Dryers, along with other larger appliances, require large amounts of electricity. In most cases, this means a specific type of outlet is needed and may have to be installed if it’s not readily available. While most modern homes come with these standards built-in, older ones may need to be updated.
When it comes to electricity, safety is a major concern. It’s important for homeowners to know what is safe and what is not concerning electrical outlets, extension cables, and other mandated electrical standards for dryers.
A 240-volt, GFCI-protected electrical outlet is the new standard for electric dryers. Additionally, four receptacle slots are recommended for the safest dryer use. Regular outlets are 120-volt, so they aren’t appropriate. Gas dryers use electricity, but much less of it. They are usually rated 120-volts.
240-Volt Outlets Required for Electric Dryers
All dryers are powered by electricity, even gas dryers. However, gas dryers require less electricity than fully electric ones (we talk about this a little later).
Electric dryers require at least 240-volt outlets because of how much electricity they require to run.
The importance of using at least a 240-volt electrical outlet goes beyond just properly powering your dryer, though. There are serious safety risks that come into play when guidelines concerning electricity are not followed.
The National Fire Protection Association estimates that in a year, 47,700 residential fires are caused due to electrical failure and malfunction. Electrical fires can be started in a variety of ways but overloaded electrical circuits are one of the most common reasons.
Electricity has become such a familiar resource in modern society that it’s easy to forget how dangerous it can be. Do yourself a favor and connect your dryer to a suitable electrical outlet and learn more about how to prevent circuit overloads.
Gas Dryers Use Less Electricity
Gas dryers, which only require electricity for some operational functions, only pull about 120 volts. The additional power required to provide the actual heating function of the dryer is supplied by burning gas.
Thus, for gas dryers, you should be able to use a 120-volt outlet.
However, I would recommend checking that your appliance has this voltage rating or lower. Some gas dryers may have a higher rating, so don’t just assume.
Can a Regular Outlet Be Used for a Dryer?
Electricity is supplied through a service head by outdoor power lines or an underground system of wires. The service head divides into 120-volt wires and a neutral one that brings power to your entire house.
While standard appliances and gas dryers only require 120-volt circuits (one 120-volt wire), bigger appliances like water heaters, electric ranges, and your electric dryer require both 120-volt wires and the neutral wire; thus creating a 240-volt circuit.
So, regular outlets can generally be used for gas dryers (double-check the power rating of your model), but they cannot be used for electric dryers.
Regular outlets cannot support the electricity needs of an electric dryer. If you were to try and plug your dryer into a normal outlet of 120-volts, it would not work. This is also a very easy way to damage your dryer and potentially your electrical system.
Plugging a dryer into a regular outlet can also raise other safety concerns. As mentioned in the previous section, overloads are a very common source of electrical fires in the U.S.
Overloads occur when an appliance, such as a dryer, draws a greater amount of energy than can be supplied by that particular circuit. If the breaker doesn’t trip when you plug your dryer into a regular outlet (a problem that needs to be addressed!), then the outlet will overheat, and you’re at risk for a fire.
Most modern systems are built to trip in situations where the electricity demand for a circuit is too high. However, some older homes use systems with fuses that will blow when overloaded.
How Many Slots Should a Dryer Receptacle Have?
Before 1996, most dryers came with a three-prong power cable that connected to the 240-volt electrical outlet. However, after 1996 the NEC changed the standard and required that new installations include four-slot dryer outlets. Thus, new dryers come equipped with four-prong cords to match the outlets.
The number of slots increasing from three to four has no effect on the amount of electricity transferred from the electrical outlet and the dryer. The reasoning behind moving toward a four-prong cord and receptacle lies in further mitigating safety risks.
Since dryers are typically located in an area near water, there is a possibility of shock. The fourth prong and receptacle serve as an additional grounding pathway to decrease the chance of this.
Furthermore, if your dryer cord will only plug into a special 4 prong socket, then you are less likely to “try” it out in a regular 120-volt outlet.
Don’t worry if your house only has a three-prong receptacle; this can be replaced if necessary. The same goes for the opposite; if your house has a four-prong receptacle but your dryer has a three-prong cord. The power cable of your dryer can also be replaced.
Also, keep in mind that many new dryers come with no power cable at all since there are still so many types of each outlet in the U.S. However, if you’re installing a new 240-volt dryer outlet, it will always be a four-prong outlet in order to meet the codes of the NEC.
Laundry Outlets Must Have Own Branch Circuit
According to Section E3901.5 of IRC, at least one 20-ampere rated branch circuit is needed to power receptacle outlets located exclusively to the laundry area. More simply put, your dryer needs a dedicated 240-volt circuit.
Depending on the make and model of your dryer, the size of the breaker required will vary but will be disclosed on the dryer label.
As previously stated, larger appliances like electric dryers require more electricity than standard appliances. A dedicated circuit ensures that your dryer is the only appliance drawing energy from that circuit and prevents situations involving an overloaded circuit.
Outlets Must be Close to a Dryer
In accordance with Section E3901.5 of IRC, outlets specifically installed for the purpose of appliances regarding laundry equipment must be installed within 6 ft of the appliance.
Not only does this make it easier to provide a dedicated circuit to your dryer, but it also eliminates the need for an extension cord. Typically, power cords of dryers have a standard length of 6 ft or less making the outlet easily accessible according to the mandate in question.
Additionally, without the use of an extension cord, the standard power cable will be able to supply an adequate flow of electricity of at least 240 volts.
Can You Use an Extension Cable With a Dryer?
Extension cables can be used for dryers as long as it is a temporary fix and not something that should be relied on permanently. Ideally, you want the dryer close to the outlet that will supply the necessary electricity without the use of an extension cable.
If an extension cable is required for temporary use, further consultation may be required because not just any cable can be used to power a large appliance like a dryer.
When looking for an appropriate cable, keep in mind that, at the very least, a wattage rating of 1,800 is needed to power a dryer with the least electricity requirements.
The length of the extension cord also plays a role in the electricity that can be supplied; as the length of the cord increases, the amount of wattage that flows through decreases.
Dryer Receptacles Must Have GFCI Protection
Section E3902.9 of IRC states that receptacles ranging from 125 volts to 250 volts installed in laundry areas and supplied by single-phase branch circuits with ratings of 125 volts must have ground-fault circuit-interrupter (GFCI) protection for the appliances in question.
Situations in which an appliance is damaged or wet can cause electricity to flow outside of the circuit conductors on an unintentional path. Essentially, the purpose of a GFCI is to quickly interrupt the current to prevent an electrical accident.
The GFCI device senses imbalances in the amount of electricity flowing into and out of the circuit and decreases the risk of a dangerous shock. Also, because the GFCI trips the circuit quickly, it protects against overheating, fires, and therefore, the insulation of the wires.
There are three types of GFCIs: receptacle, circuit breaker, and portable. Receptacle-type GFCIs are the most common and for the most part, cost-effective. When looking to install a GFCI be sure to consult a professional electrician to ensure that the device works in the way it was intended.