How to Fix a Clothes Dryer That Isn’t Drying

Household annoyances don't get much more frustrating than fishing still-soggy clothes out of a dryer that's finished running.

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I start each week with fresh clothesgradyreese/Getty ImagesYour dryer really has one job. When you take your clothes, bedding, or other items out of the dryer and they’re not dry, it can be seriously frustrating—especially because dryers are an expensive investment and you want them to work!

Luckily, if you notice this happening, it doesn’t necessarily mean you have to toss your dryer. There are a few things you can check on to remedy a dryer not drying situation. Plus, find out if it’s better to air-dry or machine-dry your clothes in the first place.

If it won’t turn on

If your dryer won’t start at all, there are a couple of things you can do, says Bryan Stoddard, founder of Homewares Insider. “Check if your machine is properly plugged in,” he suggests. “Also, inspect the cable for any damages, and make sure that the socket the dryer is plugged in functions properly, as well as your circuit breaker.” If you do have an electrical issue, that’s a bigger problem than your dryer, and you might need to contact a professional.

A more easily solved problem that could keep your dryer from starting? If the door isn’t closing. “Try checking if you’re able to properly seal the doors of the dryer, as it won’t start until it has detected that the doors are properly shut,” Stoddard says. This might seem like something that would be super obvious to you, but not necessarily. “Sometimes little pieces of dried material can accumulate and cause a slight distortion that will prevent the door switch from working properly,” explains Stoddard.

Dryer not drying: You’re overstuffing it

The more common problem with a dryer not drying is that you’re running the dryer, but the contents are still damp when the cycle is done. Stoddard’s first suggestion, if this is happening? Make sure you’re not trying to dry too much at once. There’s the possibility that “you’re putting in too much clothing into your particular dryer, and it’s simply unable to dry it all,” he says. One of the best things about having a dryer is that you toss your clothes in there and let it do all the work—but it can still only do so much. If you’re packing it with stuff, it’s simply unable to sufficiently dry it all. There are, however, lots of surprising things your dryer can do!

Dryer not drying: The heating element isn’t working

According to Stoddard, this is usually the most common reason for a dryer not drying: “There is something wrong with the heating element in your dryer that prevents it from working as intended.” He says that this shouldn’t be too hard to fix, but “if you’re feeling uncomfortable with opening the back of your dryer, I would suggest getting a professional to take a look and replace the faulty element.” You can also purchase a heating element yourself—just make sure it’s compatible with your dryer.

Dryer not drying: Blame your washing machine

It’s possible that the problem is not actually with your dryer but instead with your washer. Namely, if you’re using the wrong setting on your washer or it’s just broken, it could be soaking your clothes beyond anything the dryer can fully dry. “Your dryer can dry damp clothes but it is not made to work with soaking wet fabrics,” Barrett says. If you’re taking clothes out of the washer and they’re dripping, that’s a washer issue, and your dryer’s probably fine—it’s just not meant to do that much heavy lifting. Here are some ways you’re shortening the life of your washer/dryer.

Dryer not drying: Clogged vent

If your clothes dryer feels really hot, but your clothes take forever to dry, the vent may be clogged. A clogged vent traps the excess hot air inside the dryer’s drum, but the low circulation of air keeps clothes from getting dry. Make sure you’re always cleaning off the lint screen before you run the dryer. “There is a mesh-like covering that stops lint from leaving the inside of your dryer into the vent pipes,” Barrett specifies. “Probably the most common reason for wet clothes after a drying cycle is a problem with lint accumulation.” Worst-case scenario, a super-clogged vent could trigger a fire—a far bigger problem than a dryer not drying.

Dryer not drying: Pipe problems

This isn’t as common an issue, but there could be a problem with your dryer’s vent pipes. And it could be a problem that goes all the way back to your dryer’s installation. “It is not unusual for technicians to install exhaust pipes that are not suitable for the particular drying machine,” Barrett says. “Typical vent pipes should be between three and five inches in diameter. Bigger or smaller sizes are usable but usually as an exception rather than a norm.” This is another situation where you might want to call in a pro to get your dryer back in working order.

You should also check your pipes for any sharp turns or pinches. Check for a kink or sag in the duct, and straighten the hose if necessary. Barrett says that lint can accumulate here, too: “Vacuuming inside the pipes does a great job of maintaining them in proper condition.” You can also replace the vent pipe if it’s super kinked or you keep encountering this problem regularly. Watch out for these things that should never end up in your dryer.

Dryer not drying: Gas blocked

If you have a dryer that runs on gas, there’s another potential reason it may not be working. “It is not rare to see people trying to dry clothes with the gas valve closed,” Barrett says. “This means that the machine will not have an energy source to produce the needed heat for the drying.” All you need to do is check the gas valve to see whether it’s open.

Dryer not drying: Tweak the settings

This might seem like an obvious reason, but it’s still a possibility. You might not be running the dryer on high enough settings! “People tend to overprotect their beloved clothes from the drying machine,” Barrett says. But if the clothes aren’t coming out dry, you might have to turn it up a little higher. Don’t go crazy: “A good idea is to raise the temperature up a notch or two or keep the clothes inside for a few more minutes,” Barrett says. Another option? “Sometimes using the ‘automatic dry’ setting is better, since the machine will work until your clothes are dry regardless of the minutes it takes to get the job done.” Next, check out these appliances that are actually cheaper to replace than fix.

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Originally Published in Reader's Digest

Meghan Jones
Meghan Jones is a Staff Writer for RD.com who has been writing since before she could write. She graduated from Marist College with a Bachelor of Arts in English and has been writing for Reader's Digest since 2017. In spring 2017, her creative nonfiction piece "Anticipation" was published in Angles literary magazine. She is a proud Hufflepuff and member of Team Cap.