What happened to my dryer?
April 10, 2011 9:12 PM   Subscribe

Why is was my electric dryer groaning? And what happened to it?

So the dryer was running tonight (with the heat turned all the way down because it was a delicates load) and when it was almost done with the cycle, I stopped it, cleaned out the lint trap, and went to start it again (it usually takes a couple runs to get the delicates dry). When I pushed the knob in to start the dryer, it made a bizarre groaning/honking noise and did not start. I tried to start it several times with the same result. I'd pretty much given up on it for this load, but my girlfriend tried, and it made the sound, but it started up. I had to stop it again to throw some of the clothes back in, and operating under the hypothesis that she held it in longer than me, I held in the button for a couple seconds this time. It groaned and then a second later started tumbling.

This only just happened, so I don't have any of the extra data that I'll collect later (such as whether it will make the sound if I start it up when it hasn't been running recently).

Has anyone else had anything like this happen to them before? Is this something I should be worried about?

My only thought is that the motor is having difficulty moving the drum, --

Wait...breaking news! My girlfriend decided that the delicates were dry enough and swapped it out with the lights load (much heavier, if that's relevant). When she pressed and held down the knob, it groaned for a few seconds and then stopped groaning entirely without ever starting. Then she smelled burning rubber and stopped trying. So I guess the answer to whether I should've been worried, is "yes".

Now, I'm thinking that one of the belts gave way or something. Does this sound plausible, and is it the sort of thing that we can diagnose and replace on our own?
posted by ErWenn to Technology (7 answers total)
We replaced the belt on our old Kenmore plenty of times. If your handy its not a big deal. See if you have the manual for it still, or look online. But that's a project best attempted during the day. Just be sure to unplug it before opening the case.
posted by token-ring at 9:17 PM on April 10, 2011

Second that replacing the belt isn't too bad. Also be careful because the inside panels on dryers often have very sharp edges. Wear gloves or be extra cautious.
posted by mmascolino at 9:24 PM on April 10, 2011

I would guess from the smell of rubber, that it may be one of a few things.

The motor might have continued to turn the belt, with the drum not turning (might be the rollers).
Or the motor is turning and not the belt (loose belt).
Whichever it is, you'd probably get a burning rubber smell.
Another idea is theres a felt gasket on the drum opening, again adding support. It may have become seized. In which case you might get a burning smell also if the belt continues to turn, even though the drum doesn't.
But I'd go with the loose belt option first.
Theres also a belt tensioner on many dryers. It might have caused this, but it wouldn't be my first choice.

The make and approximate age would help. Oh, and have you had the belt replaced before and if so, when?
posted by Taurid at 10:05 PM on April 10, 2011

Your dryer has a bearing in the back and some low-tech metal & plastic slide things near the front edge. The drum rides on those slides; when it starts groaning like that, there's a decent chance that it's coming from the slides and that they have worn through. Having worn through, it became much harder for the motor to turn and maybe burned out your belt.

Schematics can be found by feeding Google your dryer's model number. The parts are cheapish and when I needed them I found out that they could be purchased at an appliance repair shop it turned out we had in town. (My appliance repair shop guys were happy to chat briefly about my diagnosis and sell me the parts, but if you don't find such helpful folks locally you can also buy parts online.)

The installation process was more complicated than changing a tire on my car, but less complicated than changing brake pads, if that helps. Having the schematic diagrams really helps. If you're somewhat handy, it's probably within your capabilities.
posted by richyoung at 10:11 PM on April 10, 2011

Sounds like the motor to me, a slipping belt isn't usually a problem that ever self recovers. Less commonly the idler pulley can cause this symptom. A seized up bearing or wheel on the drum will cause the belt to burn through resulting in no tumble and an unladen motor whirring sound (or if equipped with belt break detection no sound at all). It's possible for a bad motor or idler to take out a belt so you may now have two problems. I always replaced the belt when I did motor or pulley replacements, cheap insurance.

richyoung writes "Your dryer has a bearing in the back and some low-tech metal & plastic slide things near the front edge"

About half of dryers have either rollers or glides in the back too rather than a bearing.

