How Clothes Dryers Work

On this page, I will explain how clothes dryers work to help you better understand how to repair your dryer. Use this page along with my dryer repair guide and you can repair your dryer yourself. Three things must take place for a dryer to work properly: the tub must tumble, the fan must provide airflow and the heating source must provide heat. A mechanical timer or an electronic control controls all three of these actions. Below I will explain each of these actions in more detail.


The tub must tumble in order for the clothes to dry. The tub tumbles slowly so that the clothes will fall through the hot moving air half way through the rotation of the tub. A belt wraps around the entire tub and attaches to the motor pulley. The tub is about two feet in diameter and the motor pulley is about one inch in diameter. This means that the gear ratio is low. This makes the tub turn slow but with a lot of power so that a very fast but weak motor can turn the tub. Dryer belts, pulleys and motors can be purchased at clothes dryers cannot dry clothes without proper airflow. The airflow removes the moisture from the clothes and moves it through the vent. This is why dryers will not work if the vent is stopped up; the moisture has nowhere to go. A fan that is directly attached to the motor creates airflow. The fan sucks the air and moisture out of the tub and blows it down the vent.

Clothes dryer airflow example  

Heat Source

Electric Dryers- The heating element uses 240 volts to heat the air around the heating element and the fan sucks the heat through the tub removing the moisture from the clothes. The heating element is a high resistance wire that creates heat when current passes through. The location of the heating element varies with different model dryers. On GE, Frigdaire and some Maytag dryers, the heating element is located directly behind the tub. On most whirlpool dryers, the heating element is located behind the dryer inside a vent that attaches to the back of the tub. On most Maytag and some Whirlpool dryers the heating element is located under the tub inside a vent that attaches to the back of the tub. On GE dryers there are two heating elements so if one stops heating it can cause a long dry time. Dryer heating elements can be purchased at

Gas Dryers- Gas dryers use gas as a heat source and can hook up to a regular 120-volt outlet. Gas dryers will operate on propane or natural gas but come set up for natural gas. So if you have propane, you will have to buy a conversion kit to convert it to work on propane. The gas enters a burner-housing normally located under the tub. But before the gas enters the housing, an electric igniter heats up to the point that it can easily light the gas once it enters the housing. Once the igniter reaches this temperature, an electric gas valve releases the gas and the igniter is simultaneously cut off. The gas is then lit into a flame that will remain inside the burner-housing. Gas dryer parts can be purchased at


A mechanical timer, or an electronic control, and thermostats control dryers. The controls will work together to control the length of time that the dryer will run and how hot the heat source will get. Dryer control parts can be purchased at

Safety Controls

Above I talked about how clothes dryers work; now I will talk about how safety controls make dryers safe to operate in your home. Safety controls are on all dryers to prevent fire and injury to the user. Below I have listed all of the safety controls and explained how each one helps keep dryers safe.

Door Switch- The door switch stops the dryer completely when the door is opened. This is because if a small child opens the door, of the dryer the rotation drum will not hurt them. Dryer door switches can be purchased at

Hi-limit Thermostats- The hi-limit thermostats cut the heat source off in the event it gets too hot. This is put in place to prevent fire.

Thermal Fuse- The thermal fuse cuts the dryer off in the event it becomes too hot to prevent fire. Thermal fuses can be purchased at

Belt Tension Switch- The belt tension switch will cut the dryer off if the belt breaks because if the belt breaks and the heat source continue to heat the clothes can catch on fire. Note that not all dryers have a belt tension switch; some rely on the other safety controls to prevent this. Belt tension switches can be purchased at

Motor switches- Motors on clothes dryers have two switches that close when the motor is running and open when the motor stops. They are opened and closed by centrifugal force so that the motor must be turning at full seed for the switches to be closed. One of the switches allows the heat source to operate. This is so that the heat source will not operate unless the motor is running. The other switch allows the motor to continue to run after the user pushes the start switch. This is so that if the dryer loses power while it is running, it will not come back on once the power is reconnected until the user presses the start button again. The motor switches cannot be replaced, if you suspect the motor switch is bad you must replace the whole motor. However you can attempt to clean the motor switch by blowing it out with compressed air and vacuuming it. Dryer motors can be purchased at

I hope this page helped you better understand how clothes dryers work so that you can fix your dryer yourself and save.

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