Are your clothes taking longer to dry than usual? Does it smell like something's burning in the laundry room? Is the top of your dryer too hot to touch after you put in a load of laundry? If you answered yes to any of these questions, it's time for a routine maintenance on your dryer vent. Warning signs like these are common indications of a dirty or clogged dryer that can potentially put your home at risk of a fire.
Local fire departments across the United States responded to nearly 14,000 fires involving dryers per year from 2014-2018. And about one-third of the fires were caused by dirty vents — those clogged with lint, dust and fiber. That's why Russ Dimmitt, director of education at the Chimney Safety Institute of America, a nonprofit educational institute that trains and certifies chimney and dryer exhaust technicians, recommends getting your vent cleaned annually.
"If your clothes start taking longer to dry than they have been and progressively get longer and longer, that's indicative that the vent is beginning to plug and you're losing airflow," Dimmitt says. "Airflow is an important part of the clothes drying properly."
Tools and supplies you'll need
- Safety gloves
- Dryer vent cleaning kit (This contains brushes and flexible rods to help you clean the dryer. It is available at most hardware stores.)
- Vacuum with a hose attachment
Step 1. Disconnect Your Dryer
- Before you start cleaning your dryer vent, unplug the power cord attached to your dryer from the outlet or turn off the gas/propane valve if you have a gas dryer. You might need to pull the dryer about a foot away from the wall to reach the cord.
- Detach the dryer duct, located on the back of the dryer, from the wall and the dryer. You might need to use a screwdriver to remove the duct.
- Locate the exterior vent outside your home and remove the cover of the vent from the exit point. This will make it easier to clean with a brush. If you're not sure where the exterior vent is, turn your dryer on and go outside your home and walk around, listening for the sound of the dryer.
Step 2. Clean the Vent With a Brush Kit
- Assemble the cleaning kit. Attach the brush to one of the flexible rods.
- Insert the brush into the vent and slowly spin the brush while moving it in a back-and-forth motion to remove all of the lint. If the brush is long enough, it could reach all the way to the exit point outside.
- Continue to clean until the vent is lint free.
- Once you've cleaned the vent, clean the duct and inside the dryer.
Step 3. Vacuum the Vent
- Attach a hose to your vacuum so that it can reach any lint that the brush didn't get.
- Insert the vacuum into the vent and remove any leftover lint or dust.
- Vacuum up the lint from the duct and inside the dryer as well.
- Go to the exterior vent outside your home and vacuum it. (If your vacuum is for in-home use only, skip this step and just clean with the brush.)
- Replace the exterior cover on the vent.
Step 4. Reconnect Your Dryer
Once you've finished cleaning the vent, it's time to put the dryer back together.
- Make sure the ducts are undamaged before you reconnect everything. Replace the duct if it's bent or has holes in it.
- Re-attach ductwork to the vent and dryer. Use the screwdriver from before.
- Move the dryer back into place.
- Plug the dryer into the outlet or turn the gas/propane valve back on.
- Test the dryer by running it for a couple of minutes to make sure it's properly connected and to remove any remaining dust.
Note: Although you can clean your dryer vent yourself, Dimmitt always recommends hiring a professional. "They know other things to look for, like proper installation," he says. Also, if the dryer vents outside through your roof, you may not want to scale a ladder to clean it.
For visual learners, here's an informative step by step video on how to clean the vent.
Tips on Keeping a Clean Vent
Now that your dryer vent is clean, it's time to keep it that way. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission recommends you do the following to reduce the amount of lint in your vent.
- Clean the lint trap filter in your dryer after every load of laundry. Not only is it easy, but it's one of the best ways to prevent dryer fires.
- Vacuum in and around where the lint filter goes to get all the extra debris.
- Sweep the area around and behind the dryer.
- Regularly clean inside the dryer, especially if you use dryer sheets, with a scrub brush and warm, soapy water. You can dry it off with a towel after it's been rinsed.
- Replace plastic or foil ducting material with rigid or corrugated semi-rigid metal duct. This material provides maximum airflow, while the other materials don't.
- Wash clothes that have been stained with gasoline, cooking oils, cleaning agents or other volatile chemicals more than once. You should, preferably, hang dry these clothes rather than putting them in a dryer.
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