The Top Causes of a Failing Bathroom Extractor Fan And How To Fix Them

Fix Bathroom Extractor Fan

Bathrooms are, arguably, the most important room in your home. This means that proper care and attention are vital to keeping it in top condition, and one key part to that is your bathroom extractor fan. If your bathroom’s fan has stopped working entirely or is performing more poorly than usual, there are several factors that could be affecting it.

Dirt and dust are the most common causes of extractor fans failing, but electrical issues or a failed fan motor could also be to blame.

By ensuring that your fan is working correctly and taking the proper preventative maintenance steps, you’ll improve its lifespan drastically. You’ll also have the added benefit of a moisture-free (and mould-free), beautiful bathroom!

Primary Causes of a Failed Bathroom Fan

There are really only three main issues that could cause your bathroom extractor fan to stop working (or underperform).

  1. Dust, mold, and mildew are all very common causes of extractor fans failing. Because your bathroom fan’s job is to remove moisture from the room, that means it’s a perfect breeding ground for bacteria, mold, and mildew. When ignored, this can build up to the point the fan stops being able to run.
    1. If you notice a new, unpleasant smell in your bathroom, it’s likely time to clean your fan.
  2. Electrical wiring issues are another possible cause of a failed fan. This can be a fault in the fan’s wiring or that of the home. If your fan and lights are connected and both stop working, this is a potential reason. Other potential causes are tripped circuit breakers or GFCI units. If, however, only the fan stops working, it could be…
  3. A failed motor is a less common cause as bathroom fans tend to last 10 years (give or take). However, if you’ve cleaned the fan and are confident your wiring is proper, this is another thing to consider.

An obvious, but important note: If your fan stops running altogether or making new sounds, this is a clear sign something is wrong. Ensure your fan is switched off, open it up and clean it (as detailed below). If it’s still not running, find a professional to deal with it – you risk electrocution or further damage by messing about.

Bathroom Extractor Fans

Preventative Maintenance (AKA Cleaning)

The absolutely most common issue that homeowners experience with their bathroom fans is dirt and dust. While it’s simply a fact of life that dust will find a way into any space it can, that doesn’t mean it should be ignored – especially with mechanical and electrical contraptions.

The nice part about this is that it can easily be made into part of your weekly cleaning routine. (You are cleaning regularly… right?)

Simply remove the fan’s cover after turning off the power and dust it as you would any other surface. If it’s been awhile, you may need steel wool or a tough toothbrush to tackle the issue – another reason to regularly clean. Otherwise, stick with a soft cloth and some gentle cleaner.

Oh – and don’t forget to clean the vent itself. These tend to get a lot more gross buildup than expected. If this doesn’t solve the problem, it’s time to move down the list.

Electrical Woes & Troubleshooting

For the purposes of this article, we’re going to assume that you have a little bit of basic electrical know-how and want to at least try to fix it yourself. As always, if you’re unsure if you’re capable of doing anything below, don’t hesitate to call a professional for help. To troubleshoot your fan’s issues, do the following:

  1. Check your circuit breaker and ensure there aren’t any tripped breakers.
  2. Check your ground-fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) to make sure it hasn’t switched. If what I said sounds like gibberish to you – its the two little black and red “on/off” buttons on many kitchen and bathroom outlets. If this is the cause, double check that you don’t have too many devices drawing from that particular circuit.
  3. Check the switch. Pull off the cover and test the current with an electrical sensor to see if it’s getting power (while the power is on) by flipping the switch on and off. Replacing these can be difficult, so ask a pro for help if this is the problem.
  4. After cutting power at the circuit box and measuring it with an electrical sensor to ensure it’s dead, check the wiring running from the switch to your fan. If it’s frayed or damaged, get it replaced by a pro. If, however, it’s loosely connected or the housing is loose – tighten it with a screwdriver and/or wrench.
    1. Look for rusty screws or connectors along the wiring’s path while doing this. Rust impedes electrical flow and it could help to simply replace them.
  5. If this hasn’t solved the issue, take note of the fan model number and order a replacement motor.
    1. Alternatively, you can remove the motor (see below section) and bring it to a hardware store. They may be able to help you find the proper replacement.
Bathroom Extractor Fan Wiring

Fan Motor Replacement

Once you’re sure the motor is the cause and you’re positive the power is off, simply complete the following steps:

  1. Remove the plate covering the motor, usually it’s screwed in place.
  2. Pull the motor from the rest of the fan. It’s generally fastened in place with screws, but at times they can simply be pulled out.
  3. After you’ve completed step 5 above (ordering the part), you simply repeat the process in reverse.
  4. Turn it on and test it. If this doesn’t solve the problem – you guessed it. Time to call a professional for help.

Final Thoughts

While it can seem complicated, bathroom extractor fans are rather simple machines. Generally, if it’s underperforming or simply stopped working, it can be tied to one of a few things. Dirt and grime, electrical issues (including tripped breakers and faulty wiring), or a failed fan motor. It’s generally best to check the things you’re comfortable with, and ask for help if you’re unsure of your ability to do something. After all, it’s better to pay someone to help, than to pay someone to help fix your mistake.

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About the Author Harry Thompson

Involved in home renovations throughout his life, Harry is an expert in everything to do with home and garden DIY. In his spare time, he enjoys cooking and tending to his garden.