Why is the Dryer Making My Clothes Smell Burnt?

That wretched burnt smell coming from your dryer vent makes every laundry load smell gross. Don't just mask it with scented dryer sheets—find the source. 

Quick links:

What causes the burnt smell in the dryer?

Why does my dryer make noise?

Why does my dryer smell like burning hair?

How do I remove the burnt smell?

Identifying the culprit is the first step to troubleshooting the issue and getting rid of the unwanted smell. 

Also, if you want great-smelling laundry, spritz our essential oil spray (a couple pumps is enough) onto our wool dryer balls and toss them in the dryer. Your laundry never smelled better.

Sheep Wool Dryer Balls

Anatomy of a Clothes Dryer

When it comes to clothes dryers, gas and electric ones have pretty similar insides—the main difference is where the heat comes from. While gas dryers have a burner that is fueled by gas, electric dryers use a heating element that resembles a large coil.

In both types, this heating component sits underneath the tumbling drum in its own little sealed off chamber. It cranks out hot air that gets sucked into the tumbler chamber by a fan. This fan is connected to the motor that keeps the drum spinning round and round.

As your wet clothes tumble, they get hit with this rushing hot air, which evaporates the moisture. The air then gets pushed out of the vent as drier air, ready to heat back up again.

Dryers have thermostats to keep the temperature consistently hot. They regularly shut off the heating element or gas burner for a bit before firing it back up. This cycle prevents dryer overheating. Pretty sensible system!

Sometimes dryers malfunction, resulting in an awful burn smell. Let’s look at common causes.

What are the Main Causes of Burnt Smell?

What exactly makes clothes take on that nasty burnt odor in the dryer? There are a few common culprits you can check that are likely the source of the stench.

Lint Buildup

Lint, that soft, fluffy stuff that comes off your clothes, is super flammable. As lint gets picked up by the hot air flowing through your dryer, it can build up on the interior components. Over time, all that lingering lint is just asking to get ignited by the heating element or gas burner.

Make sure to regularly clean out that removable lint filter after each cycle. Lint can sneak past the filter and coat the inside of your dryer too. This buildup near heating components can cause burning. Checking for lint congestion and clearing it out is task number one.

Failing Thermostat

Like any home appliance, dryers have thermostats to regulate the temperature. If the dryer’s thermostat is on the fritz, it can't control the heat inside the tumble chamber. The dryer may overheat as a result, leading to that burning smell. Testing the thermostat with an ohmmeter to identify if it needs replacing.

Worn-out Belt

In many dryers, especially older models, a rubber belt spins the drum. Dry, cracked belts that have loosened over time can end up contacting the hot heating element as they slip. Inspect the belt for signs of wear and make sure it's wrapped snugly around the drum. If it looks damaged, replace it.

Damaged Dryer Motor

The dryer, like any other home appliance, has a motor. A motor begins to burn out as it ages. It can short out or smoke inside the dryer cabinet, making the entire dryer smell like it is on fire.

Blocked Vents

When vents get blocked, airflow suffers. Lint, coins, dryer sheets—anything small can get lodged in vents over time. Without open vents for hot air to escape through, dryer temperatures rise. This creates a fire hazard and causes burning odors. Regularly clearing dust and lint from vents with a vacuum hose prevents clogs.

Dryer vents should be cleaned regularly to allow proper airflow and prevent blockages. Every 6 months or so, use a vacuum cleaner with a hose attachment to extract any lint buildup inside the dryer’s vents. 

Jammed Clothing

Check for stray socks, shirts, or undergarments that may have gotten jammed between dryer components. If clothing gets stuck, it can rub against hot elements or increase friction. This can be a source of burning smells. Retrieving trapped items and preventing clothes from escaping through gaps solves this.

Why Does My Dryer Smell Like Burning and Make Noise?

If your dryer is making strange noises and emitting burning smells, the most likely cause is a buildup of lint and residue. Over time, lint and debris can collect around the drum and rollers, causing rattling noises as the dryer gets knocked off balance. Lint buildup can also be ignited by heating elements, creating burning odors.

Carefully vacuum the dryer interior and thoroughly remove stuck-on lint from rollers and fittings. This should resolve the issue if lint buildup was the problem.

Another possibility is worn out parts like the drive belt or drum bearings. Damaged parts can warp and make grinding, squeaking noises. Wear also allows parts to rub against hot surfaces, resulting in scorching smells.

Inspect for broken parts and replace anything clearly worn out. With inspection and maintenance, you can often fix noises and smells coming from a dryer rather than live with the annoyance.

Why Does My Dryer Smell Like Burning Hair?

If you smell a burning hair odor coming from your dryer, the most likely cause is hair and lint making contact with hot internal components. Over time, stray threads, pet fur, and lint can accumulate in nooks and crannies within the dryer. When this debris sits near heating elements, eventual scorching occurs, which produces the unpleasant burned hair smell.

To eliminate the odor, thoroughly clean the dryer's lint trap and vent ducts using a vacuum hose to extract any lint clumps from hair strands. Also check the heating element area and clear away any visible hair bundles that may be getting singed.

