How to Fix a Clothes Dryer That Isn’t Drying

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Is your dryer not drying your clothes all of a sudden? Take these steps to find the problem and fix your machine.

You know how to do laundry and how to select the best dryer settings for your clothes. Heck, you even know the difference between dryer sheets and dryer balls. You’re well-versed in the art of laundry, but all of a sudden, the normal settings don’t seem to be doing the trick. Your clothes are coming out wet or damp, or taking much longer to dry than usual. Face it: You’re dealing with a dryer not drying.

If your dryer is under a decade old—that is, on average, how long washers and dryers last—don’t rush to replace it with the latest and best washer and dryer set. There may be several reasons why you’re dealing with a dryer not drying clothes properly, and many of them are instant fixes you can do without the help of an expert.

If you notice any of the following issues, there is a good chance your dryer is not working properly: The dryer is not heating. It is not turning on or starting. It’s not tumbling. Or it makes a lot of noise. “Sometimes, you may not notice any of these telltale signs of a broken dryer, but you will notice that your clothes come out of the dryer still wet or extremely hot to the touch,” says Gary Childers, a fabric care scientist and appliance expert with Procter & Gamble. “This is another indicator that your dryer is malfunctioning.”

Steps to take if your dryer isn’t drying your clothes

Black woman doing laundryAriel Skelley/Getty Images

Dryer not drying your clothes? There are a handful of reasons your machine isn’t doing its job. By taking the steps below, you can rule out potential problems, determine why your dryer is not drying, and find out how to fix it.

1. Make sure it isn’t overloaded

One of the most common answers to the question “Why is my dryer not drying” is also one of the easiest to fix. The issue: You’re packing way too many items into the dryer. “It is important to make sure the dryer is not being overloaded,” says Childers. “Overloading the dryer can cause issues with drying performance and noise when too much weight is inside the dryer.”

When you squeeze too many clothes into the dryer (an attempt to do fewer loads of laundry, no doubt), you decrease the airflow needed to properly dry clothes, which might explain why your clothes come out hot but not dry. Overloading also makes the dryer work harder, uses more energy, and increases drying time. Childers suggests never filling the dryer drum more than three-quarters full.

2. Check the settings

Using the wrong setting to dry your laundry can definitely impact the time it takes to dry clothes. For example, if you select the air-dry setting or gentle cycle for a load filled with jeans, towels, and sheets, your laundry may come out damp because you chose a too-low setting. After all, it’s one thing to know how to wash towels; it’s another to know the right setting for drying them.

To make sure you’re not using too much or too little heat, pay attention to the laundry symbols on your garments. They’ll make clear what dryer setting is best.

3. Clean the filter

Shawn Ashby, a laundry brand manager with Whirlpool, suggests checking the lint filter. Sure, you know you should clean it regularly, but do you actually do it? Lint blocking the airflow of the dryer is a common culprit behind dryers not drying.

Failing to clean lint out of the dryer’s filter isn’t just getting in the way of drying your clothes. It’s also the leading cause of dryer fires, warns the U.S. Fire Administration.

“We recommend making sure the lint screen is clean and that you clean the screen before every use,” Ashby explains. “Wet lint is harder to remove, so don’t scrub or use water.”

Start by removing the screen by pulling it up, then gently remove the lint from the screen by hand and put the lint trap back. “If you notice lint collecting on areas of the screen or plugging the mesh, the screen may be more difficult to clean by hand,” says Ashby. That’s where a heavier cleaning comes in.

Every six months, do a deep cleaning of the lint screen. Here’s how to accomplish that in four easy steps:

Young woman is removing lint from fluff dust filter of the tumble dryer. Dust and dirt trapped by the clothes dryer filter. Laundry processesaquaArts studio/Getty Images

  1. Roll the lint off the screen.
  2. Wet both sides of the screen with hot water.
  3. Scrub with a nylon brush, hot water, and liquid detergent to remove any buildup.
  4. Rinse with hot water and dry thoroughly.

4. Check the external dryer vent

Another place lint can block airflow is the vent on the outside of the house where dryer air exits. If your machine is working properly, an unobstructed stream of hot air will exit the vent when it’s operating. “Your dryer’s exhaust vent may be clogged if dry times are lagging, clothes aren’t getting dry, or you can’t feel air moving through the outside vent,” says Ashby.

Cleaning your dryer vent is essential. You can save money by cleaning the vent yourself, but if you can’t find or access your dryer duct and outside exhaust fan (or if you’re not confident in your DIY abilities), schedule a service appointment.

5. Clean deep inside the vent

If you have cleaned out the lint filter or you can’t feel the air moving through the outside vent, it is possible there is lint buildup deeper inside of the vent. “We recommend removing lint from the entire length of the vent system at least every two years,” says Ashby.

If you’re not able to schedule a service appointment, you can do it yourself by purchasing a vent cleaning kit and follow these essential steps.

  1. Locate your dryer’s exhaust vent and remove the plastic cover that protects the end of the vent.
  2. Unplug your dryer’s power supply cord. “If you have a gas model, you’ll want to close the shut-off valve in the gas supply line, then disconnect and cap the supply line pipe,” he says.
  3. Remove any tape or clamps holding the exhaust vent pipe to the vent on the back of your dryer.
  4. Push the brush from your dryer cleaning kit as gently and as far as possible into either end of your dryer duct. Make sure to follow any turns or corners.
  5. Clean up any lint that comes out the opposite side of the duct, then reconnect the vent pipe and power cord and/or gas supply.
  6. Slide your dryer back into place and run an empty dryer cycle for ten to 15 minutes to blow out residual dust and confirm that the vent is clean.

