Bathroom fan stopped working

Bathroom Fan Stopped Working (8 Step Repair Guide)

The bathroom exhaust fans are among the most convenient appliances people can get for their homes. 

Not only do these ventilation devices remove humid air – which can cause corrosion and severely damage your walls – but they can also eliminate the foggy mirror syndrome, reduce the number of airborne pollutants, and keep the unpleasant smells at bay. 

Unfortunately, however, bathroom exhaust fans can sometimes suddenly stop working, just like all other machines. In most cases, the cause of this will be either a part issue or some sort of an electrical problem. Whatever it is, it can be solved – either by you (if you have some DIY fixing skills) or by a licensed HVAC technician. 

In this article, I will talk about: 

  • Birds making nests in fan ducts; 
  • Clogged grilles blocking airflow; 
  • Tripped GFCI circuits and breakers; 

…and more. If there’s something wrong with your bathroom exhaust fan, keep reading – you just might find the solution you were looking for. 


Why Did My Bathroom Exhaust Fan Stop Working? 

Electric bathroom exhaust fan

As far as I’m concerned, every bathroom should have one of these convenient appliances installed on the ceiling or mounted on the wall. As I mentioned in the intro, a bath fan efficiently removes moisture and unpleasant odors and, in that way, removes the need to open up a bathroom window after showering. 

One very important thing to mention here – and which most homeowners tend to forget – is that the excess moisture can and will leak out into the other rooms of the house. As you can already guess, this typically leads to rotted wood, rusted door hardware, and, of course, mold issues. 

In case your bathroom exhaust fan is not working, the very first place you need to check is your electrical panel. There, you may encounter a problem that is as simple as a tripped breaker – a plain and straightforward but also very common cause behind non-operational bathroom exhaust fans. 

However, if there’s nothing wrong with electricity but your venting appliance is still not creating enough suction, you’ll have to take a closer look at the fan itself and check if there’s something wrong with one of its parts. 

For example, the cover of the fan may be clogged with debris and dust. If that’s the case, you’ll need to detach the cover, rinse it thoroughly, let it dry off, and then put it back into its place. 

And that’s just one of the many things that may have gone wrong with your bathroom exhaust fan. Let’s take a look at all of them in more detail: 

Read Also: How Much Electricity Does A Bathroom Fan Use?

Bathroom Fan Stopped Working – The Overview 

1. A Tripped Circuit Breaker 

2. Is the Bathroom Exhaust Fan on a GFCI Circuit? 

3. A Broken or Loose Wall Switch 

4. A Broken Bathroom Exhaust Fan Housing Outlet 

5. Checking the Bathroom Exhaust Fan Motor 

6. A Greasy Bathroom Exhaust Fan Cover 

7. Checking the Bathroom Exhaust Fan Blades 

8. A Defective or Clogged Fan Duct 

1. A Tripped Circuit Breaker

Tripped circuit breaker

Let’s start with the simplest thing first – does your bathroom exhaust fan turn on when you flip the corresponding wall switch? 

As I mentioned above, one of the first places to check when there’s no power to the venting appliance is the electrical panel – maybe you’re dealing with a tripped breaker. 

One thing that can easily cause a tripped breaker is when you have too many devices plugged into the same circuit that the bathroom exhaust fan is plugged in. 

However, keep in mind that the breaker can sometimes trip on its own, without any overloading. This can happen if the breaker is defective. 

Take a good look inside your breaker box or the electrical panel and check for any tripped breakers. 

2. Is the Bathroom Exhaust Fan on a GFCI Circuit? 

GFCI switch
Photo by Ppelleti via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0)

If your bathroom exhaust fan is on a GFCI circuit, that may well be the reason why there’s no power to it. 

If you don’t know what a GFCI circuit is, it’s an outlet with two buttons on it – the test and the reset button – whose job is to cut off the power in case of a ground fault. The “GFCI” in its name stands for Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter. 

These kinds of outlets are typically installed in bathrooms and kitchens to prevent people from getting accidentally shocked. They also have a secondary purpose – protecting the downstream outlets from the main GFCI. 

In the event of a ground fault – or if the electricity is off-balance – the GFCI circuit will instantly (in 1/40 of a second) shut off the electrical power to that outlet. There’s a pretty good chance that your GFCI outlet has tripped in case there is no power to the whole bathroom. 

Fortunately, solving this problem is as easy as it gets. Once you have located the main (“master”) GFCI outlet, restore the power to it by pressing the aforementioned reset button. 

3. A Broken or Loose Wall Switch 

Broken bathroom fan switch

In case you’ve checked both your GFCI circuits and your electrical panel breakers and none of these have tripped, the next thing you should take a look at is the wall switch. 

What you’ll want to do here is determine whether the switch is working correctly and whether its wires are properly connected. 

This is a very easy task. To remove the cover, you’ll need to take a screwdriver and unscrew the screws that are holding it in place. After that, take a voltage tester and connect its black and red wires to the terminals on the outlet. 

