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Approximately 2,900 home fires originate with clothes dryers every year, leading to deaths, injuries, and millions in property damage. So, if your dryer smells like it’s burning, you have every reason to be concerned!
Dryer burning smells are almost never normal, but they’re often easy to fix. If you notice a concerning odor coming from your dryer, read on. We’ll walk you through the possible causes, when and when not to be concerned, and what you can do to fix the problem.
When Not to Be Concerned About Dryer Burning Smell
In certain situations, signs of burning in your dryer aren’t a concern. If either of these applies to you, you probably don’t need to worry about your dryer catching fire.
My Dryer Is Brand New
When your dryer is brand new, it’s almost certain to release strange smells. These smells can sometimes resemble burning plastic or rubber.
With a new dryer, these scents are usually from coatings the manufacturer of certain parts might use. When the parts heat up during regular dryer operation, the coatings burn off, releasing concerning scents. Fortunately, the odors should dissipate after the first few uses.
The Vent Inside My Dryer Looks Burned
If the vent inside your dryer looks burned or if you see dryer burn marks near the vent but don’t smell anything, your dryer is probably okay.
When you purchase a brand new dryer, the vent inside will look shiny and new, but high heat and dye residue from your clothes can discolor it over time. It may look like dryer burn residue but is actually part of normal wear and tear. Unless a burning smell accompanies the discoloration, there’s no fire hazard to be concerned about.
If there’s a smell, though, be it burnt rubber, melting plastic, or straight smoke, start by turning the dryer off. Then read through the troubleshooting steps in the next section to solve the problem.
Concerning Reasons For Your Dryer’s Burning Smells
Unfortunately, a dryer that smells like smoke or burning plastic usually requires a fix. Some of these fixes are easy for you to do at home; others may require you to call a professional.
Regardless, though, if your dryer smells like burning plastic or any other burnt substance, the first step is to turn it off. Remove the clothing inside and unplug the entire unit. Or, for gas appliances, turn off the gas valve. Then, you can move through the troubleshooting steps below.
Dryer Smells Like Burning – Lint Buildup
A dryer that smells like burning is more often than not because something is burning, usually lint. You should clean the lint trap after every use, but even if you’re good about that, lint can end up stuck around the lint trap’s edges. From there, it can fall into the dryer’s cabinet, which contains the heating element.
Fixing Lint Buildup
Fortunately, you can fix this with a simple vacuum and hose attachment. Use the hose attachment to clean the lint out of the trap area. You can also remove the dryer’s back panel and clean any lint fragments out of the cabinet.
While you’re at it, it’s probably a good idea to clean any lint bits from around or beneath the dryer itself. Less lint means less risk of fires starting!
Dryer Smells Like Smoke – Vent Hose Blockages
Lint traps catch most of the lint from clothes and linens but, no matter what you do, some of the lint will end up in the vent hose pipe at the back of your dryer. A vent hose is a flexible pipe about four inches wide. It attaches to the back of the dryer and then leads to the exterior of your house or garage, sometimes connecting to a rigid metal pipe before going through the wall.
Vent pipes are how hot air escapes, so a vent pipe blockage forces hot air to back up into the dryer cabinet. If that hot air builds up, any lingering lint fibers can catch fire, but first, you’ll smell something burning.
Manufacturers usually recommend that you clean your vent hose once per year to help eliminate fire risk, but many of us fail to do so. So, if your dryer smells like smoke, checking the vent hose is a good idea.
Cleaning Your Vent Hose
You can locate the outer vent hose at the nearest exterior wall. There should be a vent cover there that you can remove. Be careful as you do this; dryer vents are common nesting spots for hornets and wasps.
Once you remove the vent cover, you can check for blockages, including excess lint and insect nests. You can also check for damage to the hose itself. Depending on what you see, you may be able to clear the blockage on your own, or you may need to call in professional help to fix the vent hose.
Dryer Smells Like Fire – Failing Thermostat
If your clothes come out of your dryer smelling burned, there’s a chance your dryer is getting too hot! Dryers have thermostats that sometimes fail over time. A failing thermostat can allow for too much heat and create a dangerous fire hazard.
Testing and Replacing Your Dryer’s Thermostat
You can test your dryer’s thermostat using an ohmmeter. An ohmmeter is a simple tool that measures electrical resistance, and you can pick one up for a reasonable price at your local hardware store.
Next, dig out your owner’s manual and determine where the thermostat is. Then, follow the manual’s instructions to remove it. Test the thermostat with the ohmmeter, and beware of any readings other than zero.
A non-zero reading means the thermostat is broken. If you’re mechanically inclined, you might be able to fix this yourself, but for most of us, this is the point where you should call professional help.
Dryer Smells Like Burnt Rubber – Bad Drive Belt
If your dryer smells like burning rubber or your dryer smells like it’s burning and won’t start, there’s probably something wrong with the drive belt. The drive belt wraps around the dryer drum and then loops around the motor on one side. So, as the motor runs, it turns the drum of your dryer and tumble-dries your clothes.
Many dryers use rubber belts to turn their drums. If a rubber belt slips or becomes worn over time, it can melt or create unnecessary friction, leading to burnt rubber smells, smoke, and sometimes a dryer that won’t start.
Fixing a Bad Drive Belt
To locate the drum and belt, you’ll probably need to remove the dryer cover, which may mean moving your dryer to a place where the top and back are easily accessible. For many, it’s easier to call professional help than it is to attempt this yourself.
If you can locate the drum and belt, though, the belt is relatively easy to replace. You’ll take the dryer drum out of its housing by carefully disconnecting any electrical wires and fasteners holding it in place. Then, you can remove the old belt and slide a new one on, which should fix the problem.
Dryer Smells Like Gas – Bad Motor or Ignitor
If you’re wondering, “why does my dryer smell like gas?” you might have an issue with your dryer’s motor or ignitor. A damaged dryer motor or a bad ignitor can make your dryer smell like fire, smoke, or gas. It’s especially scary when this happens because your dryer will also create a bunch of loud noises.
Fixing Your Dryer’s Motor or Ignitor
Unless you’re a dryer repair person, you’re probably not going to be able to fix this one alone. Turn off your dryer, unplug it, and call for professional help. A professional may fix the motor or recommend that you replace the dryer unit entirely.
If your dryer smells like gas even when it’s not running, though, you may have a bigger problem. Your gas valve may not be shutting off the way that it’s supposed to. Call your gas service company and turn off the gas to your home right away.
Dryer Smells Bad When Running – Check Your Clothes
If your dryer smells bad when running and you’ve already taken troubleshooting steps, like determining there’s no excess lint buildup in the vent hose, the problem could be with your clothes.
Detergents are potent cleaners, but they can’t get rid of everything. Certain chemicals, mineral spirits, gasoline, and paint thinner stick to clothing fibers even after washing them. If you put those clothes into the dryer, your clothes could start a fire, especially at higher temperatures. At the very least, your dryer will probably emit a smoky scent.
Fixing Your Clothes
If you wore your clothes while doing auto work, thinning paint, or something similar, you shouldn’t put them in the dryer, even after a thorough wash. Instead, line dry those clothes outside.
Most of the time, when your dryer smells like fire, it’s because of excess lint. Lint is the top cause of dryer fires in the US, but, fortunately, it’s easy to take care of. By cleaning the lint trap after every use, vacuuming out the area around the trap, and cleaning the vent hose once per year, you can prevent a dryer that smells like burning while reducing your fire risk.
Of course, there are other reasons your dryer can emit a burning smell. To fix it, use the troubleshooting tips above, and when necessary, call professional help.
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