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How to Change a 4-Prong Dryer Cord and Plug to a 3-Prong Cord

Dan has been a licensed journey-level electrician for 17 years. He has extensive experience in most areas of the electrical trade.

Congratulations! You've just moved into your new home, the new drapes are up, and the washer and dryer are ready to be put into place. But wait! The dryer cord won't plug in—the dryer cord has four prongs, but the wall receptacle only has three holes! What's up with this?

What's up is that in 1999, the National Electric Code instituted a change, requiring all new dryers and home dryer receptacles to have 4 prongs instead of the older 3-prong style. That fourth prong is a ground wire and is there for better electrical safety. The older outlets are "grandfathered" in the rule change and are quite legal to use if already in place, but you will need a new cord to fit it.

Now, it would be convenient if there was a dryer plug adapter that you could plug into that three-pronged receptacle so that you could plug your dryer into that—but there isn't. You will have to change the dryer cord to make it fit.

The good news is that dryer cords are readily available and fairly inexpensive, and it isn’t very hard to switch them. Amazon carries dryer cords in a wide variety of lengths, and home improvement stores will usually have one or two sizes as well. A screwdriver and a pair of pliers will do the job, although some nut drivers would be nice.

Now if the situation with your dryer cord and outlet is backwards from this—that is, you have a three-pronged cord and a four-pronged outlet—you are looking at the wrong article. Look at this article instead: Changing A 3-Prong Dryer Cord And Plug to a 4-Prong Cord.

If Your Wall Plug Looks Like This...

Example three-prong dryer plug receptacle.

Example three-prong dryer plug receptacle.

But the Cord on Your Dryer Looks Like This...

Example four-prong dryer cord.

Example four-prong dryer cord.

You Need to Buy a Cord That Looks Like This...

Example three-prong dryer cord.

Example three-prong dryer cord.

Removing the Old Four-Prong Plug

Begin by unplugging the dryer. There is high voltage inside (240 volts) that can give you a very nasty shock, even kill you. Make sure there is no chance of this by unplugging the dryer before proceeding any further.

There will be some kind of connector holding the dryer cable to the wall of the dryer so that it doesn't pull out. The most common type is a clamp with two screws on the outside that can be tightened to squeeze the wire into place. Loosen these screws so that the wire can slide out of the dryer.

Remove the cover plate from the wire terminal block, exposing the wires inside. Note where each color of wire terminates. A picture, either hand-drawn or taken with your smartphone, can be very useful. Normally, you will see a row of three terminal screws, with the red and black wires connected to the two outside screws, the white wire connected to the center screw, and the green wire connected to the frame of the dryer.

The four-pronged cord has been loosened from the dryer wall and is ready to be disconnected from the terminals.  Pay particular attention to where the white and green wires go.

The four-pronged cord has been loosened from the dryer wall and is ready to be disconnected from the terminals. Pay particular attention to where the white and green wires go.

Remove each wire from the screw or stud holding it, making sure to save all nuts or screws. A nut driver or socket is preferred but a pair of pliers is usually sufficient to loosen and remove the wires.

Work the old wire out of the connector that holds it to the wall of the dryer, and set it aside for possible future use. You never know when you might move again, and Murphy's Law says that if you do, it will be back into a home with a four-prong dryer plug!

Here the four wires have been removed and a metal ground strap installed between the dryer frame and the white wire.  You can use a #10 wire instead of a strap.

Here the four wires have been removed and a metal ground strap installed between the dryer frame and the white wire. You can use a #10 wire instead of a strap.

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Installing the Three-Prong Dryer Cord and Plug

Once the four-wire cord is removed, it is time to install the new three-wire cord and plug. Work the wire through the connector, but do not tighten it yet. The red and black wires go to the outer two terminals (in the photo the dryer wires are black and blue) and the white wire goes to the terminal in the center of the terminal block. While the red and black wires are interchangeable, the white wire is not; make sure it goes to the center terminal, where the old white wire was.

Most three-wire cords do not have colored wires, so instead of matching colors, identify the wires using the relative position of the wires in the cord. The center wire of the three will always go to the center (white) terminal; the outer two wires go to the outer terminals. The outer two wires can be interchanged, but never put the center wire of a flat, three-wire cord on anything but the center terminal.

Your three-prong cord will not have a green ground wire. In place of that wire, a ground strap or short piece of #10 wire (preferably green) must be installed. One end should go to where the green wire on the old cord went, and the other end to the terminal where the white wire went. Do not ignore this step! You must have a "jumper" of some kind, a wire or strap, installed between the dryer frame and the white wire. This jumper is the only thing that grounds the dryer. Without it, if there is an electrical problem later, the frame may become energized and present a huge shock hazard.

The photo shows a metal strap installed; it goes from the white wire down the side of the terminal block, and is screwed to the dryer frame. If this strap is not available (and it usually isn't) purchase a one-foot piece of #10 green wire, strip an inch of insulation from each end, and install that wire between the connector the white wire used to go to and the connector on the frame where the green wire used to go.

What the three-wire connection will look like, including a metal ground strap (circled) between the dryer frame and the white wire.  You can use a #10 wire instead of a strap.

What the three-wire connection will look like, including a metal ground strap (circled) between the dryer frame and the white wire. You can use a #10 wire instead of a strap.

With the wires all terminated, tighten the connector on the outside of the dryer that holds the cable securely.

It is wise to turn the power off at this point, just in case something has been wired wrong. With the power off, plug the dryer into the wall outlet and turn the breaker back on. Test the dryer for proper operation and you're done. Congratulations on doing your own home repair job! It wasn't so bad, was it, even though that dryer cord adapter you really wanted isn't available?

A final thought: now that you have your dryer operating properly, the vent hose may need some attention. Older, plastic, vent hoses are not recommended as a fire hazard, and even newer metallic ones deteriorate over time. Many dryers are placed very close to the wall where the exhaust vent is located, requiring that the hose be badly kinked in order to hook up to it, and rigid metal elbows are available to help alleviate this problem. Neither the dryer vent nor vent elbows are expensive; consider replacing them or at a minimum clean out the vent hose and the vent opening outside your home. While you're at it, check that the vent outside operates correctly, closing when the dryer is not running so that insects and small animals cannot get in. Whether you purchase your new cord at a local home improvement store or through the Amazon link above, both vent hoses and elbows are available and can be purchased at the same time as the new cord.

Installing a New Dryer Cord

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

Questions & Answers

Question: I am changing a four prong dryer cord to a three prong cord. My problem is the lack of a ground wire on the new three prong cord. I saw the instructions online, it explained about the grounding plate & the #10 wire. Well, when I went to Lowe's an employee there told me it was unnecessary. She said she was educated in electrical things & assured me she knew what she was talking about. So which is it? Do I have to ground it to the body of the dryer, or can I just hook the new three prong cord up and roll with it?