6. Make sure the vent system is installed correctly

If the dryer’s not drying after that, Ashby recommends checking the installation instructions from when you initially installed your dryer to confirm that you installed the dryer vent system correctly. “For example, you’ll want to make sure the vent system falls within the recommended run length and number of elbows for the type of vent that you’re using,” he says.

It also matters what type of vent you use. “Make sure you only use rigid metal or flexible metal vent material,” says Ashby. “Rigid metal vents are recommended for best drying performance and to avoid crushing and kinking.”

If a kinked or crushed vent can spell trouble. “Kinked or crushed exhaust vent material slows moist air from leaving the dryer and extends drying time,” he says. “Replace any plastic or metal foil vent with rigid or flexible heavy metal vent. The dryer vent should be installed four inches away from the wall. You’ll want to make sure that the vent is not crushed or kinked.”

7. Clean the sensor

Some dryers detect moisture through sensor bars within the dryer, notes Childers. Many machine manufacturers recommend cleaning the sensors to get accurate moisture detection. “If these are not cleaned, the dryer could take longer to dry the clothes,” he points out. Refer to your user manual for specific manufacturer instructions.

8. Make sure the dryer is in a ventilated space

According to Ashby, one of the most common reasons for a dryer not drying clothes properly is that it is located in a closet too small for the appliance. “If installed in a closet, the closet doors must have ventilation openings at the top and bottom of the door,” he says. “The front of the washer/dryer requires a minimum of three inches of airspace, one inch on the sides. And for most installations, the rear of the washer/dryer requires four inches.”

Not sure whether your space is a good fit for your specific washer? See your machine’s installation instructions for more information about space requirements.

9. Check for heat

Make sure heat is working by turning on the dryer for five to ten minutes. “Hold your hand under the outside exhaust hood to check air movement,” says Ashby. “If the air movement is less than a hair dryer on high speed, clean the lint from the entire length of the system and the exhaust hood.”

Is your dryer not heating but otherwise working? When there’s no heat but the machine spins, it could be an issue with the heating element or thermal fuse. In this case, you should check your user manual for next steps. If you feel comfortable replacing the broken piece yourself, have at it—but check your user manual for the correct steps. Otherwise, call in an expert.

What to do if your dryer won’t turn on

Your dryer not drying may have less to do with a lack of heat and more to do with the fact that you can’t get the darn thing to turn on. If that’s the case, you might’ve blown a fuse or tripped a circuit.

“Before examining the circuits, be very cautious, as there is an electrical shock hazard when working with fuses and circuits,” Ashby warns.

If your clothes dryer refuses to turn on, Childers and Ashby suggest following these steps.

  • Make sure all buttons and cycles are selected properly on the controls.
  • Once that is done, make sure the dryer cord is not frayed and is fully plugged in.
  • Check to ensure a circuit breaker hasn’t been tripped. Reset the circuit breaker if necessary.
  • Make sure both fuses are intact and tight. If not, replace the faulty fuses.
  • Check the door switch. Some front-loading dryers use a door switch to tell the machine whether the door is open or closed. The safety feature prevents the dryer from running while the door is open. But, says Ashby, the door switch could possibly break the electrical circuit (as can another malfunctioning sensor, the thermal fuse). When sensors glitch, they can cause the dryer to stop working as it should. “[The door switch] can easily be replaced with a few simple tools,” he says.

If the steps above don’t fix the issue, Ashby says, “please contact a qualified electrician for assistance.”

What to do if your dryer starts but won’t tumble

If your clothes dryer starts but the drum (the place where you put your laundry) won’t turn, it could mean a belt that helps rotate the drum is broken or that the motor has gone bad. “Refer to your user manual or a licensed service technician to troubleshoot,” Childers says.

When to call an expert

Clothes Dryer Repair in Laundry Roompastorscott/Getty Images

Address any dryer issues as soon as possible. “The key is to identify the problem as it begins rather than waiting later to deal with the issue,” Ashby says. “If you experience any larger issues, it is best to go to a professional to troubleshoot and resolve the problems.”

As to when you should call in the pros, that depends on whether the issue is beyond your abilities. If you can handle the DIY repairs, you may save some money. But if you’re not so confident in your ability to correctly follow how-to steps, make a call to your local repair technician.

“Going to a professional will help to understand the problem [and] troubleshoot and resolve it,” Ashby explains. Many appliance companies offer extended service plans for any appliance, which could help you save on repairs.

When to get a new dryer

Clothes dryers typically last 10 to 13 years. “Many improvements in energy efficiency and clothing care occur over that time, so if a dryer reaches this age or you start to see a drop in performance, it may be time to think about getting a new dryer,” Childers says.

Many new dryers have key features, such as steam cycles (so you can ditch the steam iron), the ability to send notifications to your phone or device, and specialty cycles that older models are not designed to deliver.

Sources:

  • Gary Childers, fabric care scientist and appliance expert with Procter & Gamble
  • Shawn Ashby, laundry brand manager with Whirlpool
  • U.S. Fire Administration: “Clothes Dryer Fire Safety Materials”

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Leah Groth
Leah is a Philadelphia-based writer, editor, mother and product junkie. Her obsessions include old houses, home design, fashion, beauty, books and anything that makes her life — which includes working full-time and taking care of two "spirited" children and a Vizsla puppy — a little bit easier. Her work has appeared on a variety of publications and websites, including Glamour, Prevention, Business Insider, Livestrong, Mindbodygreen, Fatherly, Scary Mommy, Wonderwall and Cosmopolitan.