Is Your Dryer Burning Clothes? 7 possible reasons8 min read

A dryer burning your clothes can be a serious issue leading to ruined laundry, and even the possibility of a fire. Fortunately, there are some simple checks you can perform at home to diagnose and fix a dryer burning your clothes. 

Insufficient airflow is the most common cause of clothes burning in dryers. Proper temperature regulation in dryers depends on adequate airflow, which can be hindered by lint buildup or incorrect installation. Other causes of clothes burning include malfunctioning internal parts like the thermostat and heating element.

Not only can burning clothes ruin your wardrobe, but they can also ruin your home by causing fires and bad smells. In this article, I’ll guide you through seven solutions, starting with the most widespread and straightforward to diagnose.

I take information accuracy seriously, especially when it comes to dryers burning items of clothing! This article has been expert reviewed by Andy Fulenchek, professional appliance repairman with 10+ years experience and owner of Grace Appliance.

Why is your dryer burning clothes?

There are 7 potential reasons why your dryer burns clothes:

  1. Oil leaks
  2. Lack of airflow
  3. Faulty thermostat
  4. Burned out timer motor
  5. Broken dryer belt
  6. Broken door
  7. Broken heating element

I’ll go through each of these reasons in detail, and will help you solve the root cause of your dryer burning laundry.

Verifying appropriate cycling temps at the exit vent can be helpful to determine if your dryer is overheating. Temperatures at the outside vent are typically somewhere between 125-155F.

Andy Fulenchek

1. your washing machine may be leaking oil

I once made the mistake of assuming black marks on my clothing were due to burning marks where they were actually oil stains (it turns out a lot of other people have assumed the same). This confusion arises because washing machines use oil to lubricate moving components like the transmission. 

When a washing machine experiences an oil leak, it can result in small dark marks on the laundry. Homeowners may not notice these marks when moving the clothes to the dryer.

Once the dryer completes its cycle, it is easy to mistakenly assume that the dryer is responsible for causing burn marks. In reality, the oil stains left by the washing machine are the true culprit behind these marks.

So my first advice is to double-check the state of your laundry before putting it in the dryer. If you do suspect an oil leak, I also wrote an entire article on how and why washing machines sometimes leak oil

2. a lack of airflow

The most common reason for clothes to burn in a dryer is a lack of airflow. If air cannot circulate and escape the dryer efficiently, it will get stuck inside the dryer drum and overheat the machine. As a result, it will scorch your clothes. 

Lint build-up

Here are four ways your dryer’s airflow can get restricted. 

  • A buildup of lint. Lint gets absolutely everywhere in a dryer, and a buildup can cause a lack of airflow. The most common areas to get built up and cause issues are near the filter and the fan. 
  • Blocked vent. While clothes are drying in the machine, lint escapes the material. Lint is a highly flammable material. If there is a lint buildup in your dryer, it will soon cause the airflow to restrict and fires to occur.
  • Overloaded dryer. If you load too many clothes into your dryer, the drum will not be able to move around freely. The heavy load will block the heating vent, which can cause fires and result in scorched clothes.
  • A poorly operating exhaust system. The exhaust system should work efficiently to allow air to escape when clothes are drying. If not, overheating and fires can occur. Hence, it is important to follow the manufacturer’s guide and ensure the exhaust system is working correctly to prevent airflow from getting restricted. 

4 easy airflow checks you should run through 

Here, I’ll walk you through the 6 key checks to identify the cause of a lack of airflow. I’ll begin with the most common and easiest areas to inspect. 

The great news is that in this section, you won’t need to order any parts for your machine, and it’s likely that these checks will resolve the issue of insufficient airflow, which is causing your dryer to overheat.

Check 1 – is the filter clogged up? 

The first place to check for airflow clogs is in the filter screen. Aside from lint, a common culprit is dryer sheets, which can melt onto the filter and restrict the screen’s ability to allow air to pass through. A dryer that cannot breathe properly will overheat, as it is unable to exhaust hot air efficiently.

