When a wire, or element, gets lots of electricity running through it, the wire glows “red hot,” allowing you to toast bagels or dry clothes, for example. Heating elements are in dozens household appliances and devices. This Fix-It Guide on heating element repair tells how a heating element works, what often goes wrong, how to identify the problem, and what parts and tools you will need to fix it. It then gives simple step-by-step instructions for how to test a heating element for continuity and how to replace a faulty element. (You can order replacement parts at FixItClubParts.com.)
How Does It Work?
A heating element is an appliance component that consists of a metal wire heated by a controlled electric current. The resulting heat is then used to warm or heat something. Heating elements are found in dozens of everyday appliances and gadgets we rely upon such as coffee makers, electric irons, electric heaters, heating pads, popcorn poppers, electric water heaters, hair dryers, and slow cookers, to name just a few.
Most heating elements are open ribbon, open coil, or enclosed coil and are made of a nickel and chrome alloy. The material responds to electric current by resisting its flow and heating up. It is converting electricity into heat. Its rating is determined by the length and diameter of the wire (resistance in ohms) as well as the electrical current it can carry and voltage it needs to push the current.
What Can Go Wrong?
Heating elements are relatively simple. They either work or they don’t; they are on or off. Heating elements can break and burn out, sag, and become misshapen. Most elements cannot be repaired, but they usually can be replaced. If you can’t remove the heating element to replace it, you’ll probably need to replace the entire appliance.
How Can I Identify the Problem?
If an appliance that should produce heat does not, inspect the element for breaks or obvious damage. If you don’t see any damage, test the element for continuity (see below).
If you are replacing a heating element, make sure you know its part number, size, resistance (in ohms), current capacity (in amps or amperes), and how much voltage it requires (120V or 240V).
What Parts, Materials, and Tools Do I Need?
Replacement heating elements are available from the appliance’s manufacturer or an aftermarket supplier. Tools you’ll need to access and test heating elements include these:
What Are the Steps to Fixing It?
Test a heating element for continuity (ability to pass electricity from one end to the other) and replace it:
- Turn off power to the appliance or device. If the unit is plugged in, unplug it from the electrical receptacle (outlet); if the device is wired into the circuit (such as an oven), turn off the circuit at the electrical service panel.
- Disassemble the appliance or device to access the heating element, following the guides in this book for your appliance. Some heating elements, such as plug-in units in electric ovens, are relatively easy to remove (see the Electric Oven Fix-It Guide).
- Set the multimeter to RX1 (resistance times 1).
- Touch the multimeter probes to each end of the element.
- High resistance (kilo-ohms or thousands of ohms) indicates the heating element is okay. A reading of infinite resistance indicates a broken element.
- If a heating element is faulty, replace it with one of the exact size, shape, power rating, and resistance.
- Reassemble the appliance or device and turn it on or plug it in to test it.
A toaster or hair dryer (see Toaster Fix-It Guide and Hair Dryer Fix-It Guide) uses a very thin heating element that is wound around a nonconducting frame of mica or other material. The element is so thin that it easily can be damaged during dismantling or in installation, so be very careful when replacing the unit.