain line, the electricity, and the venting.
“It’s a bigger job to install a washer/dryer in a space that hasn’t previously been used for laundry,” says Andrea. The new location will require hot- and cold-water plumbing lines; a drain line or a laundry sink where the washer’s drain hose can discharge; electricity (120V for most washers and 240V for most electric dryers); a vent; and, for a gas dryer, a gas line. “The cost of relocating can escalate if you need to access the plumbing line below your basement slab,” she adds, “or if you’re moving the appliances far from an existing plumbing line, electrical panel, or exterior wall for venting.”
You may also need to reinforce the floor to handle the weight and vibration, especially for a front-loading washer. “And because laundry appliances can be loud,” says Andrea, “you might not want them next to your bedroom.”
Will I need to replace the exhaust duct for my new dryer?
It’s always a good idea to give a new dryer a new duct. “The four-inch white plastic or aluminum-foil duct that may have connected your old dryer to the outside vent isn’t a great choice,” Andrea says. “It doesn’t exhaust hot air very well and it can be dangerous, because the ribbed interior traps lint.” That reduces airflow and makes the dryer take longer to dry clothes, thus wasting energy and overloading the motor. “Also, lint buildup is a fire hazard, especially in a gas dryer, which is why the codes now prohibit the use of those older ducts.”
The correct vent is a rigid-metal pipe with a smooth interior that makes the dryer safer and more efficient by reducing lint accumulation and air resistance.
Andrea says she’s often asked how long the duct can be. “The code says it should be no more than twenty-five feet long, and as straight as possible,” she tells clients. “If you have to install bends, reduce this limit by five feet for every ninety-degree bend and two-and-a-half feet for every forty-five-degree one.” (Note that codes may vary in some states.)
Most importantly: Don’t install a screen at the vent’s outdoor end—it will collect lint that, if not removed, will eventually block the vent.
A ventless, or condensing, dryer can be installed in an area that’s too far from an outside wall to run an exhaust duct. But these dryers don’t work that well, and you have to empty a bucket after each use.
How can I replace a compact washer/dryer with a full-size set in a limited space?
The easiest way is to buy a washer and dryer that can be stacked—so long as you have the overhead space, as the two stacked units can be higher than six feet. Stacked appliances require the same wiring, plumbing, and vent as a traditional set.
“If you prefer a side-by-side set, then you’ll need to open up the space to accommodate them,” says Andrea. “This may require some demolition and reconfiguration.“
How can I save energy—and money—with my new washer/dryer?
“When you shop for appliances, you’ll see an Energy Star rating—as well as the estimated energy use and cost per year—displayed on a yellow tag on the machine,” says Andrea. According to the EPA’s Energy Star program, “Energy Star–certified clothes washers use about twenty-five percent less energy and forty-five percent less water than regular washers.” And a front-loading washer uses two-thirds less water than a top-loader, further reducing water and heating costs.
As for dryers, an Energy Star–certified model uses about 20 percent less energy than a conventional one. A gas dryer costs less to operate than an electric one, and has a lower environmental impact.
Do I need to have my new washer/dryer installed on a pedestal?
A laundry pedestal is optional, Andrea says. It adds around seven to 15 inches in height, and can make it easier to load and unload front-loading machines, especially if you’re older or infirm. But if you’re on the short side, it might be harder to use the top surface for folding, or, if your machines are stacked, the dryer controls might be out of reach.
What do I do with my old washer/dryer?
It’s likely that the retailer will collect your old machines when they drop off your new ones—you might even get a rebate for them. But make sure the company will provide green services—for instance, are they a certified recycler of old appliances?
If you decide to dispose of your old washer and dryer yourself, here are some ways to do it without damaging the environment:
- If the machine still works (often the case with dryers, due to their longer lifespan), donate it to a good cause, such as Habitat for Humanity or Eco Building Bargains.
- If the machines aren’t in good enough condition to donate, ask your state energy office or local water and power company if they have a recycling program.
- Contact scrap metal recyclers in your area. Many components of old appliances can be recycled and used in construction.
- If all else fails, ask your local municipal recycling office whether they’ll pick up the machines from your curb. If not, locate a certified recycling facility in your area and drop off the appliances there.
And for tips on how to maintain your washer, see Domestic Science: How to Clean a Washing Machine.
More advice for the laundry: