Why the bathroom fan stopped working? [8-Step Guide]

Do you have a bathroom fan that stopped working?

A defective bathroom fan will fall into either an electrical problem or a part issue.

In this guide, I will go over...

  • Tripped breakers and GFCI circuits
  • Clogged grilles impeding air flow
  • Birds making nests in bath vents
bathroom fan stopped working

Personally, I can't live without a functioning bathroom fan. Not only will it remove problematic odors, but it will quickly remove moisture from the bathroom.

If not, this excessive humidity can make it very uncomfortable, and this moisture can leak out into the rest of the home. Also, this moisture can lead to mold issues, rusted door hardware, and even rotted wood.

Let's get started with this guide!

A Malfunctioning Bath Fan Is Likely A Tripped Breaker

The first place I would check when your bathroom fan isn't working is the electrical panel.  It may be as simple as a tripped breaker as to why your fan isn't working. But if there is power to your bathroom fan, but there isn't enough suction, I would first inspect the easiest things. 

Is the bathroom fan cover clogged with dust and debris? Well, it needs to be cleaned to restore air flow.

Read Also: What Are The Best Panasonic Bathroom Exhaust Fans?

8 Ways To Diagnose A Broken Bath Fan

  1. Check If Circuit Breaker Has Tripped
  2. Check If Bath Fan Is On GFCI Circuit
  3. See If The Wall Switch Is Loose Or Broken
  4. Determine If Bath Fan Housing Outlet Is Broken
  5. Verify That Fan Motor Is Good
  6. Clean A Dirty Bathroom Vent Fan Cover
  7. Verify Fan Blades Are Good
  8. See If The Duct Is Clogged Or Defective

1. Check If Circuit Breaker Has Tripped

If there is no power to your exhaust fan whatsoever when you flip the switch, the first thing to do is check if you have tripped a breaker.

You may have too many appliances plugged into the circuit (that the fan is on) and it may have tripped the breaker. Or the breaker may defective and tripped on its own without overloading.

Look in your electrical panel box or breaker box and see if any of the breakers have tripped.

Read Also: How To Stop Condensation In My Exhaust Fan?

2. Check If Bath Fan Is On GFCI Circuit

If you don't have power to your fan, it may also be on a GFCI circuit. GFCI stands for ground-fault circuit interruptor, and this is an outlet with two buttons on it — a reset and test button.

These are the outlets that are installed in kitchens and bathrooms to protect the home occupants from getting shocked. These special outlets also protect the downstream outlets from the master GFCI.

If the electricity is off balance, then it will instantly shut off the electricity to that circuit. If there is no power to your entire bathroom, then it is likely the GFCI outlet tripped. All you have to do is locate the master GFCI outlet, and hit the reset button to restore power to the circuit.

3. See If The Wall Switch Is Loose Or Broken

If you checked your electrical panel and GFCI circuits, and they both didn't trip, then the next thing I would check is the wall switch.

You want to verify that the wires are connected and that the switch is working.

All you have to do is remove the one set screw, remove the cover, and connect the red and black wire of a voltage tester to the outlet terminals. Then you can flip the switch on and off, and see if the voltage turns on & off. You should also see 120-volts when the switch is on.

Read Also: What Are The Best Broan-NuTone Bathroom Ventilation Fans?

4. Determine If Bath Fan Housing Outlet Is Broken

After checking the wall switch (and it's good) then I want to check the bath fan outlet if there is one.

Many older bathroom fans have an outlet as part of the fan housing that the motor is actually plugged into. To see this outlet, all you have to do is remove the bath fan cover.

bathroom fan stopped working

And to remove the cover, pull down on the edges, and it will come down 1-2 inches. From the gap, you should feel for two metal clips, and you will squeeze on these clips to release them from their slots.

After removing the fan cover, and if there is an outlet, all you have to do is unplug motor plug. Now using a voltage tester, check to see if there is power to the housing outlet.

