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I have a Whirlpool Estate dryer that recently quit drying. I narrowed the problem down to the heating element, then removed the element assembly and found a clean break in the coil at one end. A replacement element is 50 bucks online, which isn't a problem, but I wonder: Can I fix the element myself?

I don't have a lot of tools, but I do have a wrench and some 18 gauge aluminum wire. I thought maybe I could scrape the soot off of the element near the break, then wrap the ends together with the wire. I'm not much of a handyman and I'm certainly not an electrician. But I'd like to fix something for a change, rather than just throwing it away. Can the element be salvaged?

Edit: Thanks for the informative answers, guys. I ordered a replacement from Amazon.

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8 Answers 8

up vote 25 down vote accepted

Sorry to be the Nay Sayer here, but trying to repair a 240vac heating coil element is just plain dangerous. You mentioned using aluminum wire, WRONG! That wire will melt in a heartbeat as soon as you turn it on. The heating element is probably made of tungsten or other hardened heat producing metals and trying to use copper or aluminum is no substitute.

Don't risk burning up other parts of your dryer or even your entire house. Order the correct part or go pick one up at a local appliance repair shop and do the job properly and safely.

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Agreed. This is not a DIY project - this is potentially fatal idea. Don't dink around with this - replace the heating element with a proper part. –  The Evil Greebo Nov 22 '11 at 15:50
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Either you will die from electrocution, your wiring will take a nasty circuit breaker popping overload with melted holes in wherever the ends land, or you will burn your house down. 240VAC circuits can produce enough current below the circuit breaker rating to create a plasma plume that can reach the ceiling. This plasma is in the 8,0000-10,000 degree range in its core. We had a stove top element go and it burn a hole in the pan and proceeded to scorch the ceiling. This was about 5 days after it developed a cherry red spot where the nicrome had given out. Bad connections on 240VAC are bad news –  Fiasco Labs Oct 26 '12 at 1:58

I have done so in the past, and it is a workable fix in the short term only. I would recommend this fix only in situations where your life or marriage depends on dry clothes RIGHT NOW. Put a smoke detector nearby, and don't leave home with the dryer running. Replace properly when you can get the part.

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I dont like downvoting because you took some effort to provide an answer- but even in your experience you know this is a dangerous thing to do. Like replacing a fuse with a piece of wire or something.. Murphy is just waiting for this.. Please consider amending your answer –  ppumkin Nov 22 '11 at 13:38
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I am an electrical engineer and am 100% for safety and all, but comparing patching a heating element to replacing a fuse with wire is apples and oranges. First, there are at least 2 real points of circuit protection sitting right next to the element in every dryer manufactured for sale in the US. You could REPLACE that element with a length of bailing wire and would get nothing more than a blown Fuse. (provided you don't have your tongue resting against the contacts). No "plasma" or house fires will come from trying to bandaid a coil as long as no safety features are circumvented. Dryer fires –  user12437 Apr 8 '13 at 22:01
    
@AlienMartian A fuse will blow if there's an excessive current. AFCI breakers are specifically designed to detect arcing which results in a fire, and that will not be prevented by a standard fuse. –  BMitch Apr 8 '13 at 22:38
    
And I've seen 230V put out a pretty healthy arc plume without blowing the breakers, so the electrical engineering got trumped by reality. The arc was in the middle of the element with enough resistance to keep the current well down and was burning the ceramic and the outer element grounding sheath at a pretty good clip. –  Fiasco Labs Apr 9 '13 at 1:34

Technically it is possible, but...

First, it will shorten the element wire and so reduce its resistance and so increase the current and so increase the dissipated power and all of this together will make the heating element under extra stress which will likely cause another breakage in no time.

Second, depending on the exact material of the wire its surface might be oxidized and then it will be problematic to achieve good contacts between parts and this will lead to lot of heat being dissipated at the joint and this again will likely cause overheating and breaking the element in no time. Cleaning the wire will not help much - it works at very high temperature and will oxidize again in no time.

The bottom line is what user chris says in his answer - it will likely only work as a short term fix and you should be really careful doing that.

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Heating elements are specially tempered metal rods that produce heat from electrical current (the metal needs certain values to make "friction" of electricity that passes) and the output is not a direct short circuit with a specific impedance.

These things happen (i mean they break) because over time electrolysis and most likely caused by small fault during forging, and over time caused the element to corrode and increase the "frictional" electrical tension on the faulty area- increasing the rate of which that area gets damaged- until it snaps and makes a nasty short circuit inside your heating chamber. Thanks to the fact that all appliances have to be grounded it is most likely it tripped some circuit breakers and would do so every time the element turned on, and in turn saving your life.

In theory people want to say- yes its OK- because you just want to bridge a gap to conduct electricity- but nobody can tell you the long and short term outcomes of doing this so it is very risky.

It is not common but this problem does happen here and there.

As an experienced home builder and electrician- I never repaired a heating element- just replaced it and made sure the earth leakage breaker and any other protection circuits are working properly.

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Dryer elements usually fail because they don't have enough air flowing past them. You have either a restricted vent system or a lint filter full of lint. A bad drum seal will let too much air come in and parallel the air flow and you still don't have enough air over the element. I have been repairing dryers for thirty years. Personally I feel the splice would only shorten the whole so little that it would still be within a safe current level. However when I have done this, the splice failed in less then a month. The connection needs to be welded. I used to repair toasters and the supplier had a catalyst that welded the connection: when the element was re-energized it would heat the joint and weld it. They don't seem to have anything like this any more. If you note the element manufacturers spot weld the crimped connection. GE has clamped their elements ends under a brass washer using a brass bolt, washer and brass nut, that worked to replace the new element. I have tried to polish the wire and bolt them together and they still burned the connection and failed. I haven't tried stick welding yet. I definitely recommend you install a new element. I'm an a electrician and do these thing in a safe controlled manner. We don't want to burn down your house. Don't bypass any safety devices either.

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I personally just did this yesterday. I took a strong steel paper clip with needle nose pliers and wrapped tightly around the coils two back on each side and it works just fine. I have ordered a new part should be here next week but should i discontinue use or just use it till the new one gets here any way

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This is horrible advice. –  The Evil Greebo Aug 1 '13 at 19:48
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Discontinue use! –  Jason Aug 1 '13 at 20:51

The resistive heating element is most likely a nichrome wire. If you look at the crimped connections at the end of this wire, you'll find that it's a crimp with a spot weld.

As these heating elements age, they will oxidize the surface, and the particles that "disappear" are actually carried away in the airflow. This may be seen as a thin section of melted element. Yes, it is technically possible to repair the damaged point along the wire, but what will inevitably happen is oxidation and melting of the crimp.

I took a broken coil for a little experimentation, and crimped a barrel in line. Behold, the connection will rapidly deteriorate. It's dangerous, as the broken element can touch the metal housing, and cause a short circuit. If the appliance is not properly grounded, you run the risk of having an energized chassis, and the risk of electric shock.

Thankfully, these heating elements are not too expensive, and are designed to be field-replaceable. Install a new heating element.

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I have done it plenty of times.I have had them burn out and or break and i have stretched the coil enough to use it like that and i have twisted the two broken peaces together to get the connection,it work both ways but it does end up breaking much sooner than replacing it with a new one,the most i have gotten use out of a repaired element is 3 months before it needed to be fixed again.after one repair then i get a new one,dryers are so simple as well as the gas dryers but yea have to have some real common sense and knowledge of fixing things,If you have payed and never fixed anything yourself then don't start now,keep paying someone else to do it.if its already broke or not working then tear it apart,is what i do because its already broke you cant hurt something that is already broke,at worst you end up fixing it.

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