Prevent reoccurrence by adding a lint trap sheet to catch loose fuzz before it can accumulate internally. With diligent cleaning, you can remove the debris that causes the burning hair smell.

How do I Get the Burnt Smell Out of Clothes?

To remove odors from clothes, wash them with regular detergent first. If burnt odor persists, add 1⁄2 cup baking soda to the wash to help deodorize. Use white vinegar as a fabric softener in the rinse cycle for extra odor elimination.

Using wool dryer balls spritzed with our essential oil scenting spray helps also. Mist the balls with scented spray before drying. The oils transfer to clothes, masking and absorbing any burnt smells. Lavender, lemon, and orange scents also freshen the dryer's interior.

To freshen the dryer's interior, wipe down the drum with an all-purpose cleaner. Sprinkle baking soda directly into the drum and run an air fluff cycle. Always leave the dryer door open for a few minutes after a cycle finishes so moisture can evaporate.

Contact a technician if smells persist after thorough cleaning. They can diagnose issues like damaged thermostats, faulty heating elements, and motor problems that may be causing persistent odors. A professional can fully disassemble and clean internal components or determine if the dryer needs replacement.

Dryer FAQ

Why do my clothes smell burnt after the dryer?

There are several possible reasons why your clothes smell burnt after the drying process. Some of them are:

  • Lint buildup
  • Broken dryer’s motor
  • Clogged vents
  • Jammed clothes
  • Bad drive belt
  • Failing thermostat

Is a new dryer supposed to smell burnt?

It's normal for a new dryer to emit a mild burning odor during its first use. This is caused by the heating elements warming up and residual manufacturing oils burning off. However, the smell should be minimal and fade after the first few loads.

If the burnt odor is strong or persists beyond a couple uses, unplug the dryer and contact the manufacturer, as this indicates a defective appliance.

How do I get rid of a bad smell in my dryer?

Soapy water is the most effective way to remove odors from your dryer if it has a faint odor and only needs a light cleaning. If your dryer has a strong mildew odor, follow up the soapy water cleaning by wiping down the interior with bleach to kill any mildew.

Does the burnt smell go away from clothes?

Yes, the burnt smell will go away with some additional washing. Here are some tips:

  • Rewash clothes that have a burnt odor using your regular laundry detergent. Going through the wash cycle 1-2 extra times can help remove the burnt smell.
  • Add baking soda or white vinegar to the wash water—these naturally help strip and deodorize any lingering burnt odors in fabrics.
  • Hang clothes outside to air dry if possible. The fresh air helps dissipate any remaining smokey smells.
  • Use scent boosters like essential oil on wool dryer balls in the dryer to mask any leftover odors.

Why do my clothes smell burnt after washing machine?

Some of the possible causes of a burnt smell after washing your clothes include:

  • Drum touching the door gasket
  • Overheating motor
  • Little objects stuck inside
  • Drum buildup
  • Trapped clothing items

What should I do if my dryer begins to smell like it’s burning?

If your dryer suddenly starts to smell like burning, you should troubleshoot the cause of the smell. If you are not able to do that, you should call the appliance repairer to inspect and fix the problem.

What kind of venting hose do I need for my dryer?

The flexible transition hose between the dryer and the wall outlet should be foil or aluminum flexible duct (preferred). Use neither plastic nor vinyl. Concealed ducting must be made of stiff metal (galvanized or aluminum).

What steps can I take to prevent a burnt smell in the dryer?

Regular maintenance and appliance care can help prevent a burnt smell in the dryer. Clean the lint trap after every use and remove any lint that has accumulated around the dryer. Periodically check and clean the vent pipes to ensure proper airflow. Consider professional dryer vent cleaning to minimize the risk of dryer fires.

Should I remove the back panel of the dryer to clean it?

Removing the back panel of the dryer is generally not necessary for routine maintenance. Most lint accumulates in the lint trap and vent pipes, which can be accessed from the front or top of the dryer. If you think there's something wrong with your dryer, it's probably best to check the manufacturer's instructions or get help from an appliance repair pro.

Are electric dryers more prone to causing a burnt smell in clothes?

Both electric and gas dryers can potentially cause a burnt smell in clothes if there is lint build-up or other mechanical issues. Regular maintenance and cleaning apply to both types of dryers to prevent such odors and ensure safe operation.

When should I consider professional dryer repair?

Consider professional dryer repair in the following situations:

  • If your dryer is not heating up or taking an excessively long time to dry clothes.
  • If there are unusual noises, such as grinding or banging, coming from the dryer during operation.
  • If you notice a burning smell or any signs of smoke coming from the dryer.
  • If the dryer drum is not rotating or spinning properly.
  • If you encounter electrical issues or any other problems that require specialized knowledge and tools.

Further Reading

Do dryer balls really work?

Are plastic dryer balls any good?

What are the best dryer balls for down jackets?

What are the benefits of natural clothing stain removers?

Can you use wool dryer balls and dryer sheets together?

Will essential oils on dryer balls stain clothes?

The complete guide to using essential oils in laundry