How Not To Repair A Clothes Dryer, or: How I Almost Died
How was your day going? Because mine almost killed me.
I decided to put on my sweatpants when I got home after work, which were in my laundry room, sitting on top of a mountain of dirty clothes that was only getting bigger and bigger because I hadn’t washed anything in several days. Why? I’ll get to that in a minute. For now, let’s focus on the sweatpants. I just wanted to do a quick change into my fat clothes so I could relax for awhile, so I went into the laundry room, closed the door, and put them on. Or tried to, anyway. What I really did was lose my footing somewhere around mid-thigh on the first leg.
I started to fall, but caught myself on the edge of the dryer. Or thought I did, anyway. Turns out, it was actually the dustpan which was resting on the edge of the dryer, and it was full of screws and dirt that went flying into the air as the dustpan itself flipped over and sent me plummeting to the floor. Face first, butt in the air, half dressed from the left thigh down.
Lying there in total darkness because I hadn’t bothered to turn on the light, I slowly pushed myself up and brought my knees under my chest. Or thought I did, anyway. What I actually did was place the soft flesh of my naked right knee directly over one of the screws from the dustpan that I couldn’t see because of the total darkness, which had naturally fallen pointy-end up. I jolted from the instant pain, but my foot caught on the waistband of my sweatpants and I somehow managed to propel myself forward. Head first. Into the back porch door.
I turned over, my tender bits scraping against unseen dust boulders and the occasional vindictive bit of metal, pushed my back up against the door, and slowly got to my feet. I switched on the light, then grabbed on to what I was certain, this time, was the actual edge of the actual dryer, steadied myself, and pulled my sweatpants back up my left leg. And my right. Until I was fully clothed again.
I COULD HAVE DIED.
Now, you might be wondering why a dustpan full of screws and dirt was left resting precariously upon the edge of my dryer amidst a growing mountain of dirty clothes, and it’s a fair question. Let me explain.
I have a very old dryer, which I love precisely because it is a very old dryer, and is therefore possible to repair whenever something goes wrong with it. New appliances are designed to fail and then be too expensive to fix, forcing you toward the cheaper route of just buying a brand new appliance before it, too, breaks down and you’re forced to repeat the same horrible process all over again.
An old appliance, on the other hand, is fairly easy to repair if you know what you’re doing. The downside is that, because it’s an old appliance, it’s prone to breaking down, so you get to fix it a lot. This isn’t really a problem if, as I said, you know what you’re doing. Unfortunately, I rarely know what I’m doing.
The dustpan that almost killed me earlier was holding the screws I had to remove from the back cover of the dryer after it broke down (again) several days ago. Fortunately, I realized that I didn’t know what I was doing as soon as I opened it, so I did what any good husband would do, and just pushed everything back to where it was and told my wife it wasn’t really a problem because we still had plenty of clean clothes to go through before we’d need to wash anything again.
This was only partially true.
Yes, we had plenty of clean clothes to wear, but most of them involved garments that were only clean because we never really wear them in the first place. If I didn’t fix the dryer soon, I knew I’d have to wear my old suit from 1997 to work, and nobody wants that. Do people even still wear fat ties anymore? Did they ever?
After my unexpected education in gravity by way of complete sweatpants failure, I decided I should probably try to fix the dang machine. But remember, I had no idea what I was doing.
Nevertheless, I persisted…
The failure was actually pretty simple to diagnose. A little doohickey that holds a wire that slips into a thingamajig was to blame. Or, more specifically, the wire itself was to blame, because it broke for some reason and was just hanging there. At any rate, I reasoned that a loose, dangling wire was a pretty good indicator of where the problem was.
I picked up the little doohickey, then got medieval on it with some pliers until I had freed the bit of amputated wire it still held tight in its little metal jaws. I then went back to the dryer, sat down on the floor, and began affixing the doohickey back to the rest of the wire that was still dangling inside the machine.
It was at this point that I realized I hadn’t unplugged the dryer. It was also at this point that I realized this one particular wire carried rather a lot of electrical current.
As I began to smash the pliers over the doohickey’s jaws to clamp them down upon the wire, the whole dread machine sprang to life like something out of a horror movie. I remember a very loud pop, followed by a little metallic ping before a shower of really impressive yellow sparks flew off the wire in some kind of terrifying grand finale to my life.
Spoiler alert: I did not die at this time.
I did, however, stand up and, to my credit, very calmly remove the plug from the wall. I stood there for a minute, sniffing the rusty scent of ozone in the air while I surveyed the damage, which is when I heard my stepson come running down the stairs, shouting and asking me if I was okay. I told him everything was fine, and not to worry.
Yes, I lied to my own child.
Once he had been reassured, he went back upstairs, and I went back to slaying my white whale. I found the doohickey that had been blown off the wire (the little metallic ping I heard was it hitting the side of the dryer), then I cut the wire back and twisted it tightly before crimping the doohickey back on, which I then tried to slip back into the thingamajig, only to discover that I’d cut back too much of the wire, and now it wasn’t long enough to plug in.
Undaunted, I traced the wire back through the bundled nest of other wires, removed it, and ran it straight to the thingamajig it’s supposed to plug into. There was plenty of wire now that it had a direct path, and I was feeling pretty pleased with myself. I plugged the doohickey back into the thingamajig, then plugged the power cord back into the wall, stood back a safe distance, and pushed the start button.
At first, I thought I’d finally killed the machine, but then I realized that I might have only blown a breaker during the whole explosion incident. I checked the fuse box and realized I had, so I reset it and tried again. The dryer sprang to life. The heating element came on. Clothes began to tumble.
I took the screws from the dustpan and used them to secure the back cover onto the dryer, then shoved everything back into place and began celebrating my victory by way of washing and drying every piece of clothing from the Great Mountain of Unclean Things.
Which was going great until the dryer broke again, because hope is a fragile tinderbox and the flame of joy is quickly extinguished in this cruel, uncaring world.
I was beginning to get depressed.
After some time had passed and I was done feeling sorry for myself for being a failure both as a husband and a man, I realized that I had pushed the poor old dryer too hard. I’d just performed open heart surgery on the thing, but hadn’t given it any time to recover before I put it back into active duty. I had only myself to blame. I took the back cover off and noticed that the same thing had happened again, which is when I noticed how brittle and discolored the far end of the wire was.
I unplugged the power cord. This is, I have recently learned, an important first step in any repair job involving electricity.
The wire looked and felt much healthier farther down the line, so I cut it back some more, then crimped the doohickey back around it before plugging it back into the thingamajig once again. I jammed the power cord back into the wall, then pushed the start button, and everything was working once more. I finished up the last two loads of laundry, and nothing at all exploded.
I considered this a great success.
Satisfied and feeling pretty good about myself, I thought it’d be a good idea to clean up before my wife got home, so I sanitized the crime scene to remove all evidence of how I almost died today. Multiple times. In my own laundry room.
The moral of the story? Always remember to unplug whatever it is you’re about to work on before you start working on it, and always – always – put your sweatpants on very carefully.
Preferably under adult supervision.