Household Repairs: Fixing Common Dryer Problems

Common dryer problems can be simple to diagnose and repair. Fix problems like not heating, not drying, not operating, or the drum not turning with these tips and instructions.

Household clothes dryers are simple appliances, but most families find them quite indispensable. Waiting for the repairman can be frustrating and time consuming when the dryer breaks down. There is an alternative, however. Many common dryer problems can be fixed by the consumer. Assess your dryer's symptoms, diagnose the problem, and then decide if you want to tackle it yourself. You'll need some simple tools, including a screwdriver (for removing access panels) and a volt-ohm meter for checking electrical components. You also will need to know your dryer's manufacturer and model number and have access to an appliance parts store that carries components for your brand of dryer. Remember that any time you are working on an appliance, you should make sure that it is unplugged from the wall before doing any disassembly or other work.

Common dryer problems that can be checked and generally fixed by the consumer include the dryer not starting, the drum not turning, and the clothing not drying in a timely fashion. These symptoms can have several different causes, and most can be remedied by replacing a defective part or making a minor adjustment. You can save time and money by checking these common problems out yourself and perhaps fixing them without calling a repair service.

If the dryer doesn't turn on, there are several possible problems to check. First, make sure an electric dryer is plugged into an outlet that can carry 240 volts. Electric dryers need special outlets to provide the correct amount of power. Gas dryers use a 120 volt outlet, but still need to be plugged in. Look at the power cord, too. If the cord looks burned or abnormal in any way, further assessment of the electrical system is in order. Next, check the circuit breaker or fuse that protects the outlet. Make sure that the breaker or fuse has not been tripped or blown. If the electrical supply is reaching the dryer and it is still not starting, there may be a problem with the switch in the door or with the thermostat, the start switch, or the timer in the dryer itself. Most dryers will not operate if the door is not closed completely. Check the door catch to be sure it is working properly. You'll need to remove the front panel of the dryer door to access the catch for cleaning, adjustment, repair, or replacement. There is also a switch in the door of the dryer that serves as a safety device. It is usually a button or lever that is depressed when the door is closed, and you should be able to see it in the area that the door covers. This switch can malfunction and cause the dryer not to start. Check the door switch by lifting the top access panel of the dryer and using a volt-ohm meter to test its integrity. Replace it if defective.

The thermostat, start switch, and timer mechanisms are all located in the dryer's control panel. Remove the cover of the control panel to access these parts, and check each for burnt or corroded terminals. Replace any with bad terminals. If terminals look all right, check them with a volt-ohm meter. To test these parts, disconnect their leads and attach the volt-ohm meter. Make sure the dryer settings are turned to a normal drying cycle. In all of these parts, if the meter reads zero, then the part is functioning normally. High readings mean that the part is not working. Replace the part that is defective. Some newer models of dryers have combined these parts into one part, or have a collection of special-function parts. These complex parts will need the attention of an experienced technician or a person knowledgeable about circuitry and electrical devices. They are not amenable to simple, do-it-yourself repairs.

If the dryer turns on but the drum does not rotate, chances are very good that the belt that drives the system is worn or broken. Dryers will often make a loud bang if the belt breaks during a cycle. A worn belt may be responsible for a thumping noise as the dryer runs. You can check the belt's status by opening the dryer door and turning the drum manually. A slow thumping sound that matches the speed of your turning indicates that the belt is the problem. If the drum turns very easily, chances are good that the belt is broken. Open both the top and front access panels, lift the drum a bit, and pull the old belt off. Pay attention to the path that the belt uses to connect the drum to the motor so that you can duplicate the threading when you replace it. Use the dryer's manufacturer and model number to purchase the correct belt from the dealer. Put the new belt on so that the bumpy side is next to the drum.

Another common problem is that the dryer seems to be running properly, but does not dry the clothing adequately or takes a very long time to do so. This problem can be related to the vent. Dryers with unsound venting systems may respond by turning off the heat for part of the cycle. First, check the lint filters and clean them if needed. Check for a clogged vent hose. One way to check this is by removing the hose from the back of the dryer and running a small load to see that improves the situation. Clean up any lint that is trapped in the hose, around the outlet where the hose plugs into the dryer or at the outlet where the vented air is sent outside. Remember that your vent hose should be made of flexible metal or rigid metal. The white plastic vent hose and the foil types are considered fire hazards and also increase drying times tremendously. A vent with a long vertical run will also cause increased drying times.

A dryer that runs but does not dry the clothing may also have a bad heater, a faulty thermostat or a bad timer. Check the thermostat and timer using the method described above in the third paragraph. An electric dryer's heater is located in the back of the dryer. Remove the back access panel and check the heater with a volt-ohm meter. Disconnect its leads and attach the meter. A reading between eight and twenty indicates the heater is in good working order. Higher readings mean the device is defective. You can also check to see if the heater is grounded (which it should not be). Disconnect the leads and put one meter probe into a terminal and touch the other to the heater duct. If the reading is high, the device is working properly. If the reading is low, the heater is grounded. Replace the heater with one recommended by the manufacturer.

For a gas dryer, the heater is powered by gas jets. The burner is located at the bottom of the dryer. Take off the lower access panel and watch the flame while the dryer is operating. The flame should be blue and quiet to indicate a proper mix of fuel and oxygen. If the flame is too light in color and there is a roaring sound, there is too much air in the mixture. If the flames have yellow tips, there is too little air. Adjust the air shutter in the burner so that the flame is blue and does not make a roaring sound. If there are still problems, it's time to call a repairman, because gas burners are complicated machines that require an experienced professional to repair.

A dryer that runs but does not dry clothing well could also have a bad seal on the door. This will allow cool air to enter the dryer during its cycle and slow the drying process. Check the door for leaks by running the dryer with the door closed and moving a piece of tissue paper over the gap between the door and the body of the dryer. A leak will suck the tissue towards the dryer as the cool outside air is sucked inward. This indicates that the door seal needs to be replaced. Some door seal gaskets are held in place with tabs, and others are glued with a special nonflammable adhesive. You can get these parts from your appliance dealer.

It is important to educate yourself about the appliances that you use frequently. By learning to diagnose and attend to these simple dryer repairs, you can save time and money. In addition, you can prevent small problems, such as a worn belt or clogged vent, from becoming major inconveniences. Your appliance will serve you most reliably for years to come if you maintain it properly and tend to small problems in a timely fashion.

© High Speed Ventures 2011