A couple of days ago my Kenmore dryer went on the fritz, leaving behind a wet load of laundry on a rainy weekend. I purchased this clothes dryer used about four years ago and at the time of purchase I estimated that it was at least ten years old. Considering that this dryer had approximately 14 years of use, it came as no surprise that it decided to stop working. The drum still rotated, however, no heat was being produced. While it could have been a number of sensors, my first assumption was that the heating element had gone bad because this is a common problem with older dryers. The heating element is a simple coil like device that heats up, much like the element on a toaster oven. The heat from the element is drawn into the drum with the assistance of a blower fan which pulls air out of the drum and to the exhaust port. The clothes dryer is a relatively simple device that can be repaired by any do-it-yourselfer. Before assuming that the element has gone bad in your dryer, you will want to pull this device and check the leads for continuity.
How to Remove and Replace the Heating Element on a Dryer
Tools That You Will Need
- Flat tip screw driver
- Phillips screwdriver
- ¼” socket screwdriver
- ¼” socket
- Vacuum or air compressor
- New heating element
- Damp rag with cleaning agent
Step 1: Disconnect the Electrical Cord
There is a total of 220 volts or more traveling from your dryer receptacle to your dryer. Two 110 volt circuit hot wires join together in order to form 220 volts. Never attempt to work on a dryer that is plugged into the wall. 220 volts is enough to cause serious personal injury and possibly even death. Before you get started, disconnect the power going to your dryer by carefully unplugging the plug from the receptacle. It only takes a second and could save your life.
Step 2: Pull Dryer Out and Disconnect the Exhaust Tubing
Once the clothes dryer electricity has been disconnected from the receptacle, continue by removing the dryer exhaust tubing. The tubing is located between the dryer exhaust port and the wall connection and is usually constructed of aluminum flex pipe or steel duct tubing. Some states require that you use the steel duct tubing because it is less likely to leak when compared to the flex tubing. In order to access the tubing you will have to pull the dryer away from the wall slightly. Flex tubing is typically held on with giant radiator hose clamps and can be removed with a flat tip screwdriver or a socket. Steel tubing is usually held together by a few Phillips screws. Carefully disconnect all exhaust tubing and closely inspect for damage. The thin aluminum foil flex hoses break down after several years of use and will leak hot, humid air into your home. My dryer had one of these cheap aluminum flex tubes and it in fact had several small holes that were allowing hot air to escape into my home. I decided to replace it with a thick aluminum flex hose. While not as durable as steel, it was my only option because close quarters would not allow me to replace it with a hard steel tube.
Step 3: Remove the Back Cover Plate From the Dryer
In order to access the heating element you will need to remove the back cover plate. This is a fairly simple task that can be accomplished with a 1/4 “ socket screwdriver and a ¼” socket. There are usually 8 to 10 screws that are used to attach the cover to the clothes dryer. Carefully remove the cover and set it to the side. You should see all of the dryers electrical components including the blower motor, various sensors, and the heating element. If your dryer is anything like mine, you may have a difficult time identifying all of these components because of dense collection of lint. It is extremely important that you remove all of this lint because it is a serious fire hazard. I will explain more later on.
Step 4 Remove the Heating Element and Inspect
The heating element is usually located at the bottom right of the dryer. This component can be identified because it will have 2 red wires running to the box in addition to 2 wires running to a nearby sensor. Take careful note of how these wires are positioned and disconnect all four. Use your ¼” socket to remove the four screws that hold the heating element to the clothes dryer. This should come out as a unit that is about a foot long by 4” wide by 3” deep. Inside there will be a series of coils wrapped around a set of insulators. Closely inspect the unit for a broken coil wire. What happens is that these heat up and break in 1 point, causing the circuit to disconnect. If a break in the coil is not obvious at first, use a multi-meter to check the circuit for continuity. Set the multi-meter to the continuity setting and touch one probe to one lead and the other probe to the other lead. If no continuity is present, you have a bad heating element. While it may be tempting to simply crimp the element back together, don’t do it. It will soon fail again and could potentially be a fire hazard. It is best to replace this unit for peace of mind.
