My dryer gets hot but doesn't dry & the clothes smell funny

Updated February 21, 2017

If a clothes dryer gets hot but doesn't dry clothes and leaves them with a funny smell, there may be a problem with the dryer's ventilation system. Dryers work by heating and circulating air throughout the clothes inside the dryer drum. The hot air and moisture must be able to escape the dryer for the clothes to dry; this is why dryers are vented to the outside of homes.

Lint Trap

All dryers have a lint trap to block the vent through which hot, humid air escapes the dryer drum. The trap is designed to catch the fine fibres that separate from fabric during the drying cycle. The lint trap should be cleaned regularly so air can escape freely. It is best to remove the lint from the trap after each use. When lint builds up in the lint trap, the dryer will still get hot and tumble the clothes but moist air cannot flow out the vent. When the trap is not cleaned, small lint fibres can ignite inside the dryer drum, leaving a burnt smell on fabrics. Run the dryer after cleaning the lint trap to see whether this addresses the problem.

Exhaust Hose

Dryer vent hoses are usually flexible so they can easily conform to the curves between the dryer and the exterior vent. This flexibility also means it can become kinked if the dryer is pushed back too far against the hose. Air cannot escape through a kinked hose, so the dryer will heat and tumble without drying the clothes. Residual lint not caught by a lint trap can clog a kinked hose, which may cause small lint fires to contribute to a burnt smell. You may have to pull the dryer out and straighten the kink, but the hose may need to be cleared with a brush or replaced.

Internal Duct Work

Dryers have an internal duct work system that carries wet air from the dryer drum to the exhaust hose. If the lint trap isn't cleaned regularly, lint can escape into the internal ductwork, leading to inefficient air flow and the risk of lint fires that will leave clothes smelling funny. Some clogging within the internal duct work is easy to clean if the lint hasn't travelled too far through the ducts. You can purchase long, flexible wire bristle brushes at home improvement stores. Remove the lint trap and brush the inside of the dryer to remove trapped lint. If this doesn't solve the problem, take the dryer apart or hire a professional repairman.

Heating Element

If ventilation issues have been eliminated as the cause of the problem, the heating element may be going bad. The heating element is the part of the dryer that produces heat. If the heating element is completely burnt out, there will be no heat; if the element is only partly burnt out, the dryer can still generate low-temperature heat that is insufficient for drying clothes. If it takes much longer to dry a load of clothes, this may be the problem. Replacing the heating element is a fairly easy task that requires laying the dryer down on the front and opening the back panel to access the heating element. There are some variations among heating elements, but basically, a series of wires must be unhooked to remove the bad element and reattached to the new element.

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About the Author

A former cake decorator and competitive horticulturist, Amelia Allonsy is most at home in the kitchen or with her hands in the dirt. She received her Bachelor's degree from West Virginia University. Her work has been published in the San Francisco Chronicle and on other websites.