Clothes dryers use a variety of cycles to dry clothing without damaging it. Some materials can handle high heat, while others shrink or become worn as a result of its application. Quality dryers offer homeowners enough cycle options to fit the needs of their wardrobes. Choosing a dryer with less cycle options generally leads to a lower price, and is an appropriate choice if you don't own certain fabrics or specialty items.
Fabrics that shrink easily when exposed to heat require a tumbling cycle without it, and most dryers offer this cycle as a standard option. It is also useful for releasing wrinkles and creases from clothing already dry. Tumbling dry clothes with heat damages the fibers of any material, leading to color fading, tears and weakened seams. Running your clothes through an unheated dryer cycle reduces the need to iron clothing and can prevent damage to synthetic fabrics too delicate to withstand the direct heat of an iron.
Settings on a dryer labeled delicate or low heat dry easily damaged clothing such as underwear, hosiery and specialty fabrics. Elastic or stretchy fabrics, as well as most full-synthetic fabrics, are the most prone to heat damage in a dryer, according to Pomona College. Drying clothing made from these materials on the delicate setting extends the life. Fabrics containing spandex or other elastic materials can become permanently stretched out or warped by regular full-heat drying cycles over time. Natural materials that shrink when exposed to heat, like wool and some cotton products, should also be dried on the delicate cycle.
Unwanted wrinkling often occurs in synthetic-blend and permanent-press materials that are in high-heat dryer cycles for too long. Permanent-press dryer cycles use a medium heat, and some dryers add a cool-down period to the end of this cycle to reduce wrinkling further. Permanent-press items are designed to look crisp without starch or ironing, but this only occurs if the item is dried correctly. Removing the item as soon as it is dry and before the tumbling stops helps keep it free of wrinkles.
The regular setting generally produces the most heat, and it is best for drying tougher materials such as denim jeans and thick-cotton knits such as jersey and towels. Full-heat dryer cycles are often set in 10-minute increments, while more modern dryers also feature automatic full-heat cycles that use a moisture sensor to determine when the clothes are dry enough to stop the cycle. Moisture sensors prevent unnecessary exposure to high heat, making it easier to dry clothing at this setting without damaging it.
Experts at Whirlpool say that new dryers offer a variety of specialty drying cycles that older dryers didn't feature. These include more low- or medium-heat cycles, extra wrinkle protection for permanent-press items, heated air drying with no tumbling for heavy items such as shoes, and speed cycles for small loads. Additional specialty cycles usually add to the cost of the dryer. Consider how often you will use a cycle before spending a higher amount on a dryer that features it.