Smelling lighter fluid or a similar smell of flammable liquid or gas can be a frightening occurrence. This is especially true when you smell it near a dryer, an appliance in the home often associated with fires. Despite this danger, gas is necessary for a gas dryer.
If you smell lighter fluid in or near your dryer, you may not be in danger. Causes of this smell can range from nearby painting projects to low propane supply. Depending on the cause, professional help may or may not be needed.
The smell of lighter fluid may come from gas dryers if chemicals were spilled on the clothing in the dryer or if there are paint or varnish fumes nearby. Gas dryers can also smell like lighter fluid if there is an issue with the gas supply, a gas leak, low propane supply, or ignitor issues.
Chemicals on Clothing
If you smell lighter fluid near your gas dryer, there may not be a reason to panic. The explanation might be as simple as soiled clothing.
If there is clothing in the dryer that has been soiled with chemicals that smell similar to lighter fluid, the problem is likely the clothing rather than a gas leak.
While this may seem obvious, the two may not be so easily connected. Sometimes, the smell on the clothes is very faint. The reason why you then smell it in the dryer is because the odor is most likely amplified by the heat of the dryer.
The high temperatures would likely cause the chemicals to become a gas, therefore releasing the lighter fluid-like smell.
Lighter fluid is composed of dangerous hydrocarbons, including benzene, butane, hexamine, lacolene, naphtha, and propane.
Each of these has a smell somewhat similar to lighter fluid. If your laundry contains a chemical spill of a product containing at least one of these ingredients, it may smell like lighter fluid.
Products that contain these ingredients include adhesives, cleaning products, aerosol sprays, and more.
Painting and Refinishing Projects
Instead of originating from the clothes in the gas dryer, the smell may be originating from a nearby painting or refinishing project.
Supplies used for painting or refinishing projects include stain, paint, varnish, and rubber cement. All of these can have strong smells similar to that of lighter fluid.
Gas dryers take in air from the area around them. This air is heated and used to dry your clothes.
Whether a painting or refinishing project is occurring in the laundry room or a room nearby, the fumes, however strong or faint they are, can be circulated into the dryer.
If a dryer experiences this situation, the smell would seem like it originated from the dryer since the smell would most likely be the strongest there.
The smells may seem to originate from the dryer because the air will linger in the dryer during the cycle, and the smell will be magnified by the dryer’s heat.
Something Wrong With the Gas Supply
Of course, rather than simple explanations of soiled clothing or nearby fumes, something may actually be wrong with your gas dryer if you smell lighter fluid.
One explanation is that there is something wrong with your gas supply.
For one, the gas supply may not be the right composition for igniting a flame. Whether this composition change is due to chemical reactions or because some substance contaminated the gas in the tank or on its way into the dryer, igniting the flame won’t work.
The gas released in a gas dryer is formulated to create a flame quickly and safely. Even slight differences in chemical composition can cause problems in the dryer.
With gas that is contaminated or compositionally changed, a flame may not be produced successfully. Because of this, more and more smelly gas will be released as the burner assembly keeps trying to start a flame.
Besides composition change and contamination, another factor that indicates that something is wrong with the gas supply is improper release into the burner assembly.
Improper release into the burner assembly can mean the gas valve is releasing gas when a flame is not called for. It can also mean too much or too little gas is being released by the gas valve.
Either way, gas and its smell can be released at incorrect times and in incorrect quantities. This can cause the buildup of flammable gases, especially if the flame is not successfully lit and the burner assembly must continue to try to make a flame.
Gas Is Leaking From the Dryer
Since no system is entirely leak-proof, the source of the lighter fluid smell may be gas leaking from the dryer.
Gas can leak from a variety of places in a dryer.
The gas can leak from any point on the gas line or at either end of the gas line where the line meets the dryer or where the line meets the gas source.
There are also places where the gas can leak from in the burner assembly.
A burner assembly consists of an ignitor, a gas valve, and a flame sensor.
The most likely place for a gas leak in the burner assembly is the gas valve.
This gas valve releases gas so that a flame can ignite with the spark of the ignitor. The gas valve should be sealed well but, over time, the seal can degrade and gas can leak from the gas valve.
However the gas escaped, it is supposed to be released only in amounts needed to generate the heat the dryer needs. When too much is released due to a leak, it will not be consumed and will linger in the area.
If you are not able to find where the leak is coming from and repair it, it would be wise to contact a professional. A leak of flammable gas is very dangerous and should be dealt with promptly.
Propane Supply is Low
Although you may think that a low supply of propane would make lighter fluid-like smells less likely, a limited supply of propane can actually increase the likelihood of smelling it.
When insufficient propane is supplied to light a flame in the dryer, it is unlikely that a flame will be produced.
Since the flame sensor will register that a flame was not started, the attempt to light a flame will be made again and more gas will be released. The ignitor will also try again and most likely fail if your propane supply is low.
This process may continue for a while until the gas dryer’s flame is lit or the dryer fails to light a flame after many attempts.
Either way, there is likely to be raw gas coming from the dryer after many failed attempts. This gas would not have been consumed by the flame, and so would not dissipate.
If your dryer is stuck in this cycle, it would be wise to turn it off. To prevent this from happening and to ensure that your laundry can be dried eventually, contact a professional about your low propane supply.
A similar issue to the propane supply being low is an issue related to the burner assembly’s ignitor.
With low propane supplies, the flame would not light, but with a faulty ignitor, this can happen too.
Whether the ignitor is faulty because of a manufacturing problem, a wiring problem, or wear and tear, if a spark is not produced in the burner assembly, a flame will not be lit.
Despite the faulty ignitor, natural gas or propane will still be released in small amounts to allow for a flame.
Failed ignition could be a one-time thing or it can continue until the ignitor must be replaced.
The gas valve will not know what the problem is so it will continue releasing natural gas or propane until the flame sensor senses a flame.
Although the gas is released in small amounts, after many failed ignitions, it can build up and create a strong smell. With enough failed attempts, there could be risks of fire or breathing issues due to the gas.
If your dryer will not turn on and you smell gas, the problem may lie in the ignitor. Turn off the dryer so that the burner assembly will stop trying to make a flame.
After it is found that the ignitor is faulty, for instance, if it is not glowing, be sure to call a professional to repair it or be ready to replace your gas dryer.