To tackle this issue, take a closer look at the screen and examine it closely. Some machines have a filter that comes out the top (Whirlpool, Kenmore, Crosley, Amana, and some Maytag’s) whereas for others the filter is located by the front door. 

You won’t be able to visually inspect for wax build up from dryer sheets. You can verify by running water through the screen.  Water should not bubble up on top of the screen. If so, scrub. No need to dry the screen before reinstalling as they dryer will do this for you through it’s normal operation.

Andy Fulenchek

Check 2 – Is the Outside Vent blocked?

Dryers vent to the outside of the house and often have a flapper (or a screen) attached to them. Sometimes they can get stopped up with either lint or outside material which would cause your dryer to not vent efficiently.  

Go outside and have a look – if it’s clogged, unclog it. Bear in mind that some vents exit through the roof (like mine) so a professional vent cleaning company would be the safest way to go.

Clogged outside dryer air vent

Check 3 – Is The Vent At The Back Of Your Dryer Blocked and properly installed?

If the exhaust pipe is too long or if your dryer is pushed too tightly to the wall, the exhaust hose can get a kink in or become blocked with lint. 

The longer the pipe is, the more resistance is required to produce effective ventilation. If lint ends up in this pipe there won’t be enough ventilation to push hot air outside of the house, therefore causing an overheated dryer. 

You should also check the size of the exhaust hose in relation to the wall vent. If the exhaust pipe is too large, you’ll notice that the hose clamp has to exert considerable effort to connect it, in order to reduce its size enough for a proper fit. The standard size is 4 inches.

Check 4 – Is the dryer intake free from obstruction? 

A dryer intake is a part of the dryer that allows fresh air to enter. It’s normally located at the front or bottom of the dryer. The intake plays an important role in maintaining proper airflow within the dryer, allowing fresh air to circulate. 

Check that the dryer intake is free from blockages. One culprit I’ve seen that often causes trouble is where a dryer sheet gets stuck against the intake, as they become sticky when hot. Make sure you clean that off as it’ll prevent the dryer from breathing. 

3. a faulty dryer thermostat

All dryers operate using a thermostat. The thermostat regulates the temperature of the dryer drum, which will turn off when the desired temperature is reached. After that, the dryer will cool down. 

Occasionally thermostats fail, causing the dryer to overheat and not cool down as it should. The dryer will not know when to cool down, resulting in scorched garments. 

You might also notice shortened drying cycles (with clothes being left damp or partially dry) or constant running, as the malfunctioning thermostat fails to signal the appliance to stop when the desired temperature is reached.

Most dryers are also equipped with a higher-limit thermostat which is a backup in case the first one fails. This thermostat is designed to cut power in the event that your dryer’s normal cycling thermostat is malfunctioning. If failed, you may find that your dryer is overheating.

Here’s a quick video showing you how to test for a faulty thermostat: 

4. burned-up timer motor

A timer motor is responsible for turning the heating element on and off. Since the timer motor runs the dryer clock, if it’s faulty the dryer won’t progress through programs. Here are common symptoms of a faulty timer motor: 

  • Failure to advance or stop: The timer motor controls the progression of different cycles in the dryer. If the timer motor is faulty, the dryer may not advance to the next cycle or may not stop at the end of the cycle.
  • Stuck in a particular cycle: The timer motor’s malfunctioning can cause the dryer to get stuck in a specific cycle, repeating it continuously without moving forward.
  • Inaccurate timekeeping: A faulty timer motor may result in inaccurate timekeeping, causing the dryer to run for longer or shorter durations than intended.
  • Intermittent operation: The dryer may operate intermittently or inconsistently if the timer motor is defective. It may start and stop unexpectedly during a cycle.

Whilst replacing a timer motor can be done at home (here’s a video I found on how it’s done) I’d recommend calling a professional for this particular fix. 

5. broken dryer belt

A broken dryer belt is problematic. A lack of a belt will result in the drum not moving at all when switched on. If the drum does not move it will generate too much heat, causing the clothes to burn. This creates a similar setup to food being burnt on the bottom of a pan. 

