Only clean clothes go into dryers, so you don’t expect these appliances to start smelling bad. Whenever you go to retrieve your clothes after a drying cycle, you expect the dryer to smell like dryer sheets. But if you notice an unpleasant or unusual smell coming from your dryer, it might be a sign that something isn’t right.
The truth is, there are actually a lot of reasons why your dryer is emitting an odor, making this a more common problem than you might think. Here are 6 of the most common dryer smells and how you can rid your dryer of them.
Gas and burning rubber smells can be normal but should not be persistent. The smell of burning clothes or a hot electrical smell indicates that something is overheating and causing trouble. Musty odors indicate mold growing in the dryer. Critters can enter and die in the dryer, causing a rotting smell.
1. Gas Smell
If your dryer is gas-powered, you might notice a gas smell when you open the dryer door. The smell might even cling to your clothes and spread to your laundry room.
A dryer emitting gas smell isn’t always a cause of concern.
It’s pretty normal to sometimes detect a faint gas smell after you turn on a gas clothes dryer. This smell is usually released whenever the gas valve opens to release the gas required to power the heating element. This type of smell doesn’t last and usually vanishes shortly after your dryer starts running.
For dryers fueled by propane, a low fuel level would slow down the ignition process, causing more raw gas to be released, resulting in a gas smell.
The smell can also be caused by faulty dryer components. Some of the most common culprits include:
- Igniter issues: The igniter lights the gas released from the gas coils. If it is failing, it will take longer to ignite, which means that gas will continue to be released until a flame is produced. Gas smells caused by a failing igniter typically dissipate after the burner ignites.
- Damaged or worn-out gas valve: A defective gas valve could lead to gas leaks. Ideally, the gas valve shuts off when you turn off the dryer. If it is defective, it may not shut off completely. Gas will continue to be released. If this is the issue, the smell will persist long after you turn off the dryer.
- Ventilation issues: The dryer vent expels moisture and toxic gases released during gas combustion. Whenever it is clogged, the gas will be stuck in the dryer and might eventually spread into your laundry room. A clogged vent is a safety hazard, responsible for hundreds of house fires annually.
Eliminating the Danger
The first step to rectifying the problem would be to identify the cause of the gas smell.
For safety reasons, if you are experiencing a strong gas smell in your laundry area, turn off the gas supply at the valve behind the dryer and do not use the dryer until you have discovered and addressed the cause of the smell.
Issues with the igniter could either be caused by a failing or damaged igniter. In both cases, it’s best to replace the igniter because although a failing igniter would still dry your clothes, it’s only a matter of time before it finally breaks down completely, and in the meantime, you are inhaling gas fumes regularly.
Another thing that can cause the release of a gas smell is faulty gas valve coils. These parts can get damaged in the middle of a cycle, causing the igniter to spark without flaming. If the smell is caused by a faulty gas valve, it would have to be replaced.
If the smell is because of a clogged vent, then it’s time to clean the vent. To prevent a recurrence, it’s recommended that you clean the vent at least once every year.
2. The Smell of Burning Rubber
The primary cause of a burning rubber smell is the dryer belt. Most dryers feature a rubber belt that helps to rotate the drum during a drying cycle.
Sometimes new dryer belts release a burning rubber smell as the rubber is broken in. This is normal, and the smell should go away after a few drying cycles.
Also, the process of replacing a dryer belt can cause lint and dust to get stuck in the dryer’s heating element, and this would result in a burning smell as this debris is burned away.
Dryer belts are supposed to fit snugly to the drum. If a belt is the wrong size, it can lead to mishaps that can produce the smell of burning rubber.
For instance, a belt that’s too big could slip during a drying cycle and rub against other dryer components. This can cause it to melt either by friction or contact with the heating element, resulting in a burning smell.
Also, as dryer belts age, they might get loose and this can cause them to slip out of place.
Burning rubber releases toxic chemicals into your living space and if you have poor ventilation in your home, it could have a negative effect on people with respiratory issues.
