So many appliances and so few 240V outlets. This is a painful truth for those who live in apartments, dorms, and other space-limited housing. Or, perhaps you are wondering if you can just move your laundry to the optimal spot with the slight hitch of only having regular outlets available there.
So, the answer to your question of whether you can use a regular outlet is this: it depends. It depends on the type of dryer you have and the voltage rating. Is it electric or gas? Is it compact or standard size? Thankfully, I have compiled the information here for you. And if you still aren’t convinced, I’ll tell you why it’s not a good idea to use the wrong outlet.
Gas and compact electric dryers can be used with regular 120V outlets. However, standard electric dryers require specialized, dedicated outlets with 240V supply voltage. An electric dryer connected to a regular outlet is unsafe. It won’t work properly, will damage the appliance, and is a hazard.
Voltage Rating of Regular Outlets
The standard outlet voltage in the U.S. is 120 volts.
Now, you may have heard people referring to 110V outlets. This came about because of certain transmission losses from the outlet to the receptacle (yes, there is a difference between the terms), which means that 120V might end up as 110V.
110V was the original voltage requirement, according to Thomas Eddison, and 120V allowed for losses without compromising functionality.
There are also several 240V outlets installed in houses to supply larger appliances that need more electricity (sometimes appliances can be small and still pull lots of power, like hair dryers).
The reason for standardizing outlets was to cater to the initial lightbulbs and all the following household appliances. Can you imagine the chaos if no manufacturer knew what supply voltages could be found in any single home? You might end up buying a hairdryer or microwave that cannot work in your plugs.
Most appliances are designed for 120V. If slightly too little electricity was supplied to the appliance, it might just not function as optimally. You are unlikely to even notice this, though. Comparatively, overloading an appliance can be highly dangerous.
Voltage Ratings for Dryers
Different types of dryers require different voltage ratings. This rating can be found in the product information, but the dryer will either need 120V or 240V.
Electric dryers are listed under a voltage rating of 240V (or 220V). These, like the KENMORE 29” Front Load Electric Dryer (amazon link), use a lot of electricity to move the barrel, heat the air, operate the controls, and power the fan to distribute the heat.
The electrical rating for gas dryers is 120V. Gas dryers use either liquid propane or natural gas to power the biggest power demand in the dryer: the element used to heat the dryer air.
However, gas dryers still need some electricity. This electricity is used to power the other functions of the dryer, which have lower supply demand.
There are also smaller, compact versions of electrical dryers, rated at 110V or 120V. For example, the Panda Compact Portable Laundry Dryer (amazon link). These use less power due to their size. However, they are intended for much smaller operations with smaller loads, which means they are limited in capacity as well as power.
Why Standard Electric Dryers Use so Much Power
Think about the main contributors to your utility bills; your air conditioning and heating have probably popped into your head. This is because it takes a lot of energy to modify the temperature of air and maintain it.
The same goes for a dryer, the difference being that it works with a smaller space for much shorter periods.
Your dryer likely runs for an hour per load. This means that for an hour (or more if you are doing more than one load), electricity is needed to power the element and heat the air for the duration of the cycle.
That is the biggest draw on power, but there are also other continuous electrical demands for the fan to distribute the heat, the barrel to spin to aerate the clothing, and for the controls (including all the program settings and timer).
Dryers pull so much power that it is ill-advised to use extension leads with them. If extension leads must be used, they have to be heavy-duty and preferably only a temporary solution. This often means that installing washers and dryer sets in the master closet and other such places becomes more trouble than it is worth.
Gas and Compact Dryers Can Use Regular Outlets
A gas dryer can be plugged into a standard 120V (or 110V) outlet.
This is because the only electricity needed is to spin the barrel and power the control panel and fan, while the element for heating air is powered by gas. So, the total power needed is relatively small compared to regular electric dryers.
Compact electric dryers can use regular 120V outlets too.
Compact dryers are the mini, portable versions of the standard electric dryers. They are designed to take smaller clothing loads and are significantly smaller than their standard cousins.
This down-scaled operation means that these dryers require less electricity (110/120V) to operate and so can be used in a 120V outlet.
There are also portable dryers like the Nekithia Travel Mini 900W Dryer (amazon link). These are aimed at travel and small space living and are used with 110/120V outlets.
Electric Dryers Require Specialized Outlets
Due to the high voltage supply requirements, standard electric dryers have to be plugged into a 240V outlet. They might be rated as 220V for the transmission loss, but the specialized outlet is still used.
Also, these appliances are generally used on a single-use circuit. Being on its own circuit with a dedicated circuit breaker helps ensure that the dryer will get sufficient power for functioning and will help protect your house’s wiring and you if a fault occurs in the appliance wiring.
Depending on when the outlet was installed, this specialized outlet might be clearly marked by having 4 slots. However, there are 3-slot outlets that supply 240 V in older homes.
Plugging an Electric Dryer Into a Regular Outlet
The main problem with using a regular outlet for your dryer is that, for several reasons, it is unsafe.
If you plug an electric dryer into a 120V outlet, your dryer is unlikely to work properly, if at all. This is because that outlet will not be able to supply the voltage (240V) that the dryer needs to function. As the dryer attempts to operate without enough electricity, it will end up damaging the dryer circuits.
120V outlets don’t necessarily have proper grounding. In two-prong receptacles, the neutral wire is used to ground the appliance. However, when it comes to an appliance as large as a dryer that pulls as much electricity, proper earthing is necessary for it to be safe.
The earth wire helps stabilize and direct the electricity in the appliance and provides a safe way for excess electricity to leave the appliance while protecting people from electrocution.
120V outlets are unlikely to have the dedicated circuit with a separate circuit breaker that is important to make the dryer safe by controlling and protecting the power supplied to the dryer and allowing the circuit to trip independent of the general house circuits in potentially dangerous circumstances.
When circuits get overloaded, the risk of fire increases. It can also damage your home’s wiring.