SmartDry laundry sensor review: This quick fix can make your old, dumb clothes dryer smart(er)

Don't buy a new dryer to get high-tech sensors. Stick the SmartDry sensor inside your old dryer's drum and get notifications when your clothes are dry.

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At a Glance
  • SmartDry

Modern clothes dryers are outfitted with such nifty high-tech features as steam drying, Wi-Fi connectivity, and moisture sensors to prevent energy waste—and possible clothing damage—from over drying. That all sounds great, but my dryer dates back to the 1990s. Is dropping $1,000 or more on a new model the only option that will smarten things up for me?

SmartDry offers one easy hack: A smart moisture sensor that mounts inside the drum, alerting you via an app when your clothes are warm and dry, so you don’t accidentally fry them.

SmartDry comes in a slim box containing three hardware components. The SmartDry sensor itself is about the size of a skinny mint tin, and it adheres magnetically to the inside of the dryer drum. It communicates with the SmartDry hub, a tiny USB-powered device, via Bluetooth serves as a bridge to your Wi-Fi network. Finally, a simple USB power adapter lets you connect the SmartDry hub to wall power; this must be permanently plugged in within 10 to 15 feet of the dryer in order for the system to work.

To get started, you pull the paper tab out from beneath the coin cell battery in the SmartDry sensor unit to activate it. This slip was jammed in so tight in my test unit that the paper ripped completely. Ultimately, I had to unscrew the four screws on the battery cover to dig out the remaining shard so the battery would connect. Fortunately, a tiny screwdriver is included in the box, as is a replacement battery; you’ll need both down the line, as the manufacturer says the cell should last 6 to 12 months under normal use.

smartdry 1 Christopher Null / IDG

Three components come in the SmartDry box. Combining the hub with its power adapter would streamline things.

After this, you use the SmartDry app to connect to the components and bridge to your Wi-Fi network. While SmartDry’s app is hardly polished, it’s intuitive enough, and I ran into no headaches at all during the setup.

From there, the fun begins. SmartDry offers little hand-holding in its app and nothing by way of a manual, but it isn’t tough to figure things out. Essentially the system offers four different alerts, each of which you can turn on or off separately: An alarm that goes off after a preset length of time, one that goes off if the dryer stops, a “delicate load” alert that notifies you if the temperature rises above 125 degrees Fahrenheit, and a moisture-based alert that lets you specify whether you want clothes “less dry,” “dry,” or “very dry.”

SmartDry app Christopher Null / IDG

It ain’t pretty, but the SmartDry app does cover the basics.

You don’t need to open the SmartDry app with each load of laundry. Once you set your preferences, it remembers them for future loads, so any time your laundry’s done, the app sends a “Clothes Are Dry” notification to your phone and a notification chime to Alexa (Alexa won’t announce anything, though, until you ask what your notifications are. If you forget to check the app before starting up the dryer, your clothes are still covered. You only need to visit the app if you want to make changes to the settings.

How well does it work? The proof, as they say, is in the laundering, and I had only a few operational hiccups with SmartDry during my testing (which spanned nearly a dozen loads of laundry). The main issue seemed to be that the sensor would sometimes lose its connection with the hub, and the app would sometimes indicate “Dryer is Idle/Load Clothes” even when it was actively running. Force quits and refreshes would generally fix it so that “Dryer is Running” would display, but often only after it had been tumbling for some time.

My only other major complaint revolves around the general immaturity of the app. The biggest head-scratcher is the timer system. After you punch in your running time, the countdown time never changes within the app, so there’s no easy way to see how long the dryer has been running. Tap in 45 minutes and the display remains at 45 minutes until you get a push notification that the time is up, or you manually stop the load. Even my 25-year-old dryer has a countdown timer; this seems like an incredibly basic feature that any app built in 2020 should include. Alexa is supported, letting you ask if your laundry is done, for example, but setup is more convoluted than you’ll find with more mature devices, so be sure to follow the configuration instructions exactly.

SmartDry Christopher Null / IDG

The SmartDry sensor adheres magnetically inside your dryer’s drum.

Beyond that, SmartDry works fairly well. If you’re drying a reasonably sized load of clothes, most of its alerts are effective. (I recommend setting alerts to “permanent” so you don’t miss them.) The timer does push a notification to your phone—countdown or no—when it’s finished running, as does the “dryer stopped” alert. I never got any of the heat-related “delicates” alerts, oddly, though the app did show a live view of my laundry’s temperature.

Dryness notifications worked better: The “less dry” notification gave me clothes that were still a bit damp, while the “dry” and “very dry” notifications indeed corresponded to laundry that was ready to retrieve. Sure, if your teenage daughter overstuffs the dryer completely with two weeks’ worth of attire, SmartDry won’t be able to tell that the core of her densely-packed clothes spheroid isn’t dry, but this is really a question of user error. While it also struggles with items like extra-thick towels, all told, SmartDry did fulfill its promise of saving save my clothes from damage by letting me shut off the dryer sooner than I otherwise would have.

Of course, SmartDry also offers another final benefit for users even if you don’t care if your t-shirts get scorched: Per the company, users typically save around 15 minutes of unnecessary drying time per load, saving energy and reducing your home’s environmental footprint.

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At a Glance
  • This inexpensive upgrade can give your old dryer wireless features—and save you money in the process.

    Pros

    • Generally easy setup
    • Solid environmental selling point
    • Push and Alexa notifications

    Cons

    • Some wireless communication hiccups during operation
    • App is woefully immature, and Alexa setup is a bit of a bear
    • Battery replacement requires removing four tiny screws
  
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