How to Stop the Smell
The smell caused by new dryer belts typically dissipates after a few cycles, but if you do not want to wait that long, you can get rid of the smell by running the dryer with a couple of damp towels for about 15 to 20 minutes.
For older belts, the first step is to inspect the belt for wear, melting, or cracking. If you notice defects on the belt, then it would have to be replaced.
Although it might be working perfectly, a loose belt poses a safety hazard, and it’s only a matter of time before it breaks.
While purchasing a replacement, it’s best to go with your dryer information so that you buy the perfect belt size for your drum.
3. Burning Materials Create an Odor
A burning material smell from a dryer is an indication that clothes are getting burnt. There are a couple of reasons this can happen. Here are some of them:
- Incorrect dryer setting: Certain fabrics can only be dried with the delicate/gentle setting and some inflammable materials aren’t dryer-friendly at all. So, if you dry delicate materials with the wrong setting, the heat might cause them to burn.
- Clogged dryer vent: If they aren’t cleaned routinely, dryer vents can get clogged by lint, dust, and debris. A clogged vent makes it difficult or impossible for the dryer to vent air, and the inability of the dryer to vent out hot air would cause overheating inside the drum and clothes can burn.
- Overloaded drum: The load capacity of dryers differs from one unit to the next. Overloading the dryer limits airflow in the drum and can prevent clothes from tumbling properly. Some parts of the dryer get hotter than others, and if the drum takes too long to rotate, clothes can be burned by the hot metal drum.
- Faulty thermostat: The thermostat controls the temperature in the drum, and if it isn’t functioning properly, it can cause the drum to heat up beyond what’s acceptable. This can cause certain fabrics to get burnt.
- Worn or broken dryer belt: A defective dryer belt would cause the drum to rotate intermittently or stop rotating completely. If the drum doesn’t rotate properly, clothes might come out wet and, in some cases, they can get burnt from sitting against the hot metal drum for too long.
Preventing Clothes From Burning in the Dryer
If you notice a burning material smell coming from your dryer, you need to switch off the dryer, even if the cycle is not complete.
Next, check your clothes for burn marks or holes. If you notice any, the next step is to find out the cause of the burn.
Before putting anything in your dryer, make sure that you read the care instructions that came with the item. If you’re not sure what the care instructions are, then simply look at the label to find out.
As a general rule, the drum shouldn’t be more than three-quarters full, so pay close attention not to overload the dryer. Some signs that the drum is full beyond capacity include longer drying time, excessive wrinkles in clothes, uneven drying, and lint on clothes.
The only way to deal with a clogged vent is to clean it. It’s something you can do yourself with the help of a vacuum hose attachment. Some of the signs of a clogged vent include longer drying time, clothes coming out hotter than normal, and lint in clothes.
To diagnose a faulty thermostat, you would have to test it using a multimeter (amazon link), and if the test shows that it is defective, you would have to replace it.
A defective dryer belt would have to be replaced. Some of the signs that you have a faulty belt include the drum not turning or stopping intermittently, thumping sounds, and clothes not drying properly.
4. Hot Electrical Smell
A hot electrical smell is similar to the smell of metal and chlorine and is pretty hard to miss.
It is usually caused by overheating of the moving parts (as opposed to the dryer panels or the metal of the drum) or a faulty electrical component in the dryer.
If they are defective, dryer components like the thermostat and heating element can cause the dryer to overheat.
A defective thermostat would not be able to control the dryer temperature, so even if you set it at low heat, the temperature can rise beyond generally accepted dryer temperatures.
Overheating can not only damage dryer components, but it can also burn clothes, and if there is an accumulation of lint, it can also lead to a fire. So, it isn’t something you want to take lightly.
If an overheated heating element comes in contact with nearby dryer components, it can scorch them, causing the smell to be more intense.
Another reason a dryer might release a hot electric smell is if it is reaching the end of its life, and its components have started to degrade or burn out.
The smell can also be caused by electrical shorts as a result of a defective power cord, using an inappropriate extension, or faulty/damaged internal wiring.
Besides what I’ve stated above, anything that causes the dryer to overheat can lead to a hot electrical smell. This includes overloading the dryer, poor ventilation, a dirty filter, and a clogged vent.
