Dryers that utilize both gas and flame via pilot lights can be health hazards. They are also very energy-inefficient. These things lead to the decline in the use of pilot lights, starting in the 80s.
There are a variety of reasons why your gas dryer may have a pilot light despite their lack of popularity and the fact that they are banned in some regions. Either way, it pays to check and also to know how to relight one since a blown-out pilot light can lead to fires or even explosions.
Modern gas dryers do not have pilot lights. Such designs were phased out around the 1970-1990s in favor of more energy-efficient and safe means of ignition. Today, most gas dryers light the gas using an electrically heated ignition piece (essentially a piece of metal).
Modern Gas Dryers Don’t Have Pilot Lights
Rather than using pilot lights, modern gas dryers commonly use electrical ignition.
Electrical ignition involves both electrical and gas processes.
An electric current is used to start the process and produces ignition heat, but the actual flame is fueled by gas.
The heated air produced by this gas flame is essential to how gas dryers work. It travels through the blower housing and into the main area of the dryer to dry the clothes.
Unlike a pilot light, the flame created by electrical ignition processes is ignited as needed and is not on constantly.
However, when the flame created by electrical ignition is on, there is still an open flame, which can be dangerous, so keep this in mind.
Why Pilot Lights Were Replaced
One reason why other methods, such as electrical ignition, are favored over using a pilot light is that their flames are only present when needed.
Having a pilot light means that the flame is active 24/7. This is expensive as far as energy costs go, and it is unnecessary in light of newer technologies.
Overall, having a gas dryer without a pilot light will lead to lower energy bills.
Additionally, having an open flame anywhere in the house, even if it is contained within a dryer, can lead to a disaster.
Another dangerous circumstance is if the light is accidentally extinguished.
In such cases, gas continues to be released in an effort to relight the light, like when your gas stovetop is releasing gas while trying to start the burner flame.
The problem is, if the pilot light isn’t relit soon, flammable gas will continue to flow out of the dryer. If this gas comes across a spark, whether this is from a gas stovetop, static electricity, or the pilot light trying to relight, it could cause a fire or an explosion.
When Did Dryers Stop Using Pilot Lights?
There isn’t really a specific date for when dryers stopped using pilot lights—not in the United States, at least.
Instead, various cities and states phased them out over a period of time for safety and energy-efficiency reasons.
For example, on June 1st, 1980, Albany’s governor put a ban on pilot lights in gas appliances due to their energy wastage.
He claimed that about 80% of the gas used by pilot lights was not effectively used in the process.
Although we don’t know this governor’s sources, he was right about the waste of energy.
Using this ban as a place marker, it is safe to assume that most gas dryers made in the 1970s or earlier are likely to have pilot lights while those produced from the 1980s onwards are less likely to have them.
Could My Dryer Still Have a Pilot Light?
If your gas dryer was manufactured in the 70s or earlier, it is very likely that it will use a pilot light.
Even if your gas dryer was manufactured in the 80s or 90s, it might still have a pilot light.
Although Albany, New York banned pilot lights in gas appliances, other cities and states banned them at later times or not at all.
Additionally, it takes time for a manufacturer to adjust to a ban that affects appliances. This is because dryers in the midst of being manufactured when the ban was placed will most likely still be assembled, shipped, and eventually sold.
This is often the way that it happens with these things. Even asbestos was still used for a period following the discovery of how dangerous it is to our health.
Nowadays, even if they are not and never were banned in your city or state, gas dryers with pilot lights are no longer manufactured because the market for this design is dead.
But back to my statement that a 1980s or 1990s dryer may still have a pilot light. To many homeowners, it might seem a bit nonsensical to be talking about a 30-40 year old dryer. This is fair, of course, since newer appliances often mean better appliances.
However, old gas dryers can be inherited from a relative or remain a functional (however loosely that term applies) fixture in the laundry of your old apartment building.
In some cases, these older dryers work just as well as modern ones.
Dryers manufactured during these times were often constructed in a way that meant that they would stand the test of time. They are meant to be robust and still work well after years of use, so it is entirely possible that you have a dryer that was manufactured in the 70s.
In the case of appliances that just won’t quit, you may sooner get rid of them than have them break down on you.
How to Tell if a Dryer Has a Pilot Light
If your gas dryer was manufactured before the 1980s, it will most likely have a pilot light.
For later decades, it is less likely to have a pilot light but definitely not impossible.
If your gas dryer was manufactured after the 80s, it is wise to check for a pilot light just in case.
Unfortunately, while you will definitely know if you have a pilot lot or an electric ignitor if you look at your burner assembly, getting to this assembly is not the simplest process.
- First, unplug the dryer and disconnect the gas supply.
- Then, scooch the dryer forward a few inches so that the dryer is accessible from the back and the front.
- Next, undo the screws holding the front panel in place and remove it.
Now, the actual search can begin.
Look at the bottom of the inside of the dryer. The pilot light will most likely be located on the side to the right or left.
Locate the metal tubing that runs back to front. This is called the burner tube assembly. The pilot light will be located in here. If it is a newer dryer, this is where you will find the electric ignitor.
If you are still not able to find the pilot light through these steps, it would be best to consult the owner’s manual.
How to Relight a Gas Dryer Pilot Light
As mentioned before, one danger of a gas dryer pilot light is when they are blown out.
If you find out that you have a gas dryer with a pilot light, you must make sure that you are aware of this danger and that you know how to solve the problem.
Thankfully, one of the steps has been accomplished if you have already located where your pilot light is.
- Next, you must locate your gas control. It is often a large, red knob located near one of the gas valves.
- The gas control should have three settings: on, off, and pilot. Turn the knob into the off position and let it stay there for three to ten minutes. This ensures that the gas residue clears before relighting the pilot light.
- Next, turn the knob to the pilot position and hold up a lit match or lighter to the pilot light location until a self-sustaining flame appears.
- Leave the gas control in the pilot position for a minute or two to allow the dryer to heat up.
- Then, twist the knob to the on position.
Gas Dryer Not Heating Up: Possible Causes
A pilot light being out can be one cause of a gas dryer not heating up, and relighting the pilot light can fix this problem.
However, if it turns out that your gas dryer does not use a pilot light, there must be some other explanation for your dryer not heating up properly.
Gas dryers have a variety of pieces and parts that can fail and prevent the dryer from heating up properly.
One part that can cause problems is the flame sensor. The flame sensor acts to open the gas valve when starting the flame in the case of electrical ignition.
If the flame sensor fails and does not open the gas valve to start the flame, the ignitor will glow but the flame will not ignite.
Additionally, failed thermostats or thermal fuses can cause problems.
Thermostats and fuses are meant to blow when temperatures reach unsafe levels in the dryer. They cut off the power supply to the igniter.
If your dryer isn’t heating up, it could be because of blown thermostats or fuses.
The igniter, the glowing piece meant to ignite the flame, is a very important component in heating up a gas dryer. When the igniter has burnt out due to wear and tear, your dryer will not heat up effectively.