Dryer Repair: The Drum’s Not Tumbling

Dryer Repair:  The Drum’s Not Tumbling.

“Mr. Repairman, my clothes aren’t drying.  I hear/don’t hear the motor turning.  Can you be here is 5 minutes?”

This problem can be an easy one to repair… or it can be quite difficult.  A lot depends on the model that you have.  We will be looking at the typical dryer that existed before the fancy ones with steam and all the other gadgets home-owner’s want but seldom use.  (Well, the steam idea is at least one that was a good addition – but it’s cheaper just to get a “Mister Steamy” ball and throw it in with the clothes – Now, don’t you miss Billy Mays?)

We will first look at the three most common causes of your dryer’s drum not turning.  Then, we will briefly mention some more technical culprits that can result in the drum just “sittin” there.

1.  Door Switch.

Open your dryer door.  Slowly close your dryer door.  Did you hear a slight click just before the door closed all the way? Try it again.  With the door closed, slowly pull it open while listening for a slight click.  (Tell the kids to hold it down or turn the TV down.) Did you hear the click? 

The clicking sound is coming from the door switch.  (Now, I know there are some switches that don’t make much of a sound when being activated, and just because they do click – it doesn’t mean they are good.) What we’re trying to do is help you locate the switch.

In most dryers, and we’ll use the name “Whirlpool” in our example, the door has a little plastic “plunger” mounted on it, and the switch is just on the other side of the little “flap” looking thing that the “plunger” goes through when you close the door.  That is where your door switch is located.

Now, how you get to that switch is going to depend on how mechanically adept you are.  On many dryers the top is “popped” into place with the help of two springy thingies (one on each side of the front of the top). UNPLUG your dryer!

Pull the dryer out from the wall about 6 to 10 inches.

If you don’t have a small putty knife (every hubby should have a small putty knife – metal is better), you can carefully use one of your butter knives (To the hubbies – Don’t use her expensive flatware).  Slightly push the knife in the separation between the top of the dryer and the front panel. Keep doing this until you feel the knife hit something rather quickly after inserting it. (Remember, these springy thingies are usually just before the corners.)

While pulling up on the corner of the top, push the knife in so that the springy thingie is disengaged, and the top will pop up on that corner.  Now, do the same for the other corner.  You might have to pull the dryer out a little further to give the controls room to clear the wall and the top to stay leaning against the wall.  (By the way, some dryer tops are held in by sheet metal screws, but with a little patience, you’ll “figur” out how to get to the switch.)

Once you have the top lifted up, you should see the switch mounted onto the front panel of the dryer.  With the dryer UNPLUGGED check the switch.  If you have your handy dandy multi-meter, set it on resistance (continuity – ohms). Now, the next part is gonna make you wish God gave you three arms with a hand on each.

After removing at least one of the wires from the switch, place your meter probes – one on one terminal, and the other probe on the other terminal.  While holding the probes on the terminals, take that third hand and push in the lever on the switch.  Did the pointer on the meter go across the scale?  If it did, the switch is not the problem.  If it didn’t then the switch is not making contact and needs to be replaced.

By the way, sometimes the little plastic plunger can break off the door and the switch will not be activated when the door is closed.  And!!! inquisitive kiddos can push things into the little hole that the plunger goes through and bend the activating lever on the switch.  If this is bent, the plunger will miss the lever and the switch will not be activated.  (Yes, I have kids and grandkids!)

Some door switches have more than one terminal on them.   If you remove the switch from its mounting, you will notice that each terminal is marked on the body of the switch with Com (or C) for common, NC for normally closed, and NO for normally open.  Those symbols represent the position of the contacts when the switch is just sitting unused – like in the box or on the table.

The common (COM or C) terminal is common to both of the other terminals.  We’ll say that is where the voltage enters the switch, so place one meter probe on the COMmon terminal.   With the door of your dryer closed the plunger pushes on the switch activating lever and opens the NC or normally closed contacts.  This means that it cuts off the light when the door is closed because it has opened or broken the circuit to the light.  With the door open the switch goes back to its normal condition (NC), closing the contacts and energizing the light.

At the same time, when the door is closed, the plunger will activate the switch lever and this will make the NO or normally open terminal connection close or make contact so that the motor can run as soon as you push the push to start button. (Now that you are thoroughly confused!). Place the other probe on the NO terminal.

Push in the switch activating lever.  If the pointer on your meter goes across scale when the switch is pushed in, the switch is good.  If not, then the switch is bad.  Do this several times just to verify the switch’s operation.

