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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.

10 Answers 10

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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
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    You can do this – but not as a long term fix, without the right crimp connections or a way to weld the connection you won't get a solid enough connection. But if you need to dry a load of clothes and you're not near a parts store it might just work. The most likely way it would not work is with a poor connection that will reduce the heat output and possibly overheat locally. So it is very likely that you'll just have a failed element again in short order. – dlu Mar 10 '17 at 5:05
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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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    In my experience – years as a marine (big ships) and industrial control electrician – a short is very unlikely when a heating element breaks. What's far more likely is an open circuit (no current flowing). Many open elements are coils of wire (like a spring, but with little or no tension in the coils) which are supported on ceramic insulators. When they fail a section of the coil overheats and melts leaving a gap. The coil makes the broken ends self-supporting so there is no short. – dlu Mar 12 '17 at 22:08
  • You make due with what you have... If you can order a new element from ebay or amazon delivered next day then it is best to do that.. If you are in the middle of the Atlantic and its freezing ass cold... You will make a heating element out of a coat hanger.. This site is not about probable ways of doing things but to do them safely. – Piotr Kula Mar 13 '17 at 14:20
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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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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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Being an electrician and a cheap a$$ that will try to fix almost anything before replacing I will say that yes it can be done but it will rapidly fail. I would not recommend this "repair" unless you have experience in these types of things. I've tried many techniques to repair the broken element and they all eventually fail. The heating element is made from nichrome wire, even after cleaning oxides off then splicing/crimping the wire will rapidly oxidize as soon as it heats up the oxides create a passivation layer that acts as an insulator, this increases resistance further to the point of melting. It may work for a few seconds or a few weeks but it will eventually fail. Even physically welding the wire will contaminate the wire such that it will have higher resistance compared to the untouched wire, it will eventually fail.

The best course of action is to replace the element. Depending on the make of the dryer usually, just the nichrome wire coil itself can be purchased with properly made factory spot welded brass connections and the correct length/gauge/resistance. I bought mine for under $10. All I had to do is remove the old coil from the ceramic insulators and replace it with the new. Sure beats buying a whole "element assembly" which cost much more. This all depends on one's skill level, confidence, determination (in my case stubbornness), time, finances. To some (most) it may be easier to just buy a new dryer and be done with it.

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Your idea works in concept, but it may be difficult to pull off well. That said, if you need the dryer working you could give it a try. I've done this a number of times on various devices – most recently a dryer – here's how I approach it:

  1. Know what you're playing with. A dryer runs on 240 V and if you manage to short the heating element to the frame of the dryer there is a very real chance that the breaker won't trip and you'd have a potentially lethal voltage on the frame of the dryer. So be very sure that the heating element remains isolated from the metal parts around it. The reason that the breaker won't trip is that the heating element works because it has a relatively high resistance (for a piece of wire), maybe 10Ω or so. That resistance limits the current through the heating element and this could prevent a shorted element from tripping the breaker. So be careful, check visually and with a meter to ensure that the heating element and the repair remain isolated from the metal parts of the dryer.
  2. In all of the ones I've seen the element is a spring like coil of wire. The way I make the repair is to splice the coil back together by wrapping strands of fine wire around the broken coils of the heating element. I usually use a whole loop of the heating element for the splice so that there is a lot of surface area in the repair. The more surface area the better the connection. Wrap the repair wire tightly, again for a better connection.
  3. Once you've got a decent connection – check it with a meter, you'd like the resistance of the repaired element to be pretty close to the original resistance. If you get twice the original resistance, you'll only have about half of the heat output and you'll probably have a hot spot at the splice which will fail again pretty soon.
  4. Put everything back together, check again that you've got no connection between the element and the frame. Then do a test run, you should see the element turn red as it heats up.

If you get it working, consider it a temporary fix to keep the dryer working while you're waiting for the replacement heating element. Even if the repair seems to be holding up, the heat output is probably lower than it was and the repair isn't likely to last. I've never used one for more than a week or two.

Here's a repair that I did on a dryer:

Temporary repair of dryer heating element

It was in service for about a week while we waited for the replacement element. The overall resistance of the repaired element was within 0.1Ω of the new element. The wire used was individually tinned stranded 16 AWG. Leftover, I think, from installing an aircraft intercom system many years ago.

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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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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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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 – Piotr Kula 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
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    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
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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

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