Do you know how to clean a dryer vent? When’s the last time you checked yours?
A lack of routine maintenance could put your home at risk for a fire if you don’t regularly clean your lint filter and dryer vent. In fact, the U.S. Fire Administration reports that every year clothes dryers are the cause of more than 2,900 home fires. And, aside from being a fire hazard, a dirty dryer vent can increase drying time and spike energy costs.
Signs of Lint Buildup
Is your laundry taking longer to dry? Do you have to run the same load twice? Is the top of your dryer hot to the touch after each use? Rather than a faulty dryer, clogged ductwork may be the culprit. The removable dryer lint filter catches most of the lint as it passes through a load of laundry. But, pieces of lint can sneak past the filter and get stuck in crevices along the dryer duct. When there’s a buildup of lint, airflow is restricted, which can lead to overheating. If the air inside the duct gets hot enough, it can ignite the lint and cause a dryer fire.
How to Clean a Dryer Vent Duct
Rather than hire a professional, a DIY cleaning job saves money. The tools and supplies you need to clean a dryer vent duct include a vacuum with a long hose attachment, dryer vent brush kit, screwdrivers and UL-listed metal foil duct tape.
Step one: The first thing you have to do is locate where the duct begins and ends. Most dryers will have a short 4-inch diameter exhaust in back that connects to the ductwork through an aluminum elbow. Hot air goes through those pipes and exits your house through an opening on an outside wall.
Step two: Safely disconnect your dryer by unplugging the power cord from the outlet or turning off the gas or propane valve. Remove any clamps or metal tape so that you can pull the dryer vent pipe free from the exhaust. If you own a dryer that runs on natural gas, be extremely careful you don’t disturb the dryer’s gas line when disconnecting the power. A gas leak is serious; call a professional if you’re unsure of the process.
Step three: Pull the vent pipe away from the wall duct. And then remove the duct cover from the exit point outside so that you have clear access to the entire ductwork. The dryer vent brush kit will come with a lint brush and flexible segments that you can connect together, depending on the length of your dryer ducts. You do need special vent brushes in order to effectively clean a dryer vent duct.
Step four: Insert the vent brush into the ductwork and spin it counter-clockwise while pushing the brush as far as you can down the dryer ducts. If you need more length to reach the other end of the duct, add another segment from your brush kit. The brush should loosen lint that has become lodged along the ductwork.
Pro tip: enter from the outside of the house if it’s located higher than the dryer. Gravity can help clear lodged debris and it’s easier to clean lint on your laundry room floor than have it clutter any landscaped areas. While you have the vacuum out, remember to clean out the inside of the dryer outlet as well.
Step five: Clean all of the lint that comes out of the duct work with a vacuum. (Heads up: It may be a lot!) Use the flexible hose attachment to clear out the openings on both ends, as well as the lint trap housing. Repeat as needed until there is no more existing lint that needs to be removed.
Step six: Put all of the dryer components back together and plug it in. Then give it a trial run before sliding it back into place, recommends Vince Christofora, owner of Woodstock Hardware, a full-service, family-owned store in Woodstock, NY. “Check to make sure all of the venting remains connected and there are no gas leaks, if your dryer runs on natural gas,” he says. “Bad connections can lead to problems later on.”
While you’re at it, Christofora recommends checking to ensure that your outside dryer vent is in good working order, too. “Make sure it’s well fastened or caulked to the building,” he says. “A poor installation can lead to extra heat or air conditioning costs and allow pests to enter your home.”
Safety Precautions to Consider
When you hook your dryer back up, avoid using a soft foil-style vent that connects to the wall duct, as these are a known fire hazard. These and other flexible plastic tubes are forbidden by most building codes. Go with an adjustable, rigid, 90-degree elbow at the exhaust end of the dryer instead.