The Care and Feeding of Your Clothes Dryer

Heather says:

This may come as a surprise to some, but your clothes dryer is not a magic box that dries your clothes with sunshine and warm, fuzzy thoughts. Well there are some warm fuzzies, but not of the rainbow and unicorn variety.  For the most part, and this excludes the new dryers that steam clothing, clothes dryers are fairly simple machines.

This overview is written for the non-technical crowd. If you want schematics, there are repair manuals available with a simple Google search. This article is intended to give a sense of how your dryer works, which will help to maximize the efficiency of its use.

how to take care of your clothes dryer

Here’s a quick rundown of the basic anatomy of the dryer. Keep in mind that the actual set up is going to vary by model and manufacturer, but in general most dryers are pretty similar.

  • Cabinet – this houses all of the parts, except the control panel which is usually on top.
  • Door – since you can read, I’m pretty sure you have the hang of this one
  • Drum – this is the space in which you put the clothes, some dryers also have fins inside the drum to help clothing tumble better
  • Blower / Fan- this moves in fresh air over the heating element and sends the humid air on its way past the lint screen and out the exhaust / dryer vent
  • Element – In electric dryers this is how the air is heated
  • Gas valve & burner – only found in gas dryers, this is how the air is heated
  • Thermostat – tells your dryer how hot things are
  • Moisture Sensor – tells your dryer about the “load moisture”  how wet the material in the dryer is – the type of sensor varies from model to model.
  • Thermistor – another means by which some dryers help determine the temperature
  • Control Panel – this is how you tell your dryer how hot, long, or dry you want the load of clothing
  • Pulleys, Belts, and a Motor: turn the drum, run the fan, and can prevent the heat from turning on if the drum is not rotating

Your dryer, depending on features will usually determine when a load of clothing is done based on time, temperature or load moisture. The timer shuts the dryer off after a set amount of time and is the least accurate way of determining if your clothes are dry. Temperature shuts off the element or burner when a specific air temperature is reached and shuts the whole thing off when the temperature is sustained. Moisture sensors work through conductivity, wet clothes are decent conductors and tell the sensor that there is still a lot of moisture in the load the conductivity decreases as the load is dried.

Because dryers are such uncomplicated machines, repair and troubleshooting is usually something anyone can manage. Well, anyone willing to follow directions and basic electrical safety (ie unplugging the appliance before doing anything).

How to get the most out of your dryer:

Sort clothes by fabric weight.
This doesn’t mean you need to break out the scale, you don’t have to be that accurate. Just dry heavy fabric with other heavy fabric items. Think of it this way, your t-shirts dry more quickly than your jeans. If you have your jeans and t-shirts in the same load, the shirts are bouncing around in there long after they have dried. To be more efficient dry your lightweight clothing separately from heavier items like denim, blankets, and towels.

Empty the lint filter EVERY time.
The more easily air can flow out of your dyer the more efficiently it can run. Be sure your dryer’s vent is cleaned from time to time.

Don’t throw balled up or twisted clothing into the drum.
When transferring clothing from your washer to the dryer take a moment and shake out the items. There aren’t house elves in there to untwist your pant legs and sheets. (Although it would be nice, no?) It’s all about surface area, the more easily your clothes can tumble around in the dryer, the more air can reach the clothing the faster it will dry. You should never hear thuds as balls of wet clothing hit the bottom of the drum during operation.

Don’t stuff your dryer.
Back to the airflow, if air can’t flow, the clothes can’t dry efficiently. If you have a washer with an extra large capacity, you may not be able to dry the whole load in a standard dryer. The clothing must be able to tumble freely.

It’s helpful for your dryer and the clothes if you air dry some things. Clothes drying racks are inexpensive and a lot sturdier than they look.

Try to empty the dryer as soon as it finishes to prevent clothing from wrinkling.
Turning the dryer back on to de-wrinkle clothing isn’t the most efficient use of the appliance, even if pulling on warm jeans is one of the greatest simple pleasures in life.

guide to the laundry room

Click the picture for more tips!

