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3 common clothes dryer problems and how to fix them

A broken clothes dryer can devastate your laundry routine. But here are three common problems and how to fix them yourself.

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

A clothes dryer is no doubt one of the most used (and most power-hungry) appliances in your home. It's also essential for making sure you have clean clothes for work or school. Who has time for hanging clothes out to dry anymore?

When your dryer stops working like it should, things can get ugly fast. Clothes pile up and soon you're wearing the same shirt to work several days in a row.

Fortunately, dryers are relatively simple machines and some of the most common problems can be easily fixed. Below are three common problems and how to fix them yourself.

Clothes feel warm but don't fully dry

You put a load in the dryer, start it and walk away. You return after the cycle finishes, only to find the clothes aren't completely dry. Maybe you just overloaded it a bit, so you run a second, shorter cycle to finish the job.

This may be the worst problem of all: Everything seems like it's working mostly as it should be, but the problem gradually gets worse over time until you realize the clothes are still sopping wet after a full cycle.

Cause

The culprit here could be a faulty heating element. If the heating element isn't working properly, the dryer will still spin and the cycle will complete, but it won't get hot enough to help dry the clothes.

Heating elements can naturally wear out over time, but overloading the dryer, not cleaning the lint screen and poor ventilation can all speed up that process.

Fix

Fortunately, replacing a heating element isn't a terribly difficult job. You can usually find a replacement heating element at a local hardware store or online by searching for your dryer model number.

Once you have the part, unplug the dryer, remove the back panel, remove the connections and install the new one. Some heating elements may require you to remove the existing thermostat from the old heating element and install it on the new one. Reattach the back panel, reconnect power and run a test cycle to check for heat.

Cause

Another possible cause is clogged duct work. When was the last time you cleaned out the dryer vent anyway? No, not the lint screen -- the vent pipe.

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Fix 

The obvious solution is to clean out the duct. It's not as bad as it may seem either. CNET's own Brian Bennett made a five-step guide for cleaning the dryer duct. This should be done every six months to a year to not only keep your dryer running smoothly and efficiently, but also to prevent or reduce the risk of fire.

The drum spins, but there's no heat

It's a different story altogether when the dryer just won't get hot at all. Even when set to high heat, the clothes remain wet and cold.

Cause

A blown thermal fuse may be to blame. On newer dryers, a blown thermal fuse may prevent the dryer from running at all. This fuse is put in place to help prevent fires. Fuses can simply wear out on their own, but they're designed to short at higher-than-normal temperatures, which could be caused by a number of things. Look out for clogged ventilation, a clogged lint screen or an overloaded machine.

Fix

To fix a blown fuse, you must replace it. To do that, you must first locate it. It should be located near the exhaust duct, so you'll need to disconnect the power and remove the back panel. Unscrew the fuse and replace it with a new one. You should be able to find a replacement fuse at your local hardware store or online. Again, the easiest way to find one is to Google your dryer's model number.

The drum isn't spinning

If you start a cycle and hear the motor hum but the drum remains still, you've got a serious problem. Fortunately, it could also be one of the easiest to fix. Maybe.

Cause

Belts wear out. It's a fact of life, and your dryer's belt is no exception. If your dryer turns on but the drum doesn't spin, this should be your first stop on the checklist.

Fix

Start by unplugging the dryer and removing the rear panel. Check the old belt for wear — you will likely have to remove it first. Some local hardware stores carry replacement belts, but you may have to have them order it for yours. You can also check online for a replacement belt.

Once you have a replacement belt, take note of the belt routing and remove the old belt. Rout the new belt, ensuring you have its oriented the correct way and properly seated.

If a new belt doesn't solve the problem, you may have a problem with the idler pulley or motor. Changing an idler pulley is more involved than replacing a worn belt, but still fairly simple to do yourself. When you're in faulty motor territory, it may be time to contact a professional.