Fixing clothes dryer isn't piece of cake, but is a lot of lint

November 04, 2006|By ROB KASPER

This is a story of how not to fix a clothes dryer. It is a tale full of lint and disappointment. If you are looking for an account of epic victory, of man over machine, look elsewhere. I fought the dryer and the dryer won.

This domestic conflict began, as so many do, on a weekend. Last Sunday night, as is my custom, I was touring the grounds, emptying wastebaskets in preparation for the Monday morning arrival of the municipal trash truck. In the laundry room, I noticed that there was a load of damp clothes in the dryer. Damp laundry is a fact of family life. More often than not it is the result of someone forgetting to start the dryer.

Mentally I prepared to recite my often-delivered lecture to the troops on the importance of starting the dryer, how machinery can only work if given a command, how leaving damp clothes in the dryer makes for smelly garments. I did this as I hit the dryer's start button. When I hit it, nothing happened. So I did what most guys would do in this situation, I hit it harder. Again nothing happened.

Thus began an escalating series of encounters between me and the machine.

I moved the dryer away from the wall. Dryers are big and boxy but they are not heavy. A washing machine is heavy. I know because I had to move it as well. I scooted both out so I could see if the dryer power cord was plugged into the wall socket. Why it would be unplugged could be anyone's guess. But in the battle of household repairs I have learned to first take aim at the easiest solution.

The dryer is powered by electricity, and I felt its large, three-prong plug to make sure it was firmly in the socket. It was. Next I trekked down to the basement to check the circuit breaker box to see if the switch sending power to the dryer's wall outlet had flipped off. It had not. Just for luck I flipped the breaker, off then back on. Sometimes flipping a breaker solves a problem. Not this time.

I slept on it. Monday morning as the rest of the world was charging off to conquer new arenas of commerce, to probe new fields of knowledge, to educate our youth, I was sitting at the kitchen table fretting about the dryer. Perhaps, I mused, there was a problem in the wall socket. If this were a normal-size outlet, accommodating 110 volts, I could give it the lamp test, plug in a lamp and see if the light went on. But I did not have any 220-volt lamps.

So I went to the hardware store and for a couple of bucks bought a circuit tester. This is a device with two probes that are inserted into an electrical outlet. If the current is strong, a light goes on. As I squeezed between the washer and dryer, with their metal sides touching both of my shoulders, unsettling thoughts skimmed across my brain. Thoughts of headlines reading "Fried man found in laundry room" flashed past.

Yet when I jabbed the probes into the outlet, the light went on in the tester and nothing tingled in me. Now at least I knew that the problem was not in the outlet, but in the dryer. But where?

I unplugged the dryer and waltzed it toward the middle of the laundry room. As I did, the vent pipe popped loose from its back. The pipe carries the dryer exhaust up through the roof and into the great outdoors. Vent pipes, like sewer pipes, should be uncluttered and free flowing. But dryer vent pipes, like sewer pipes, are not nice to look at, so they are often ignored. As I peered into this pipe, I saw that its sides were coated with lint. It was a coating that looked like thick, gray snow.

The vent pipe had two parts, a flexible metal hose that ran from the back of the dryer and connected to a rigid metal pipe that ran up through the roof. I cleaned out some of the lint with my hand. But there were parts of the pipe I couldn't reach. I needed a tool, a long, skinny lint remover; I found such a tool in the bedroom of one of my sons: a ski pole. I taped a sock around the pointed end of the ski pole to keep it from puncturing the vent pipe. Then I went to work, sticking the pole up the vent pipe, rubbing the sides of the pipe. First it rained lint, then it snowed lint. With each glob of gray lint that fell from the pipes, I felt purified.

The dryer, however, still did not work, even with its purified vent pipes. I took another step up the Repair Mountain, and I removed several screws and exposed the inner workings of the dryer's instrument panel. Before me was an array of wires. There were pink ones, orange ones, blue ones, green ones and, of course, several black and white wires. Most of them connected to a device I took to be the timer, the brain of the operation.

I spent a large part of Tuesday night staring at those wires. I drew a diagram of the wiring. How hard could it be, I asked myself, to unplug those wires, remove the brain and install a new one? Pretty hard I answered, counting 14 wires and a similar number of contact points.

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