Wednesday, July 4, 2012

How to fix your dryer... maybe

A Little History
A few weeks before we closed on our home, a hurricane hit the northeast.  We found out the basement was significantly flooded due to overflow from a nearby stream.  Until the day of closing, we were told that the basement was treated and all the important equipment was fine.

At closing, we were told the dryer didn't work.  While it took some work, we were credited with what we believed to be the fair amount for the dryer.

The dryer actually worked fine at first, but conked out within a few weeks.  We used the money to call a appliance repairman and he identified a broken igniter as the problem.  Time and parts cost a bit over $200, but we were still in the black.

Flash Forward to Today
Pamela and I returned from our honeymoon with loads of laundry to do.  Pamela went first but noted the dryer was taking forever to dry her clothes.  Because we'd been through some issues before and I'd sat with the repairman, I knew a few things to check.  The latest problem was different, but I am happy to report that I was able to solve it.  I figured I'd write a few points below that might help you save on repair costs.

How to Maybe Fix Your Dryer
This really applies to the following symptoms which seem to be the most common:  your laundry either takes too long to dry or doesn't dry at all; you open the dryer while it is running and you note that the air inside is not hot.  I am also more specifically referring to a gas dryer.

  • Your dryer likely has its own diagnostics that you can run.  Find the directions in your owner's manual - if you don't have the manual, they are often posted online on Scribd or elsewhere, so just do a search
  • Diagnostic
    • The diagnostic may point you to the problem right away, but in my case, it did not
  • Run the dryer with the door open by pressing in the door switch
    • Put your hand by the lint trap - if there's no suction, you may have a clog in the lint trap, in the exhaust pipe within the dryer, or in the exhaust exiting your dryer going outside
    • You can disconnect the exhaust pipe in the back to see if air is flowing smoothly within the machine
    • If so, check the exhaust vent outside of your home - have birds made a nest?
    • Clogged exhaust can lead to overheating or to your dryer shutting off the heat pre-maturely
  • If that doesn't solve your problem, take the top cover off the dryer
    • Turn the dryer on and look down into the machine (best to do in the dark)
    • Do you see a glowing light come on?  If not, your igniter is likely broken and you'll need to buy a replacement
    • If your ignitor does glow, do you hear your gas come on?  If not, the most common failing piece is the gas valve coils.  Many companies sell these parts ($10 to $15), but some only sell the entire gas valve assembly (>$100) and you'll likely need a plumber to come in because this will require messing with your gas connection
    • If your ignitor comes on, and your gas comes on, but quickly turns off, this means one of two things.  Your gas valve coils may be bad - they may turn on but under electrical load they fail.  Alternatively, this could be a signal that your thermostat needs resetting or replacing.
    • Ignitor
      • Resetting the thermostat is the simplest.  You'll need to take off the front cover to access the thermostat which is likely near the heat tube.  Search on Google for your specific model and replacement parts.  Sites like Appliance Parts Pros have the schematics of your machine (which can also be found in your owner's manual) which should help you locate the thermostat.
      • Be sure to unplug the machine before you reach in there, then find the thermostat button and hit it.
  • You'll find on the web that there are additional tests you can run on the individual parts to see if they are malfunctioning, but they most often require a multimeter.
When our dryer broke the first time, we never got any heat.  The repairman showed me the broken ignitor - the coil was clearly broken about halfway up and therefore electricity wouldn't run through it to heat it up and ignite the gas.

This latest foray was luckily solvable by resetting the thermostat.  I ended up disassembling almost the entire dryer and ended up with 6 spare screws once I had pieced it all back together.

The internet is incredible - I couldn't even figure out how to remove the cover of the dryer on my own.  I'd like to note all the helpful sites, but there were too many sites that added just a little bit of info which helped me along the way.  One thing I will gripe about though - is the worst website ever.  It can contain good information, but it is difficult to navigate and it seems they just want you to click a lot to sell ad impressions.