Innovation in the dryer category has made grooming salons safer and more efficient than ever, but it has also made the process of selecting the right equipment more challenging.
When I started grooming more than 30 years ago, we did not have high-velocity or force dryers. We had stand dryers and cage dryers—that’s it. And our choices were limited to only a few brands.
It was normal to take three hours to dry a long-coated Collie, not including the trim. I would towel dry the dog really well, and then have to use a cage dryer to continue the drying process. Ideally, I would cage dry until the dog was damp all over, but unless you had grates in your kennels, the dogs normally did not dry evenly. Next, I would fluff or hand-dry the dog the rest of the way.
As a result, drying was the most time-consuming part of the groom. And you can only imagine how much fun it was to remove dead undercoat without a force dryer. The process was crazy by today’s standards.
Dryers have evolved greatly over the years, with safety and efficiency acting as the driving forces, and today we have so many choices, the process of selecting a dryer can become quite confusing. With this in mind, it is vital to understand the key features you should consider in each segment of this important equipment category.
When looking for cage dryers, safety should always be your first priority. Look for a dryer with a timer; it is a perfect feature to prevent extended use. Most timers run up to one hour, but I recommend setting the timer no more than 10 to 15 minutes at a time. Then check the dog, move it around as you feel the dog and reset.
While it’s good if a dryer has different temperature settings, I only use low or cool. For a little extra insurance, placing a thermal sensor in the crate is a great way to prevent the cage temperature from exceeding a safe range. A pet’s core body temperature can become elevated to dangerous levels quickly. A dog’s body temperature should normally be between 100.5 and 102.5 degrees Fahrenheit. If the cage gets hotter than this, it will start elevating the dog’s core temperature.
Making sure the cage is well ventilated is another important preventive measure. Never cover the vents or doors, as heat must be able to escape and not build up in the cage. Also remember that some cage materials conduct heat, such as metal. With this in mind, make sure that if you use metal cages, they are oversized for the dog or cat and well ventilated.
Another important safety feature is a built-in GFI breaker box, and you want to be sure that the entire drying system is UL approved.
You will also want to look at the dryer’s air volume. The air must blow completely around the pet to be effective. Cage dryer velocity varies, but some push out 5,000 FPM on high.
The most important thing to remember with cage dryers is to never leave your canine clients unattended with this equipment on. Again, check the dogs every 10 to 15 minutes. Also, don’t forget the cardinal rule of cage drying: never place a brachiocephalic breed—dog or cat—in one.
I rarely use a cage dryer these days. I prefer to force-air dry most of my canine and feline clients now. However, when I get one that doesn’t want to be dried and is freaking out, or a breed with a very heavy double coat, I will air dry or cage dry to start the process. I am careful not to over dry the pet, as leaving it damp allows the dead coat to be released easier. I always hand dry the pet after air or cage drying, so I get the desired finish on the coat.
I consider fan-type dryers to be in the same category as cage dryers. They move air around a pet the same way as a heated cage dryer, without the heat. I prefer to use this type of dryer if I am going to use a cage type while the pet is waiting for its turn to be force dried.
Forced-air dryers have added a whole new dimension to pet grooming. Many use 19 amps of electricity, and some produce airflow at over 58,000 feet per minute, seriously speeding up the drying process. They come in a ton of shapes and sizes, but the most popular is the canister dryer. They also come with a variety of motor types, with some even having more than one motor.
At my shop we call this style of dryers “blasters” because the air is forced down a hose with a diffuser at the end to build up even more power. The attachments vary to increase or decrease air speed. The water peeler is a flat nozzle that attaches directly to the hose. It works best when laying flat against the coat, so the water “peels” off. Cone nozzles are even more forceful but make the most noise. They are very effective for drying and straightening the coat at the same time. They also force out dead coat when placed close to the dogs skin.
Forced-air dryers are the loudest of the three types of professional grooming dryers. They tend to have a high-pitched whistle. The good news is they normally do not have a heating element inside, but they do get warm because of the motor heat. You are not likely to burn a dog’s skin unless you hold the dryer nozzle in one place too long, so keep moving in a slow, methodical manner around the entire dog, watching the skin, until completely dry. If used correctly, these dryers can not only speed up the drying process, but also produce a better finish. I use a forced-air dryer to force the hair straight, minimizing the time needed to hand dry and finish the coat.
These dryers give groomers flexibility. Many come in variable speeds, and you have the ability to use large-ended nozzles or just remove the nozzle altogether for scared dogs and cats, and still get the pet dry to the skin.
Now, to finish the dog’s coat to perfection, it’s time to turn to the stand dryer. Stand dryers are designed for hand drying a pet by using directional airflow. Think of it as the iron following a clothes dryer. These dryers produce more heat, using a heating element. A helpful feature of stand dryers is that they keep both hands free to hold the brush and the pet while you finish drying. When brushing the coat, make sure that the spot you are working on is the spot the air is blowing on. Always move the dryer with your brush. You want to blow through and brush every inch of the pet.
When shopping for a stand dryer, I look for less volume, so I can manipulate the hair as I brush. Some blow a lot of air, are very loud and make it hard to maneuver through the coat. I prefer they blow less air and are quiet.
If you don’t keep cage dryers and use a stand dryer on a cage from time to time, only use it on cool or warm, and never leave the pet unattended. Remember, stand dryers get hotter than the other two styles of dryers by design, so turn them way down to be safe. This is not the intended use for these dryers.
There are a couple of other key things to consider when buying a dryer. There are two distinct dryer motor styles—those that require brushes and brushless motors. Brushless motors are more efficient and tend to last up to 10 times longer than a motor that uses brushes, but they are more expensive.
A traditional brushed motor is made up of four basic parts: carbon brushes, a ring of magnets, an armature and a commentator. The magnets and brushes are stationary, while the armature and commentator rotate together on the motor shaft within the magnets.
A brushless motor loses the brushes and the commentator, and the locations of the magnets and windings are reversed. In addition, brushless motors can be quieter and more powerful overall by design. Brushless motors also don’t have the friction and power drop that brushes create by dragging against the spinning commentator. This physical contact results in a continuous energy loss during the operating process. The benefits of brushless technology are great, but it will be a while before brushless motor technology is used in all dryers because of the extra cost.
Another important element of selecting a dryer is noise. It is hard to give up power for less noise, but consider the facts about the noise created by all three styles of dryers. Noise level measurements for most dryers exceed allowable and safe levels, given the length of time a groomer may be working with the dryers in a given day. The use of ear protection should be standard for dog groomers exposed to dryer noise for more than one hour to be in compliance with regulations set by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). In fact, it is recommended that you use ear protection for any amount of exposure.
Dogs are not considered to be at risk of hearing damage from dryer noise because of the minimal time exposed. However, dogs are easier to handle during the drying process if their ears are protected during use. I use cotton balls, but it is important to remember to remove them after the dog is completely dry. You will also want to be careful not to place forced air in to the eyes, ears, nose or mouth of the pet. This is very scary and extremely uncomfortable for dogs. It can also cause damage in the inner ear and to the eyes.
Christina Pawlosky is a Certified Master Groomer, professional handler, breeder, and successful pet store and grooming shop owner (The Pet Connection) since 1985. She is currently the National Training Manager for Oster Professional Products and produces grooming DVDs through her website GroomerWorks.com.