"(it usually takes a couple runs to get the delicates dry)"

PS: It shouldn't take a couple runs on delicate (assuming 45-60 minutes each) to dry anything unless by delicate you mean no heat at all. Check to make sure that your vent pipe is not plugged, that you aren't using that dangerous plastic accordion vent pipe, and that the exhaust outlet outside isn't restricted or venting into an enclosed space.

posted by Mitheral at 8:13 PM on April 11, 2011

Mitheral: What's the issue with the plastic accordion vent pipes?

I doubt anyone will be reading this now, but I figured I'd give an update. The dryer came with the house, and I'm guessing the dryer is somewhere between 10 and 20 years old. It's a front-loading electric dryer, a Speed Queen, with model number AEM653W. Google was less than helpful here, only turning up one hit for "AEM653W", which led me to a "manual" that only had info about hooking things up. There are a few more hits for "AEM653", but those all seem to be Maytags or Whirlpools.

In any case, yesterday, I opened the thing up to see what I could see. I couldn't find anything obviously wrong. The belt was still in one piece and if I turned the exhaust fan by hand, the drum went with it and vice-versa. So I closed most of it back up and ran it for a few seconds to see what was going on. It ran just fine. No burning smell, no groaning sound, no slipping belts. So I closed it up completely and tried it again. Seemed to be working fine. I tried it with the heat on: still working fine. There was a very, very faint smell of burning dust, like I get when I turn on the house's heater for the first time in the winter. I'd kicked up so much dust that I wasn't really surprised, and I figured if the smell went away, I wouldn't worry. The smell went away. So I ran it and went outside to check the exhaust. Everything seemed to be working fine there, with plenty of air moving out. When the heat was on, the air coming out was warm. (That vent vents right out the side of the house into a very large yard, so it's not obstructed. I cleaned out the vent of dust and lint while I was out there.)

So we ran a load of laundry. It ran without any obvious funny noises or smells. When it was done, the clothes were still wet. I'd say wetter than "damp" but nowhere near dripping. We usually have to run it twice to get things completely dry, but usually, the clothes are only "damp" after we run it once, so this seemed worse than usual. The clothes were warm, so there was some heat. There was lint in the lint trap, but not as much as I'm used to.

So that's where we stand now. Steve McSpeedQueen (as I am now calling him) now no longer complains, he moves clothes, he moves air, and he heats things up, but somehow he does an even worse job of drying than he did before. Anyone have any further advice?
posted by ErWenn at 9:00 AM on April 24, 2011

If it is an actual Speed queen and not a rebadged Admiral the drum is supported at the back by a shaft through a bushing and at the front on two large diameter rollers.

Excessive dry time is caused by a blocked vent, a defective thermostat (or inappropriate use of the air dry setting) or one some models half the element being burned out. Check to make sure your lint screen is clean (sounds like you already have), vacuum as much of the internal vent structure as you can (a crevice tool is handy), vacuum the piping from the dryer to outside and make sure the exterior vent is clear and unobstructed.

If you are handy with a multi meter you can check the element for continuity when the dryer is unplugged. The thermostat being defective is harder, you need to be able to check for amperage and voltage while the dryer is running which means dealing with dangerous live voltage and amperage, and exposed moving parts. Something bet left to a professional.

The problem with the plastic vent is two fold. The first is that it is restrictive; 1 foot of flexible plastic vent is the same as 5-10 feet of rigid vent. The second is it catches fire, melts and burns down your house disturbingly often. It is illegal in Canada for dryer use for the last reason.

Excessive dry time can also be caused by a washing machine that isn't spinning the water out of the clothes well enough. Clothes out of the washing machine shouldn't be so wet that you can wring water out of them.
posted by Mitheral at 11:27 AM on April 24, 2011

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