Addressing the Danger
To prevent the dryer from overheating, you need to take extra care to observe the necessary safety practices.
Here are some pointers:
- Give the vent a thorough clean at least once a year.
- Clean the filter after every load.
- Do not overload the dryer.
- Ensure that you are using a manufacturer-approved ducting material and ensure that there are no kinks in the duct.
- Perform annual maintenance checks on the dryer.
- Avoid extension cords.
- Protect the power cord.
- Don’t push the dryer right up against the wall.
Besides taking better care of your dryer, there isn’t much you can do to prevent its components from breaking down. But if you notice anything unusual, look into it or have a skilled professional take a look at the dryer. This way, you prevent it from degenerating into something worse.
5. Musty Smell
If you’re experiencing a musty smell in your dryer, it’s possible that mold has set up shop in there (or will very soon).
Mold is a fungus that grows in dark, damp places and one of the key indicators that it is present in a space is a musty odor.
If mold is present in a dryer, the odor is usually strongest when first opening the door of your machine.
The smell can also be absorbed into your clothes, causing them to smell musty instead of clean and fresh.
Besides its effect on your indoor air quality, mold can lead to a variety of health issues, especially for people that have asthma, allergies, and respiratory diseases.
Leaving wet cloths in the drum for prolonged periods before running the dryer can enable mold to grow. It can also develop if you leave wet clothes in the washer long before transferring them to the dryer.
Lint buildup in dryer ducts restricts airflow and, if the dryer isn’t able to expel moist air as it should, it can cause the moisture to condense in the vent and this can enable the growth of mold in the dryer and ductwork.
Elimination and Prevention
To prevent the growth of mold in the dryer, you have to ensure that you do not leave wet laundry in the drum for a prolonged period and also ensure you aren’t putting moldy clothes inside the dryer.
To be safe, only start doing laundry whenever you are free long enough to see the entire process through. Also, ensure that you clean your dryer regularly.
The negative effect of lint buildup doesn’t end at moldy clothes or a moldy dryer unit, it can lead to fires and is responsible for most house fires that are caused by dryers.
So, always clean your duct regularly to prevent them from getting clogged by lint.
Thankfully, it’s possible to get rid of the moldy stench using common household items.
Here are some things you can try:
- Pour vinegar into some towels, put them in the dryer, and run a drying cycle.
- Mix a cup of bleach with a gallon of warm water and using a towel, clean the insides of the dryer, paying attention to crevices where mold can hide. When you are done, open the dryer, so that it can air out.
- Mix cold water with a generous amount of baking soda and soak two or three towels in the mixture. Remove the towels from the water and run them through the dryer on the lowest setting.
6. Rotting Smell
If your dryer is producing a rotten smell, it’s one of two things. It’s either an animal died in it, which is most likely the case, or there is decaying food stuck somewhere in the dryer.
Dryers are dark, warm, and often moist, which makes for an attractive dwelling for a range of critters and if they die in the dryer, it will produce a rotting smell that will grow progressively worse as decomposition takes place.
This is the worse smell on this list. It isn’t just unpleasant, it can also make you feel sick, and it is a stench that can flow beyond your laundry room and affect the air quality in other parts of the house.
Finding the Source and Getting Rid of the Smell
With this kind of smell, there is only one way to go about it, which is finding the culprit and getting rid of it. Because no matter how much you clean the dryer, if you do not get rid of the source, the smell will persist.
This type of smell can be difficult to combat, especially if the animal dies in a hidden and hard-to-reach spot.
But if it is caused by decaying food, a thorough clean of the drum should do the trick because the only likely way food entered the dryer was in the pocket of clothing (or via the hands of toddlers who like to put things in the drum).
The best way to tackle the smell caused by a dead animal is to embark on a deep clean.
You should extend it to the vent. This includes the dryer hose and the outside vent. Pay close attention to nooks and crannies where the critter might have slipped into. You might have to detach the drum from the dryer housing to be sure that it isn’t lying underneath it.