Is a dryer worth repairing? I argue it is, and even if you have to pay someone to come do it. I’ll also explain where the thought comes from that a dryer might not be worth repairing, and why that thought is wrong.
You can generally repair a dryer for $125 vs replacing it for $350. Since there’s little difference in life expectancy between the two options, it’s generally cheaper and more practical to repair a dryer than to replace it.
Why a dryer is worth repairing
A dryer is a simple appliance. It’s just a big rotating drum with some kind of a heating element in it to dry clothes as they bounce around inside, and a safety mechanism to keep the heat from burning your house down. There’s not a lot that can fail. Electric motors can run for decades. So if your dryer breaks before it’s legally old enough to buy a drink, chances are it’s not the motor. It’s probably a belt, the heating element, or the thermal fuse.
All of these parts are cheap. Some of them are pretty easy to replace, too. I once fixed a dryer during the 2014 World Series and only missed one inning.
Why people think a dryer isn’t worth repairing
The reason people think a dryer isn’t worth repairing comes down to a rule that applies mostly to electronics. In the 1980s, advice started circulating that electronics aren’t worth repairing if you spend more 1/3 the cost of a new one on a repair. The reasoning was that technology was rapidly advancing, many things were obsolete within three years anyway, and electronics are unlikely to fail within the first year. So if the device fails, it probably only has 2/3 of its life expectancy left, so it’s wasteful to spend 1/3 of its replacement cost on a repair.
The logic is simplistic but reasonable. But it’s not universal. It assumes the repair won’t extend the overall life expectancy of the device. And it also assumes the device is nearly obsolete.
In the case of a dryer, the life expectancy of the repaired device isn’t much shorter than the life expectancy of a new one. And dryers don’t go obsolete. A dryer from the 1950s would still work today, if someone hadn’t thrown it out decades ago.
The only time it might make sense to replace a dryer is if your old dryer isn’t Energy Star certified and you can find a new dryer that is.
My dryer mistake
Sometime around 2010 or 2011, my dryer quit. A friend gave me the dryer when I bought my house. She had bought a house a year before, and it had an old dryer in it. She already had one, so she gave me her old one. I used that old dryer for about 8 years before it quit. The fake woodgrain on the control panel told me the dryer dated to the mid 1980s or earlier, so I bought a new one without thinking.
Guess what? It took four years for my new dryer to develop exactly the same problem as the old one. Four. Years. I now know I could have fixed the old dryer and saved $300.
Diagnosing a broken dryer
When your dryer doesn’t work, it generally acts up in about four ways. It might not heat up at all. It might heat up some but fail to dry the laundry. It might not run at all. Or you might hear the motor running and feel the dryer heating up but the drum doesn’t turn. Let’s run through the failures.
Dryer doesn’t heat up at all
If the dryer doesn’t heat up and it’s a gas dryer, you probably have a bad thermal fuse. If the dryer overheats, the thermal fuse gives up, cutting off the heat in the process. This kills the dryer but it prevents fires.
Thermal fuses are cheap, sometimes as little as $3, and I’ve never seen one cost more than $15. Look up the part number of your dryer, and you can order a replacement online. They aren’t all interchangeable. Replacing it isn’t hard either. You generally just have to take off the back, find the fuse, unscrew it, and unplug two wires. Then plug in the new fuse and screw the new fuse in. Pulling the dryer out from the wall and disconnecting the vent and turning off the gas supply, then reconnecting it all and putting the dryer back is the hard part.
This problem is entirely preventable. If your dryer vent clogs, you can buy a replacement vent that opens and closes based on airflow. These vents open wide enough that they aren’t as prone to clogging as the old ones with a tiny opening that angles downward. And about once a year, disconnect the vent and blow it out with a leaf blower. The leaf blower will dislodge any trapped lint.
Dryer doesn’t run at all
If the dryer doesn’t run at all and it’s an electric dryer, you probably have a bad thermal fuse. It’s exactly the same cause and fix as above. The difference is the electricity powers the whole unit, so the thermal fuse kills the dryer entirely when it dies. But the repair is the same, and the prevention is the same. Clean out the vent once in a while and the thermal fuse will last essentially forever.
Dryer heats up but doesn’t dry
If the dryer heats up but it doesn’t dry, it’s a bad heating element. The heating element is also specific to your type and brand of dryer, but generally costs $15-$30. You’ll probably have to take the front off your dryer to change it. Some dryers have a two-piece panel and you just have to take off the lower panel, but most just have one panel and you have to support the drum while you have the panel off. It’s a clumsy repair that may take you two hours if you’ve never done it before.
But these parts last 10-20 years, so it’s worth doing even if you have to pay someone to do the repair.
Dryer runs and heats up but the drum doesn’t turn
If the dryer heats up but and runs but the drum doesn’t turn, it’s the belt. Belts are interchangeable, so you can just take what’s left of the old one to the nearest auto parts store and buy one that’s the same size. Of course this requires you to take the back off the dryer and get to the belt. If you’re not mechanically inclined, it can be a clumsy repair.
But like the heating element, belts can last 10-20 years, so it’s worth doing even if you have to pay someone to do the repair.
Repairing a dryer yourself vs calling in a repair
If you’re somewhat mechanically inclined, it’s not all that hard to fix a dryer yourself. Some searching on the make and model of your dryer will turn up compatible replacement parts, and you can often find a Youtube video walking you through how to perform the repair. If your dryer isn’t a major brand like Whirlpool, Frigidaire, or GE, it may be harder to find a demo of your exact model, but you’ll probably find one that’s close. For example, my dryer is a Crosley, which is made by Whirlpool.
If you don’t know what’s wrong, you can take a shotgun approach, buy all the replacement parts, and spend a couple of hours replacing everything under the hood. In the end you essentially have a new dryer and will probably have less than $50 in parts in it. I’m not convinced that buys you much time between repairs so I don’t do it that way anymore, but it’s an option.
The thermal fuse is the most common problem and it takes $3 and 30 minutes to repair, which is a pretty good deal.
Paying someone else to do the repair generally costs $90-$125. If you’re not sure of yourself, that’s not a bad deal.
The cost of repairing a dryer vs replacement
I’ve fixed more than one dryer myself, and I’ve also paid someone to repair them. I’m a landlord, so I own a few. Before you call me a slumlord, I’ve repaired my own dryer twice now. I live the same way my tenants do. How long a dryer goes between repairs depends on factors beyond your control. I have dryers I’ve never had to service, and I have dryers I’ve fixed twice.
Typically a new dryer costs around $300. I always buy basic models because there’s less to those to break. If you wait for a major shopping holiday you may be able to get a basic one for $250, but usually we don’t have the luxury of waiting when a dryer breaks. Delivery and hauling off the old one is sometimes free but usually costs $50.
So you’re probably looking at $350 to replace a dryer and it could easily give you the same problem in 3-4 years, or less, especially if the problem is just the thermal fuse.
My local appliance repairpeople charge about $89 an hour plus parts. Sometimes I’ll order the parts ahead of time to save money, but if I’m not sure, we’re generally talking about $125 to repair the dryer. It rarely takes them the full hour to fix it. They come in and do their thing with no hassle of hauling big, clumsy appliances up and down the stairs, and I’m good for another 4-10 years either way. So I might as well choose the option that leaves $225 more in my pocket.