By Kathryn Walsh

It's a simple device, made up of little more than a fan, a heating element and an on/off switch. But for anyone with unruly tresses, a hair dryer is an essential thing. The dryer that transforms wet, limp or frizzy locks into a sleek or bouncy hairdo is even a truly beloved possession for some. So when this gadget goes on the fritz, it threatens to derail your morning routine. A few common dryer issues are easily solved – but some aren't so easy for a layperson to fix.

Side profile of a woman having her hair dried with a hair dryer
credit: George Doyle/Stockbyte/GettyImages
How to Troubleshoot a Hair Dryer

Fixing Weak Air Flow

A hair dryer works by pulling in air through a vent. The air passes over a heating coil and blows out through the nozzle. When the back vent is blocked, not enough air can get in. That's the likely culprit if your dryer suddenly seems to have a weaker-than-normal flow of air. It's generally the simplest hair dryer issue to troubleshoot because the vent – located at the back or side of the dryer – should be designed for easy cleaning. Dust and hair can gather there, and cleaning it out should restore normal flow.

Each model is different, so search online for the instruction manual for your specific type of dryer. Many models have filters or grates over the vent that can easily be twisted off, cleaned and replaced. Always unplug the dryer first. Use soapy water and wire brush to remove debris from the removable filter, or use a vacuum cleaner with a brush attachment. If the filter can't be removed, use a clean toothbrush to clean the debris from the surface.

Fixing an On/Off Issue

A hair dryer is no use to anyone when it won't turn on. First, make sure the issue isn't with the outlet itself by plugging in the dryer in another room. If that doesn't work, try firmly pressing the on/off switch for a few seconds; if the problem is caused by a loose connection, putting more pressure on the switch could work. Next, try pressing the reset button, which may be located on the dryer itself or on the plug. Press the "on" button again and the dryer might work. If not, your best bet is to take it to a repair person or shop for a replacement.

Fixing a Faulty Heating Element

Many dryers are equipped with a cool setting, which is useful for "setting" a hairstyle – but isn't very efficient when it comes to actually drying the hair. When a dryer won't blow anything but cool air, it signals a problem with the heating element. Unfortunately, that's not something that the average person can fix at home. The heating element may need to be replaced. Generally, this issue warrants buying a new hair dryer – although a local appliance repair person may be able to get the dryer blowing hot again.

Choosing a New Hair Dryer

If the faulty dryer dates back to the '90s, expect to see some new bells and whistles on the current models. Dryers billed as ceramic or porcelain use these materials as coating for the heating element, which minimizes heat damage to the hair. Look for a dryer that has one of those coatings and is also ionic or tourmaline; they disperse negative ions, which helps make water evaporate from the hair quickly and minimizes frizz. Finally, pay attention to wattage. The higher it is, the more powerful the dryer. Stylists suggest choosing a dryer with 1800 watts, at a minimum.