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The Three Wire Outlet and Four Prong Dryer Plug…A Frustrating Tale

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Did it happen to you? Your old dryer died and you decided it was time to upgrade.

Soon you had a shiny new dryer in your home, ready to go. Your savings account was a bit lighter, but your laundry room had gotten an instant face lift and you would soon have dry clothes again. You went to plug in your new dryer and, oddly, the plug did not fit! Your brand new appliance was suddenly nothing more than a useless (although fancy) ornament and you were looking at spending even more money to make it work.

I bet you wondered…WHY?!

Before 1996 dryers were wired with three conductors (two “hot” wires and one bare wire). The bare wire was used as a ground and a neutral conductor. This created problems because when the bare wire became loose or there was damage to the neutral line coming into the home, the dryer could become one large metal electrocuting device. Potential current could not flow back to the panel through the bare wire and instead would flow through unsuspecting home owners.

This problem was solved with the addition of the fourth wire (a ground). This wire provides a solid path from the metal frame of the dryer back to the panel and then outside to disperse safely into the earth. So, if there is ever a problem inside the dryer, the electricity gets diverted away from the dryer frame into the ground, which generally causes the breaker to trip in the meantime and prevents any additional electricity from flowing into the dryer. Unfortunately, many homes still have obsolete (and dangerous) 3-prong dryer outlets.

The solution is to hire a local licensed electrician to install a new dedicated circuit and 4-prong outlet for your dryer so you can safely plug it in.

Never fall for the big box store “handyman fix” and simply replace the plug attached to your dryer! This is against National Electrical Code standards and while it may be a quick and easy fix, its a risky move. A newer dryer run on a 3-prong system is an electrical hazard at best, even if nothing goes wrong, and a disaster if there is a short or loose wire.

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