Try to not over-dry fabrics, this reduces its lifespan by weakening fibers.
The timer is the least efficient way to manage the drying cycle. Try to get in the habit of using the moisture sensing option, if it is available.  If the moisture sensor goes bad, it’s very simple to replace. Repair Clinic has some great YouTube videos demonstrating this repair.

Questions? Send your domestic questions to


  1. Paula @ Garden Decor on May 12, 2011 at 8:40 pm

    Cleaning the lint screen after every use is important. I always clean mine even during a load. It seems to help cut down on the time it takes to dry. Another thing I do is shake every piece of clothing that I put into the dryer. From socks to jeans. Towels is a must for shaking for me, because it seems to soften the towels. Great information.

  2. Anna on May 11, 2011 at 2:43 pm

    But, I do have a problem! lol

    My dryer won't dry very well. I have cleaned the lint trap, wiped down the sensor bar, and it is still not working well. The most noticeable issue is that the auto cycle gets the load about half dry. What do you think?

    • HeatherSolos on May 11, 2011 at 2:49 pm

      Anna, did you read the post on cleaning out the dryer vent?

      The problem in that post is a frequent cause of dryers running inefficiently -taking forever to dry or not drying all the way.

      Your other likely problems could be the thermostat going bad or the moisture sensor, both should be pretty easy replacements, watch Repair Clinic videos like this one: With the age of your dryer, it could be any of those 3 issues, but all are pretty easy & reasonably inexpensive.

      • Anna on May 11, 2011 at 9:14 pm

        I'm a loyal reader! 🙂 I saw the post, and have done the easy bits recently, but not the whole hose. I think we replaced it when we moved in four years ago, so it's definitely time, but hasn't been ten years, either.

        We've also replaced one or both of those before, wish I could remember which one. Thanks!

  3. Kristen @MamaBytes on May 11, 2011 at 1:25 pm

    I have another tip–clean your lint filter!!! (I did a post a while back on this same thing!!… I read about it as a teenager somewhere-and I honestly believe it helps!
    My recent post Explaining my absence

    • Anna on May 11, 2011 at 2:40 pm

      My dryer is nearing ten years old, and I tested my screen about six months ago. It wasn't a problem at all.

      • HeatherSolos on May 11, 2011 at 2:42 pm

        We don't have that issue either, but we don't use fabric softener or dryer sheets. I believe it's mostly a problem for those who are a bit heavy handed with the softener.

        • Anna on May 11, 2011 at 9:11 pm

          Yeah- no softener here, either, and only fragrance free sheets for things that need static control.

  4. Malia @ O2O on May 11, 2011 at 11:42 am

    I'm bad about throwing jeans and t-shirts and such in the dryer all together. I "know" better, just a bit lazy in that department.
    My recent post Theres no place like home

  5. Bobbie Laughman on May 11, 2011 at 11:20 am

    I got a text from my daughter last night — "how do you get gum out of a dryer?"

    I never had that happen – other stuff, but never gum – so I suggested she make the gum cold first (ice or ice pack) then scrape it out with a hard plastic scraper, like those brown ones from Pampered Chef. Waiting to find out if that worked or not.

    What is the preferred method, if there is such a thing?

    • HeatherSolos on May 11, 2011 at 2:43 pm

      I'll do a post on this. You can use WD-40 or Goo Gone to get rid of the last bit of the residue, but you have to be SURE to get rid of all of the solvent before using the dryer again. WD-40 is flammable, so you must be cautious with its use.

  6. Rachel on May 11, 2011 at 10:19 am

    Huh — who knew?

    I know I'm supposed to clean the lint trap but, I had no idea about the weakening of fabrics or over-stuffing.

    My recent post A Big Bowl of Summer

    • HeatherSolos on May 11, 2011 at 10:22 am

      My goal is to hit all of the major household appliances over the next few months. Washers I'll have to do in two parts, top loading and HE.
      The over-stuffing of washers is pretty common, too and a big reason clothes don't always come out as clean as they should.

  7. Erica Mueller on May 11, 2011 at 10:14 am

    Unballing, especially towels, helps so much! I always shake things out.

    My recent post Acronis True Image Home 2010 Online Backup Review

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