The luxury of living laundromat-free isn’t just for house dwellers: Small-footprint compact washers and dryers can fit into even the tiniest living space. And as baby boomers downsize and millennials move into small apartments, the compact market is gaining attention—and our readers have been telling us they’re ready to learn more. “Not everyone lives in a big house,” Diana commented pointedly on ConsumerReports.org. “My laundry center is in a very small space,” Tina told us, mentioning that our washer and dryer reviews “all seem to favor SUV-sized appliances.”

Our response to these Consumer Reports fans? We went out and bought 10 pairs of compact front-load washers and matching dryers. Our experts put the scaled-down machines through the same rigorous testing designed for full-sized models, which indeed seem to bulk up every year.

What did we find? If you have the space for full-sized machines, we’d advise going with the big guys. As a class, they work better overall and deliver more bang for the buck. Even if you don’t generate enough laundry to make the most of their large capacities, you’re unlikely to be wasting water and energy. That’s because many new washers adjust the water level to the size of the load, and dryers (of all sizes) usually have moisture sensors that trigger the machine to stop when clothes are dry.

But if your space for a washer and dryer is limited and you’re choosing between using compact machines at home and lugging bags to the laundromat—that’s no choice at all.

Compact washers and dryers do work—many quite well—but just like their full-sized counterparts, performance varies widely across models: Cleaning scores ranged from good to excellent. Drying times varied substantially, too, with ventless models taking longer than vented ones.

As for looks, certain compact washers and dryers are still basic white boxes that beg to be hidden in a closet, and others are now stylish and have larger door openings for easier access, along with faster wash cycles and specialty settings. The only across-the-board negatives we found are that compact washers vibrate noticeably more than their bigger brethren and that they’re pricey (more on these points later).

As with laundry machines of any size, you’ll want to pick your washer first because it’s the more complicated device with the more important job. Before you do, though, look through the following considerations that are particular to this more petite breed of washers and dryers.

Convenience Will Cost You

You might imagine reduced size would translate into lower sticker prices for compact washers and dryers. Not so here. Compacts run from $1,760 to $4,000 for a matching set, compared with $1,100 to $3,600 for a full-sized front-loader and matching dryer. Blame basic economics. Compact washers and dryers serve a relatively small market­ in the U.S. (100,000-plus compact washers sold last year vs. 2.1 million full-sized front-loaders), and manufacturers are betting that the consumers who don’t have room for full-sized will pay handsomely for the privilege of an at-home option that fits their space.

Size Matters

The compact washers and dryers we tested are 24 inches wide. Height and depth vary: Height ranges between 33 and 34 inches and depth from 24 to 29 inches, making it an important variable because you’ll need at least 6 inches behind the machines for water hookups and perhaps dryer venting. Usually, compacts within a brand are designed to fit together, so they can be stacked to save space or fit in a narrow closet, but you can’t do that with models from different brands. Find out whether the parts needed to stack the pair you choose are included; if not, they’ll cost from about $30 to $200. Measure the space you have to work with, check out the dimensions in our ratings, and ask about installation and stacking when shopping.

Dryer Venting Varies

Compact dryers are powered by electricity, not gas. Some are vented, like full-sized dryers, with a 4-inch duct that ushers the moist, hot air outdoors. But if your space doesn’t allow for running ductwork to the exterior, you’ll need a ventless (aka condensing) model. That type has a condenser that removes humid air from the drum rather than shunting it outside, so it takes much longer to dry your clothes. The condensation then flows through a hose that feeds into a sink or drain. Several also offer an optional reservoir that collects the water (and needs to be emptied by hand). Both types of dryers require a 240-volt connection. The Asko, Bosch, and Blomberg washers tested also need a 240-volt connection and can plug into the dryer, helpful if you have only one outlet. The other washers tested use a standard 120-volt outlet.

Long Cycle Times

With capacities of 2 to 2.7 cubic feet, compacts can hold about 10 full-sized bath towels—but forget about washing a king-size comforter. We test all washers using the normal-wash, heavy-soil setting, if available. See the wash times in our ratings to get a sense of the time needed to wash a load, and remember that if you want to save some time, certain washers allow you to dial back to the normal-soil setting. Ventless dryers and models lacking moisture sensors took the longest to dry laundry—almost 2 hours for a load of cotton towels, shirts, and jeans.

Strong Vibrations

Here’s a big caveat for many apartment dwellers: Minis shake. Some compact washers vibrate more than others, mostly at the beginning and end of the spin cycle as their tubs spin up to their maximum rpm to extract water from the laundry, but they all do it. The vibration creates an annoying and sometimes noisy distraction every time you do a load. Vibration tends to be worse on wood-framed floors than on concrete, which you’d find in a basement. But then, if you have a basement, you probably don’t need compact laundry machines.

Our scores reflect vibration on a wood-framed floor. Lowering the spin speed didn’t help, and stacking didn’t change things much, although we saw some improvement with the stacked Miele set. We’ve tested anti-vibration pads and feet in the past and found that they didn’t cut vibration noticeably. If you have wood-framed floors, you’ll want to compare vibration scores in our ratings. And when the machines are installed, make sure the washer is dead level. Once you’ve done all that, you’ll be able to kick back and wait for the laundry to get done in the comfort of your own home.

Editor's Note: This article also appeared in the January 2017 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.