By the way, if your light does not come on when you open the door, it’s usually because the bulb is blown or that door switch is defective.  Your cabinet light is usually connected to the NC or normally closed terminal which opens when the door is closed – and closes when the door is open.  (Remember that when your light goes out.)

If the switch is bad, take it and the model and serial number to your local appliance parts distributor and get a replacement – after you have drawn a picture of which wires go where.  Install the new one.  Connect the wires. Close the top.  Plug it in, and turn it on.

2.  The belt (broken or stretched)

In most dryers the belt goes around the drum and down to the motor pulley by way of an “idler” or tension pulley that is spring loaded.  The purpose of this “idler” pulley is to allow the tension on the belt to vary as the load in the drum varies.  It also makes it easier to remove the belt.


Now, follow the same procedure that was previously mentioned in the door switch section to get the top up.  Once you have the top up look at the drum (the big round thing that the clothes go in).  Do you see the belt around the drum?  If you don’t see it, the belt is broken.  If you do see it, try pulling on it.  It may be broken and just sitting there.

Now, you could still see the belt and the drum not spin, if the belt has been stretched beyond the point of the “idler” tension roller’s (pulley’s) ability to make the belt grip the drum or pulley assembly.  Either way, broken or stretched, you will have to replace the belt.

In most cases, you will have to pull the dryer out from the wall, gain access to the bottom back of the dryer, and slip the front of the dryer off the drum (Most fronts rest on tabs that are formed in the frame of the dryer).  You may also have to remove the wires from the door switch and the light to remove the front panel.  Again, draw a picture of the wire locations.  It’s a lot easier than it sounds. (Just remember how everything came apart, cause you are gonna have to put it back together in reverse order.)

You have the top up already, now, remove any screws that may be holding the front of the dryer in place.  Pull the front forward and it will separate from the drum.  If the belt is broken, you will find it laying in the bottom of the dryer. Reach in carefully and remove the belt.

When you install the new belt, place it so that the groves go against the drum.  Route the belt around the motor pulley, making sure the grooves are properly lined up with the pulley grooves, and the belt is not twisted.  Now, pull the “idler” tension pulley against the spring tension and slip it around the belt so that there is tension on the belt.  This is usually on the outside of the belt, not the inside.

To do all of this, you may have to access the bottom back of the dryer to get to the “idler” tension pulley, such as on a Frigidaire dryer. (On some of their models, you can put the front panel back on before you set the tension)

While holding the drum in place with your third hand that God did not give you, lift the front panel back onto the drum, making sure that the drum is properly resting on either the rollers or the felt/nylon glides mounted on the front panel.

Reconnect the wiring.  Pop the top back into place.  Plug the unit in, and push to start.

Again, your dryer configuration may be different, but most dryers are built the same way.  Getting into them may be a little different and sometimes difficult, but it can be done.  Just remember that some college graduate who took that three credit hour course of “how can I make this thing difficult to get into” designed it.  So, it isn’t impossible to do.

3. The Idler tension pulley or roller.

We’ve mentioned this before.

The spring that provides the tension against the belt, does have a tendency to brake.  When this happens, the belt will just sit there and not turn the drum.  You will hear the motor running, but the clothes will not be tumbling.  The unit will usually heat, but still not dry the clothing.

If this happens, follow the procedures for replacing the belt to get to the idler tension unit.   UNPLUG THE DRYER!

In many cases, when you go to your appliance parts distributor, you will find that you have to purchase the whole idler assembly just to get the spring.  If that is the case, then go ahead and replace the whole assembly.  It’s usually just resting in a slot in the bottom of the dryer or held in by a bolt and nut assembly.

Once replaced, pull the pulley against the tension of the spring, and place the roller of the pulley on the outside of the belt.  Make sure the grooves on the belt line up with the grooves on the motor pulley, and that the belt is not twisted.

Put the unit back together.  Place it back into position.  Plug it up, and turn it on.

4. Some other reasons

The Motor, The Timer, The Push to Start Button, or The Wiring.  All of these will be covered in another article.

The push to start button is a simple matter to check, but we will cover it later.

6 replies on “Dryer Repair: The Drum’s Not Tumbling”

Mike, thanks for the thorough description.
I ususally have trouble following these sorts of instructions, but yours is very clear….entertaining too.

Mike, your thoughtful, humorous and experienced post saved me money and much confusion. I was able to diagnose the problem (broken belt) and successfully eplace it in less than 1 hour. Thank you very much!

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