The Causes of Electric Dryer Outlet and Cord Failures

Know What Causes This Electrical Meltdown

Clothes Tumbling in Dryer
Clothes Tumbling in Dryer. Saturated/Getty Images

As is in most homes today, you probably have either a gas or electric clothes dryer. In the case of the electric clothes dryer, they are convenient when they work properly. That leads us to the old question of why isn't my dryer drying? When troubleshooting this issue, you must first know what to look for. First, go to the electrical panel and see if either the fuse or circuit breaker feeding the clothes dryer is blown or tripped. If so, this could indicate a wiring problem either in the machine itself, a broken and shorted heating element, a dryer cord problem, a dryer outlet problem, or any of the many electrical wire connections from the electrical panel to the dryer itself.

If your electric dryer outlet and cord are getting hot but your dryer is not, it may be because of loose electrical connections. It is pretty evident in the photo that this was an electrical fire just waiting to happen. In fact, as you can see in the photo, the right connection post has actually been burnt off of the insulating post. Poor electrical connections, both at electrical terminals and the connection point of the cord and outlet, are often the cause of electrical fires in homes. 

This particular outlet had a loose electrical connection under the burnt terminal where the feeder wire landed. The result was an increase in resistance and that in turn generated heat. The heat grew as the demand for current to heat the dryer increased. This, in turn, heated the plastic housing around the blades of the electric dryer cord. As you can see from the discoloration of the area around the blade and the melted plastic, all is not well here either. I don't know if you have ever smelled plastic burning or the insulation of wiring burning, but the smell is awful and you cannot miss it, especially if it is happening in your home. In the olden days, when aluminum wiring was the wiring of choice in homes, it was particularly important to check the tightness of the electrical connections from time to time, due to aluminum wiring becomes soft with heat and this allows the wiring to become loose in the connection. Yes, you guessed it, another example of what we are looking at here, trouble!

Like a loose wire connection, another factor that can do similar damage is the connection between the cord plug and the outlet itself. The left terminal connection had this problem. The connection fingers of the outlet were loose, causing a heat buildup on the cord blade and the outlet post. In fact, as with any outlet, if you plug the cord into the outlet and it seems to want to fall back out of the outlet, that's a telltale sign that the finger grips are worn out and that the outlet should be changed. If you look in your local electrical supply shop or in the electrical department of your hardware store, you are likely to find a tension-checking tool. This is an easy tool to check every outlet in your home to see if they have the appropriate amount of tension. Simply plug it in, pull it out, and look at the tension amount. The guide supplied will give you the full details. It's a nice tool to have in the old electrical toolbox! 

And while we're on the subject of possible electrical safety issues, take time to look your home over for other potential accidents waiting to happen with this electrical safety checklist. Although it takes a little of your time, electrical safety is the key and you'll be surprised how many common electrical mistakes are made by homeowners. One that always seems to pop up every year time after time is the use of extension cords. Everyone just grabs whatever they have and plug whatever they want into it without taking the time to see if the wiring is heavy enough for the appliance being plugged in. For example, use an approved appliance cord for electric heaters, refrigerators, freezers, microwaves, etc. I have seen people plug these appliances into cheap, undersized drop cords that are not rated for a 20-amp circuit, and one worse, one person had three, yes count them three, electric heaters all connected to a single 15-amp cheap cord. I was there after a call from the landlord that they smelled smoke in the house!

Wow! I could not believe it. Please, folks, take time to check the connections and buy the appropriate cords and outlets for the job. Your safety is at risk if you don't.