Most modern dryers will have a broken belt switch which will cut power to the dryer and it won’t start. Older models may not have this switch or have a separate belt than the drum belt (older Maytags come to mind here)

Andy Fulenchek

Belts can also become stretched, resulting in the belt slipping away from the drum and causing it to move too much. Too much movement of the drum and an excess of friction can cause the dryer to overheat and, therefore, scorch your clothes inside. 

A quick way to check for a faulty dryer belt is to turn the dryer on, then open it quickly and see if the drum itself is turning. If the drum is turning, the belt is still in tact.  

Replacing a dryer belt is a job best left to professionals (but here’s a useful video I found on how it’s done, if you’re curious). 

6. broken or worn-out door seal

Most dryers have roller wheels, which help the drum position snuggly against the dryer door. If these rollers become worn, your drum will no longer sit as it should against the door, resulting in a gap. This gap can cause too much friction, overheating the machine and your clothes. 

A faulty seal on the door or to the rear of the drum can also cause a dryer to overheat. The dryer will constantly suck cool outside air in to the drum. This creates a situation where the dryer can never satisfy the appropriate temperature. Thus, the heater stays on. 

Dryer Door Seal

You can easily check both the roller wheels and the seals in your machine. 

7. a broken heating element

Lastly, your clothes could be burning due to a broken heating element not switching off as it should. This can coincide with a faulty thermostat.

If the dryer’s thermostat does not tell the dryer to cool down and the heating element is broken, the two will continue to heat the inside of the dryer, resulting in damaged clothes. 

If a heating element becomes warped, it may also touch the frame of the dryer itself (i.e. shorting to ground). However most of the time this wouldn’t be discovered because a fuse would burn out first, tripping the entire heating element. 

A shorted heating element (depending upon in what way it has shorted) can create either too much heat or not enough heat. The most dangerous portion of this is that, when shorted, bypasses the cycling thermostat preventing the dryer from turning the element off.

Replacing a heating element in a dryer is not overly complex but does require attention to detail and following specific instructions provided by the manufacturer. 

If you have some experience with appliance repairs or feel confident in your technical abilities, replacing a dryer heating element can be a manageable task and you might want to follow along with this video: 

How to Fix Dryer Burnt Clothes 

When clothes are burnt from faults in the dryer or personal mistakes, it is possible to fix them. Unless clothes are entirely damaged, here is how to fix dryer burnt clothes:

  1. First, it is important to wet the stain. Use 3 percent hydrogen peroxide to treat mild scorch. Allow resting for a while. Use hydrogen peroxide to keep the region moist.

    Cover a large stain with a towel that has been dampened with 3% hydrogen peroxide. Cover with a dry towel and iron at the highest setting recommended for the fabric. When the magic is done, rinse the material and wash it again.
  2. If the material is safe, wash it with laundry detergent, hot water, and chlorine bleach. If not, submerge in hot water and sodium perborate bleach before washing.
  3. On the discoloration, sprinkle some salt. After that, leave the clothing in the sun to dry. When drying is complete and burn marks are gone, launder the garments again for a fresh smell. 

Some additional ways of fixing dryer burnt clothes include:

White vinegar and water

Rinsing clothes with white vinegar and water often works well. To achieve the best results, repeating the process until the discoloration is removed will ensure you can regain the condition of your garments.

Lemon juice and natural sunlight

Another method is to apply lemon juice to the burn spot and then expose it to the sun. This has a natural bleaching impact, but you should spot-test first because it might fade fabrics.

Removing shiny patches as a result of the burning

Shiny patches on the fabric, which are frequently brought on by ironing, are not burns but rather areas where the fabric melted. Sadly, melted cloth stains are irreversible.

Should these tips not work to remove the burn marks from your clothes, it will be best to replace them.

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Hi, I'm Ed, and I run BuildFanatic! I enjoy providing the best possible information on a range of home improvement topics.

Andy Fulenchek
Owner at Grace Appliance | Website | + posts

Andy is a professional appliance repairman and business owner with years of hands-on experience. He co-authors and reviews appliance articles, ensuring accuracy and top-notch information for readers.

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