Nothing can be more unnerving than smelling a burnt odor from a dryer.
Most of the time, it is from a clogged dryer vent that gets very hot and burns.
In this guide, I will go over..
- Inspecting the flex vent
- Inspecting the exterior vent hood
- When a professional cleaning is needed
- Other possible sources of a burnt smell
Table of contents
- Why Does My Dryer Smell Burnt?
- Lint Trap Clog
- Failing Thermostat
- Overheated Motor
- Failing Drive Belt
Why Does My Dryer Smell Burnt?
The most common reason that a dryer smells like is burning is from a clogged dryer vent. When a dryer vent gets clogged with lint, it can partially or totally block air flow, causing the temperature in the dryer vent to rise.
As the temperature rises, it can ignite the highly flammable lint. There may actually be flames, or it may just be a small ember — releasing the smell of something burning from the dryer.
I have been inside homes where there have been dryer vent lint fires. As the ember turns into a real fire inside the dryer duct, it spreads in both directions of the duct — towards the dryer end and towards the exterior vent hood.
According to the National Fire Protection Association, there were 13,820 home fires from 2014-2018 related to dryers.
Step 1. Unplug The Dryer
The first thing you should do if you smell something burning from the dryer is to turn it off and to unplug the dryer from the wall outlet.
I would also get a fire extinguisher handy just in case it turns into a dryer fire.
Step 2. Disconnect The Flex Vent From Dryer And Wall
FEMA.gov recommends checking the flexible dryer vent behind the dryer for problems like clogs or damage.
After unplugging the dryer, pull the dryer away from the wall so you can get access to the flex duct.
The flex vent is the small flexible vent that runs from the dryer to the wall. These small sections of ducting sometimes get clogged or even crushed behind the dryer — restricting air flow.
You may need to remove clamps (and possibly foil tape) holding the duct to the dryer and to the wall. If your dryer is in a really confined space, you may want to read my detailed guide on how to remove the flex vent in tight spaces.
Step 3. Inspect The Flex Vent
Inspect the dryer duct for any signs of a lint blockage.
Closely check for any charring or evidence of burning.
Was the flex vent damaged or crushed at all? The flex vent needs adequate space so it doesn’t restrict air flow.
Step 4. Inspect the Wall Duct
The wall duct is the portion of the duct that goes to the outside. This duct should be made out of rigid metal ductwork and not flex duct.
Remove the flex vent from the wall. With the wall duct opening visible, take a flashlight and look inside the duct for any issues
Step 5. Inspect The Dryer Duct
And don’t forget to shine a flashlight into the duct that is inside the dryer.
Sometimes the clog can be in the portion of the duct that is inside the dryer, about 12-18 inches.
You may even want to reach your hand deep inside the dryer duct to feel for a blockage. You can also turn the dryer on to feel for air flow from the dryer after you have removed the flex duct.
Step 6. Inspect The Exterior Vent Cover
The exterior vent hood or cover can get blocked with lint. According to the Energy Department, birds sometimes nest in unprotected vent openings like dryer ducts.
If the vent hood is on an exterior wall, it may be pretty easy to inspect. However, if the dryer vent goes to the roof, soffit, or crawlspace — you may want to hire a professional to check it out.
Exterior hoods have something called a ‘flapper’ that opens when the dryer is turned on, and then it closes when the dryer is off. Sometimes the flapper gets stuck closed which can create an air flow blockage.
Dryer vents also commonly have pest screens to keep out animals like birds. Frequently, these screens have overly small holes which traps lint and also leads to a blockage.
When your are inspecting the exterior vent hood for problems, I would also shine a flashlight into the duct to look for a blockage that may be causing the dryer to smell like burning.
Step 7. Turn On Dryer
After inspecting and clearing any visible clogs out of the flex vent, exterior vent cover, or ends of the wall duct — the next step is to reconnect the dryer to test the air flow.
It would be a good idea to keep one person near the dryer with a fire extinguisher while another person quickly checks the air flow outside.
Turn the dryer back on, and put your hand up to the exterior vent hood. There should be strong air flow.
If the air flow is very weak, or if there is none at all, then you know there is still a clog somewhere on the interior of the dryer duct. You want to do this step very quickly so you don’t cause any more burning smells from the dryer.
Step 8. Schedule A Professional Dryer Duct Cleaning
Since you checked the flex vent and exterior cover for problems, but there is still a burning smell (and weak or no air flow) — you really should get the dryer duct professionally cleaned and inspected.
Dryer vent cleaning companies use either compressed air tools or long brush attachments that can go into the duct 25-35 feet to remove any clogs. Air duct cleaning companies and chimney sweep companies also frequently clean dryer ducts.
Always make sure that the air flow is strong after the duct cleaning to be sure that the clog is removed.
Just keep in mind: there is a possibility that the dryer duct is disconnected somewhere inside the wall. If this is the case, you will need to hire a qualified contractor to repair the issue.
Lint Trap Clog
This is a kind of a no-brainer, but sometimes people don’t understand that dryers have lint traps that should be cleaned after every drying cycle.
If the lint trap is highly clogged, it may start burning and release a burning smell. Remove the lint trap and clean it.
If there is strong air flow at the exterior vent hood, the burning smell may be due to a failing thermostat.
If the thermostat went bad, it will be unable to sense the temperature inside the dryer, allowing it to get way too hot. In this case, it may release a weird smell such as of something burning.
Probably the easiest thing to do is just replace the thermostat.
If the thermostat is still good, the burning smell may be from an overheated dryer motor. If the dryer motor is going bad, it will likely have a lot of noise as well.
Hiring a qualified appliance technician to check out your motor for possible replacement is recommended.
Failing Drive Belt
If you have an older dryer, it may be using a rubber belt to move the dryer drum.
Rubber belts can get degraded and melt which could possibly release a burning smell.
Have an appliance technician open the dryer and check the drive belt. Replace it if the drive belt looks deteriorated.