You can also just plug in a small lamp to the housing outlet.

5. Verify That Fan Motor Is Good

After checking the housing outlet, I want to verify if the motor is burned out.

Basically to do this, you want to plug in the fan motor into an extension cord that is connected to a good outlet. And if your bath fan still doesn't turn on, then you know the fan motor is burned out, and you will need a new bathroom fan.

bathroom fan stopped working (1)

6. Clean A Dirty Bathroom Vent Fan Cover

Sometimes when I inspect a home, I am shocked at how dirty and clogged a bath fan cover can get.

If you feel like your bath fan isn't do the job, or if there is little air flow, I would first clean the fan cover or grille if it is visibly dirty. A clogged fan cover can block as much as 90% of the air flow, so it isn't something to be underestimated.

Most homeowners rarely if ever clean their bathroom fan cover. You can simply clean the grille with warm soapy water to remove all lint and dust.

You can read my full guide on how to remove NuTone exhaust fan covers here.

7. Verify Fan Blades Are Good

After cleaning or inspecting the cover, I would check the fan blades to see if they are defective or dirty.

Most bathroom fans will have either a propeller or centrifugal fan (squirrel cage). Either way, you will have to remove the cover at minimum.

With the cover removed, I would inspect the fan blades with a flash light, push it with a finger or screwdriver, and see if it spins freely. If it doesn't spin freely, then you will likely need to purchase a new bathroom fan if oiling it doesn't do the trick.

You can check out my article where I go over step-by-step on how to oil bath fans. And if the fan blades are extremely dirty, then cleaning them is also recommended.

8. See If The Duct Is Clogged Or Defective

After checking the grill and fan blades, I recommend turning the bathroom fan on, and checking the vent cover outside.

The flapper of the vent cover may be stuck closed. Or there may be a birds nest somewhere in the vent, which is actually a very common phenomenon.

I have personally seen over a hundred birds nest in dryer and bathroom vents. I recommend shining a flashlight into the vent hose from the outside and see if you notice anything.

Read Also: How To Vent A Bathroom Exhaust Fan Through The Wall?

Final Thoughts

It can be a frustrating experience to have a bathroom fan that isn't working.

It won't remove smells. It won't remove moisture. And this excessive moisture can lead to mold problems, rusted hardware, and even deteriorated wood.

The biggest first step in fixing a bathroom fan is to determine whether there is power to the fan or not. If there is power, then you will want to check the fan blades, the cover, and the exterior vent cover.

If there isn't power, then you will want to check the circuit breakers, the wall switch, the housing outlet, and the fan motor itself.

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4 thoughts on “Why the bathroom fan stopped working? [8-Step Guide]”

  1. Fan works for 2-3 minutes then stops working . The fan has its own switch. Cleaned everything up there. Still no improvement. Motor housing felt pretty hot. Wonder if it has an override switch when it overheats. Blades are intact and working ok but fan operation is noisy as if it’s out of balance.

    • Hey Brett,

      Virtually all modern bath fans have thermal cutoff switches if the motor gets too hot. There may be a blockage in the duct like a birds nest or the exterior cover may be blocked. Sometimes the exterior flapper gets stuck closed. If the fan blades are out of balance or the motor is extremely dusty may also be a cause.


  2. My bathroom exhaust fan makes a noise but the fan blades weren’t moving. We replaced it with a new one but the same thing happened. If we plug it into the housing outlet the fan blades turn, on both our old one unit and the new one, but when the unit is placed back into the housing and snapped into place the fan blades don’t work. The flapper vent can be opened easily. Any ideas? Thank you

    • Hi Paula,

      Not really sure if the problem to be honest. If it makes noises when the fan isn’t on, it is related to either fan housing flapper or the exterior hood flapper — most likely when there is high wind. It could also be a negative air pressure problem if it is improperly venting into the attic.

      If the fan itself won’t turn on, then it is an electrical issue such as a busted housing outlet or wiring issue.



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