Step 5: Order a New Heating Element
Once you have determined that the heating element is in fact the culprit, find a replacement part online and order it. If you have a wife in the house then it would be a good idea to do this as soon as possible to avoid future disputes. If you purchase locally you should expect to pay around $60 to $80 plus tax for a heating element. Online, heating elements cost as little as $25 and usually range between $25 and $45. Take downtime into consideration when deciding who to purchase from. If you have 10 loads of laundry backed up and need clothes for the work week then it may be a good idea to bite the bullet and pay the extra money to purchase locally or pay extra for overnight shipping. If you have a bit of time to spare you can get a much better price. I sometimes order from appliancepartspros.com but this time I ordered from Patriot Supply which is located in New York. I actually purchased the part through eBay for $24.95 which included free shipping. The part arrived on time and was of decent quality.
Step 6: Clean Dryer Out
After disassembling my dryer I was amazed that my dryer never caught on fire. Lint was present in every crack and crevice, sometimes 2” thick. I actually found a bit of lint on the heating element that was charred and started to catch on fire. While this seemed shocking, it was nothing compared to what I was about to see next. I removed the dryer lint tube which also is a pathway for hot air to leave the dryer and travel to the exhaust port. To remove this, take out the four screws which attach it to the frame. Next, remove the 2 screws on the dryer top that hold the lint tube in. It should easily separate from the blower cage. Once I removed this duct work I found 2” to 3” of sand in the bottom along with a few inches of lint. I always use the lint filter and frequently clean it. The obstruction was so severe that I still can not understand how my dryer still worked. I suppose this is why it took 2 cycles to dry a light load.
In order to clean it you will want to start by taking your dryer outside. Use compressed air to blow the dust and dirt out of all the cracks and crevices. This is the best possible tool that you can use but if a compressor is not available a good strong vacuum will work. Once all components are cleaned out, use a damp rag with a mild cleaning agent to wipe the remaining dust off. Allow all components to air dry before attempting to assemble.
Step 7: Install New Heating Element
Once your machine has been thoroughly cleaned, it is time to install the new heating element. Start by comparing the old element to the new element to ensure that you have the same part. Depending on the manufacture, some details may vary but it should be very close to the original part. After confirming the part, remove the heat sensor from the old heating element and install it in the new one. This is easily removed by backing out the one screw that holds it in. Use four screws to mount the element, being cautious not to alter the heating element in any way. Plug in the two heat sensor connections and the two heating element connections. Congratulations, the element has now been replaced. Now it is time to get your dryer back together.
Step 8: Assemble Your Dryer
Start by replacing the blower duct work. Ensure that the duct work seats and has a tight seal around the blower motor hole. This seal often gets brittle and should be replaced if broken. Create a nice tight seal so that air can not escape. Tighten the mounting screws and don’t forget the screws located on the top of the machine. Install the back cover plate by lining up the holes and inserting the corresponding sheet metal screws. Next, install the exhaust tubing and carefully slide the dryer back into place, taking extra precaution not to crimp the duct work while installing the dryer.
Step 9: Test the Dryer
Once everything is back together, insert the plug into the receptacle and turn on the dryer to the “extra dry” setting. Ensure that the dryer is heating up and working properly before you try to dry a load of laundry.
My dryer is not blowing hot air after replacing the heating element. What is wrong with my dryer?
- You likely have a problem elsewhere such as in a sensor or the timer. It is also possible that you received a bad heating element. Start by checking for current at the element leads.
My dryer will not turn on after replacing the heating element. How can I fix this?
- More than likely you accidentally disconnected an electrical wire or lead. Unplug, remove the back cover and ensure that all wires are connected. Also, check your circuit breaker to ensure that the power to the outlet is on.
My dryer now has a burning smell while on. What is going on?
- While replacing the element you may have stirred up dust on the element. This smell should last shortly and then go away. If it continues, discontinue use and investigate the problem.
For more how to instructions on repairing appliances check out this article on how to repair a Kenmore washing machine.