Once you’ve done that, simply flip the wall switch on and off while checking whether the voltage on the tester is turning on and off as well. When the wall switch is in the “on” position, you should see 120 volts on your voltage tester.  If you need a new switch, check out the best bathroom exhaust timer switches.

4. A Broken Bathroom Exhaust Fan Housing Outlet 

After checking the electrical panel breaker, the GFCI circuit, and the wall switch, the next thing you’ll want to take a look at is the outlet on the housing of your bathroom exhaust fan. 

A lot of the older appliances of this type have their own outlets, typically located inside the housing. As you can already guess, this outlet is where the fan’s engine is plugged into. In order to access it, you will have to remove the bath fan’s cover. 

To do this, pull on the edges of the cover until there’s a 1-inch gap between the cover and the rest of the appliance. 

Put your fingers inside this gap and feel for the two clips – these are usually made out of metal and their job is to keep the cover secured to the fan. To release these clips from their slots, just squeeze them. 

And once you have detached the cover and found the outlet (if there is one, that is), unplug the fan’s motor from it. After that, take your voltage tester and check whether there’s any electricity in it. 

If you don’t have a voltage tester, try plugging in a small lamp to check whether the outlet is working or not. 

5. Checking the Bathroom Exhaust Fan Motor 

Once you’ve checked the housing outlet and if you’ve determined that there’s nothing wrong with it, you will want to do the same thing with the motor of the bathroom exhaust fan. If you’re really unlucky, the motor may have burned out. 

And to determine whether this is true or not, plug the bath fan engine into an extension cord that’s plugged into a working wall outlet. 

If you do this and the engine still won’t turn on, you’re almost certainly dealing with a burned-out motor. If this is the case, you’ll have no other choice but to get yourself a brand new bathroom exhaust fan. 

6. A Greasy Bathroom Exhaust Fan Cover 

Dirty bathroom fan vent cover

Unfortunately, a lot of homeowners don’t really pay much attention to their venting appliances. The result of this is typically a clogged bathroom exhaust fan cover that makes it difficult for the device to suck in the humid air. 

In case you’ve noticed that there’s little to no airflow and that your bath fan just isn’t doing its job as it should, take a good look at its grille. If it’s visibly greasy, you will have to take it down and give it a thorough rinsing. 

Keep in mind that greasy, clogged bath fan covers can prevent as much as 90% of the humid air from getting sucked into the appliance. In other words, a dirty grille is definitely not something that should be underestimated. 

As I said above, most homeowners simply don’t pay attention to the looks of their bath fans, let alone think about cleaning them. But this is an exceptionally easy task to accomplish – to remove the lint and the dust, you just have to take the grille down and wash it with warm, soapy water. 

7. Checking the Bathroom Exhaust Fan Blades 

Bathroom exhaust fan blades

Once you’ve inspected the grille – and cleaned it in case it was dirty – the next thing you’ll want to do is to check whether the fan blades are dirty or defective. 

Most appliances of this type will be equipped with either a centrifugal fan (“squirrel cage”) or with a propeller. In any case, you will have to detach the cover in order to be able to access it. 

And once you have removed the fan cover, get a flashlight and take a good look at the blades. To determine whether they are spinning freely, push them with a screwdriver or your fingers. If the blades are not spinning freely, you will have two options – oiling them or buying a new bathroom exhaust fan. 

If you’d like to try oiling the blades, make sure to check my article on oiling bathroom exhaust fans. There, you’ll find a comprehensive and informative step-by-step guide on how to quickly and easily oil one of these appliances. 

Obviously, if you find that the blades of your bathroom exhaust fan are dirty, make sure to give them a thorough cleaning. 

8. A Defective or Clogged Fan Duct

After inspecting the blades and the grille of your bathroom exhaust fan, you should turn on the appliance and go outside to check the vent cover. 

If you haven’t noticed anything wrong during the steps described above, there’s a pretty good chance that the flapper of the vent cover is stuck-closed. There could also be a bird’s nest inside the vent. This is a very common issue when it comes to ventilation ducts. 

Before removing the nest, make sure to put on a mask, a pair of goggles, and a pair of thick gloves – bird nests are often full of bacteria and tiny mites. With the help of a flashlight, long screwdriver, and needle-nose pliers, carefully remove all the twigs, sticks, and leaves and your fan duct will finally be able to “breathe” again. Read our guide on how to stop condensation in a bathroom exhaust fan as well.

The Takeaway 

Having a bathroom exhaust fan that just refuses to work can be a genuinely frustrating experience. 

However, as you can see from above, there are a few very common causes behind this kind of an issue, and most of them can be taken care of relatively easily. 

If there’s no power to the unit, you will want to check its housing outlet, wall switch, circuit breaker, grille, fan blades, and exterior vent cover. 

And if the appliance still refuses to work even after you’ve fixed all of these potential problems, you’ll probably have no other choice but to buy a brand new bathroom exhaust fan. If you need help choosing one, check out our post on the best bathroom fans.

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