How to Replace a Dryer Heating Element

Hello, all! It’s time again for another installment of “Hey! The Dryer’s Not Working!”

In this episode, the dryer sneakily gave every appearance of drying our clothes, tumbling happily and making heavy, thumpy dryer noises. Alas, when the end-of-cycle beep sounded and we opened the door, we were not greeted with the warm rush and sweet scent of freshly laundered clothing, fluffed to a happy state from its joyful tumble in the dryer. Instead, we were greeted with cold, damp clothes, sulking disconsolately in the chill, like Heathcliff on the moors.

A quick google of “dryer not heating” turned up tons of results, all saying basically the same thing: the dryer heating element had failed. Since we bought our dryer in 2003, and the element had never been replaced, this was totally not surprising to me. I took a quick snapshot of the model number and information for our dryer, which is located conveniently inside the door, though not-as-conveniently along the edge above the door latch where only a contortionist (or a person with a cell phone) can see it.

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With the official model number in hand, I headed over to Amazon to see what a new heating element cost for a Kenmore Elite HE3 dryer. $29. Done and done. Click and ship, baby! Thank you, Amazon!

My previous google had returned a YouTube video demonstrating how to replace the element. Looked pretty easy-peasy! YouTube is an awesome resource for appliance repair stuff. Thank you, YouTube!

The element arrived on Wednesday which meant that Wednesday night was “Dryer Repair Night”. First, I gathered my tools together: a couple of screwdrivers, pliers, and my mini ratchet set.

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And of course, the new heating element. The box said “Factory Certified” which gave me a warm fuzzy feeling.

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Next, I shut of the breaker for the dryer.

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Steve tilted the dryer back and placed a 4×4 under the front so that I could easily access the lower panel. Additionally, I removed the lint screen from the dryer.

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To access the heating element, I followed the same steps that we used to replace the dryer fuse. Over the years, I have found that all the screws on our dryer take a 1/4-inch ratchet, so I could use the same tool for each step. First, I removed the front lower panel.

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Since the washer and dryer are now side-by-side, there is a lot less room to work, as you can tell by the proximity of my foot to the dryer. Next, I removed the blower wheel housing (the black cover with all the labels seen in the photo above).

The heating element housing lies on the far right of the unit, and has a housing cover of its own. The cover is held in place by two screws, one at the base and one connecting the top tap to the housing. The top one cannot be seen; you just have to feel for it.

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But before I removed the heating element housing cover, I needed to disconnect the wires. Two red wires plug into the heating element itself. Additionally, there is also a small screw behind the plug which holds the element in the housing.

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Before removing the wires, I marked the lower one with a Sharpie, just so I would make sure to attach them back in the right place.

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I unplugged both the wires, then removed the screw to the rear of the plug.

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With the wires disconnected, I removed the heating element housing cover. You can see the lower screw here, just behind the appliance ground screw with the green wire.

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With the cover removed, the heating element housing was exposed. Ick!

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According to the video, I should have just been able to slide the element out. However, mine was stuck and stubbornly refused to budge. I ended up using a flathead screwdriver to slightly bend the edges, allowing me to slide the element out of the housing. I wrapped a towel around the points at which I grabbed the element, as all the edges of the element and housing were sharp metal!

I did finally manage to wrench the old element free. I took the opportunity to vacuum and thoroughly clean the housing and all the exposed areas of the dryer. I then reversed the steps to install the new element. I slid / pushed / forced the new element into the housing, as carefully as I could while still applying basically my entire body weight. In order to get the new element fully seated in the housing, I again used a flathead screwdriver to “manipulate” the shape of the housing slightly in places. The screw hole in the element had to align with one in the housing, so that was a lot of fun (aka no fun included). But I finally got it aligned and replaced the screw.

I then reconnected the wires, and reinstalled the element housing cover. (Aligning the screw holes was fun during that part as well.) I replaced the blower housing cover, and then the front panel.

We removed the 4×4 from under the dryer, replaced the lint screen, and slid the dryer back into position. I then turned the breaker back on, threw a couple of towels in the dryer, and turned in on.

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A sort of plasticky, electrical burning smell was emitted for about 30 seconds, and then quickly dissipated as the new element burned in. After about 3 minutes, I checked the dryer and was rewarded with nice dryer-hot towels! Success!

With the dryer now operating properly again, we examined the old heating element. The coil was charred and completely broken in one spot (lower right) and the mounting board was cooked and ashy. It’s amazing the thing lasted as long as it did.

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We had noticed a decreased performance of the dryer over the past few months, but just assumed that it was because the dryer was, you know, old. After a few loads of laundry, I can see now that the element was the issue. We no longer have to use the medium high heat setting, and can use the medium or low heat with the same effect.

Interestingly enough, I did not realize until I was done that I had failed to unplug the dryer during the repair. Yikes! Obviously, I recommend doing that in addition to shutting off the breaker before servicing any appliance.

Overall, in spite of some of the tricky issues, this was an EASY repair that saved us hundreds of dollars over a service call. No expertise was needed, just some tools and the ability to educate oneself as how to do it.

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