Ask the Experts: Why doesn't my dryer heat up?

A reader's new lukewarm dryer leaves him cold.

Credit: / Kyle Looney

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Welcome to Ask the Experts, where the product testers at answer your questions about appliances, electronics, and other gadgets.

Reader Jack just got a new clothes dryer, and he's not happy:

"I bought a new clothes dryer," he wrote. "It does not get as hot as my old dryer. When I called the company, I was told that new regulations do not allow new dryers to get as hot as older models. Is this true?"

Well, Jack, it's sort of true. It turns out that a hot dryer isn't necessarily a good dryer—but let's address your question of regulations first.

Dryer control panel

For warmer clothes, turn off the Eco setting and turn up the heat.

There are no specific federal laws or regulations I am aware of that dictate an exact temperature of how hot a dryer can get. Independent standards agencies, such as UL and CSA, do set rules for home appliances. UL Standard 2158, for instance, addresses fire safety and regulation for clothes dryers.

While a manufacturer can produce a product that doesn't adhere to these standards, there's no guarantee that retailers would sell it, and there's also no guarantee that insurers would cover any losses related to a malfunction—which is why you can't start building dryers in your workshop and selling them at Home Depot.

Hot clothes can be a sign of a malfunctioning dryer.

There are new energy efficiency standards for dryers, and some manufacturers may attempt to meet them by reducing heat output on certain cycles. In general, these standards do not dictate how hot a dryer can get. While energy efficient settings may be the default, users can often bypass them by manually choosing a higher heat level, such as Sanitize or High.

Energy Efficient Dryer

This Whirlpool dryer can be very energy efficient—but only if you select the right cycles.

More importantly, although clothes that are hot and fresh out of the dryer might feel good to put on on a cold day, they can be a sign of a malfunctioning dryer—or worse.

When you replaced your old dryer, there's a good chance you got a new, clean vent pipe. While your old, clogged vent may have made clothes warmer at the end of a cycle, it also meant your dryer took longer to get clothes dry, and could've been a fire hazard.

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See, most dryers remove moisture by heating up a load of wet laundry to create water vapor, then vent the hot water vapor outside. If a dryer is doing a poor job venting, or if a dryer vent gets blocked up with lint, that heat gets trapped inside the dryer along with the water vapor. Your clothes get hot, but the dryer has to work harder to get them dry.

However, if you kept your dryer vent clean, there's also a chance your new dryer may have been intentionally designed to keep its cool. That's because appliance manufacturers have started to focus more on clothes wear.

Today’s clothes are less sturdy than ones made years ago, which has changed how they can dry. Overdrying is really bad for clothes, and dryer designers have made changes to prevent it from happening.

Cleaning dryer vent
Credit: Getty Images

Hot clothes might mean it's time to clean your dryer vent

Research is inconclusive as to whether heat matters: Some manufacturers say that clothes wear is worse during a longer, cooler dryer cycle, while others claim a shorter, hotter cycle is better. We haven’t done extensive enough testing with enough fabrics to come to a definitive conclusion, either, but it is true that heat can damage fragile fabrics and elastics.

Still, different dryer manufacturers use different heat levels to get clothes dry. In our lab tests, we’ve found that GE dryers tend to get around 150ºF on a Normal cycle, for instance, while Electrolux dryers tend to get closer to 120ºF. Once, we even measured a high temperature of 160ºF from a Speed Queen dryer.

Credit: / Kyle Looney

Today's dryers are designed to keep your clothes from wearing out.

So, Jack, I recommend that you try drying towels on a higher heat setting. The dryer's user manual might even list peak temperatures for certain cycles, but a cycle with a name like "Bulky" or "Towels" is a good bet—especially if you can crank the heat up to "Extra Hot" or "Sanitize."

If your clothes still come out stone cold, it might be time to call for a warranty repair. Even the gentlest cycles we've tested can get as warm as 100ºF.

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