According to the U.S. Fire Administration,
home fires every year are caused by clothes dryers.
These fires can be caused by a number of factors, but a key one is the presence of dust, lint, and other debris in the vents and ducts. The heat given off by a dryer, in conjunction with the lint in the vents can be extremely dangerous. Cleaning your vents and ducts isn’t just a matter of keeping your home tidy and sanitized, but is also important for the safety of your home.
In addition to the safety argument, regular cleaning of the vents and ducts will help keep your dryer working efficiently and last longer. A dryer that cannot vent the humid air from the clothing will not be able to dry clothes as efficiently.
This guide will walk you through how and why you should clean your dryer vents. Whether you choose to hire a professional or do it yourself, it is definitely something you should build into your annual home cleaning routine.
WHY DO I NEED TO CLEAN MY DRYER VENTS?
Almost certainly the first question you’ll ask when it comes to dryer vents is why you need to clean them. They don’t always appear to need cleaning, they’re difficult to reach, and they don’t make the rest of your house look dirty if you don’t clean them. However, there are three compelling reasons why you should take the time to clean.
As mentioned above, lint in a dryer vent is a major fire hazard, which can be extremely dangerous to your family and also lead to costly fire damage restoration. Lint is extremely flammable, and a dryer – by definition – gets extremely hot as it works. The combination of these two factors results in fires, despite ever-greater fire resistance technology and materials used in dryers.
The older your dryer, the greater the chance of it causing a fire. Our fire safety guide has more information on how to reduce fire hazards at home.
Dryers work by warming air and passing it through your moist clothes. The moisture in your clothes evaporates as steam and is vented out of the fabric (and out of your home) through the ducts. If your ducts are clogged, the humid air cannot exit your home and will linger in the drum of the dryer, thereby slowing the process of drying.
This means that your dryer will not be as effective and will cost more money to operate. You’ll need to run your dryer longer for the same results.
In addition to the day-to-day efficiency of your dryer, your machine may become old before its time if you do not clean the vents. In fact, cleaning out your vents may give your dryer a new lease on life, and help it to run as well as it did when it was new.
Keeping your dryer running for more years will save you from having to pay for a replacement, saving you a big chunk of money on top of the increased running costs.
If you are thinking about changing your dryer because it’s no longer working well, clean the vents first – you might just find that your dryer’s not faulty at all.
SIGNS THAT DRYER VENTS NEED TO BE CLEANED
Of course, you don’t need to wait for any signs from your dryer that it’s time to clean out the ducts. Instead, you should make it part of your once or twice a year home cleaning routine. After all, it will only take a couple of hours.
However, there are some signs that you may need to take action sooner than that. If you notice any of the following signs, then you should try cleaning out the vents of your dryer to see if that addresses the problem.
Clothes take longer to dry or don’t dry fully in one cycle
You should measure this against your dryer’s previous performance. If it could comfortably get through a load in 40 minutes, but now it struggles to maintain that, it could be the case that blockages in the vent are preventing moist air from leaving.
Clothes are hotter than usual when the drying cycle ends
This is a sign that hot air is not venting properly. If your clothes are noticeably hotter it’s an indication that the heat is not being removed adequately. This obviously has some dangerous implications and should be acted on quickly.
The outside of the dryer is hot to touch
As with the clothes being hotter than usual, it’s a sign that your dryer is no longer able to safely transfer heat. Dryers are built with heat-resistant materials to keep the outside from getting warm; if this is no longer adequate, your dryer is a major safety risk.
Outside exhaust flapper doesn't open much
As a diagnostic test, go to where the vent leaves your home. The flapper that is fixed on the outside should – when the dryer is functioning well – flap wide open as the steam leaves. If the flapper only barely opens, it indicates a low exhaust velocity, which means that much of the heat and air isn’t leaving your home.
There is more humidity in your laundry room
Laundry rooms are always a little humid. However, if it becomes noticeably more so in the space (you can check it with a humidity measuring device) then it means the steam is being vented into the laundry room. This is usually a sure sign of a backup in the vents.
There is a burnt smell in your laundry room
Unsurprisingly, this is a sure sign that something is wrong. If you notice a burning smell anywhere in your home when you run the dryer, shut it off immediately. You should be extremely vigilant as you wait for it to cool down before checking the vents.
PROFESSIONAL DRYER VENT
AND DUCT CLEANING
Hiring a professional to clean your dryer vent and ducts is always a smart decision. With their familiarity will all kinds of dryer venting systems and specialized tools, they can perform a thorough job, make sure you have the proper ducts and clamps for your set up, as well as give you safety tips and recommendations for your specific space.
Certain factors may make hiring a professional to clean your dryer vent and ducts a good option for you.
WHEN TO HIRE A PROFESSIONAL:
AVERAGE COST OF DRYER VENT AND DUCT CLEANING
The average cost for residential dryer vent and duct cleaning is between $95 – $200. This cost includes a full cleaning of the vent and duct(s), as well as labor. Depending on your dryer’s setup, the high end of this could also include new materials such as clamps.
Factors that could affect the final total include ease of access to the vent and ducts, the condition of your vents, the vent/duct style and configuration, how many dryers you have in the home, as well as if you are in need of replacement parts.
VENT AND DUCT CLEANING
If you prefer to go the DIY-route, below is more information on how to clean dryer vent and ducts yourself.
SAFETY TIPS BEFORE YOU BEGIN CLEANING DRYER VENTS
Before you begin cleaning your vents, there are a few safety steps you need to take. Because you’re dealing with hot appliances, you need to make sure you wait for everything to cool down before you start work. In addition, you may need to replace some of the ducts to make sure they are up to code.
Disconnect the electricity
If you have an electric dryer, this is a very straightforward process. Simply unplug the dryer from the wall. If your dryer is more complex to unplug, have someone else on hand to help you. This will allow them to cut the power in case of an emergency.
Wait for it to cool
Even after completing a drying cycle, the dryer and the vents can still be hot. You should wait at least an hour after it has finished its cycle for it to cool down (and even then, be cautious when first touching anything – don’t assume anything is cool before testing).
Change the duct
Although not an immediate safety tip, there is also a key point to be made about the ductwork of your vents. Although metal foil ductwork was common in dryer ducts (and may be still present in your home), they are now forbidden under most building codes.
These ducts were designed to be ribbed so that they were flexible – however, that internal ribbing easily catches lint and therefore presents a major fire hazard. If you have this type of ductwork, you will need to change it and replace it with smooth-walled metal ductwork. This may require a professional to help with the process.
CLEANING DRYER LINT TRAPS AND THE AREA UNDERNEATH
Before covering how to clean dryer vents and ducts, it is important to touch on the basic dryer maintenance you should be doing on a regular basis to prevent fires: cleaning the dryer lint traps and screens as well as the area underneath your lint traps, inside of the dryer itself.
CLEANING DRYER LINT TRAPS / SCREENS
Many people know that you should clean out your dryer’s lint trap before every load, but it is also important to regularly clean your lint screens with water. Residue from detergents and fabric softeners can build up on the screen and decrease your dryer’s efficiency and increase risks of a fire.
Every month or so, rinse your lint screen with hot water and a brush to scrub off the residue, dry it with a clean towel, and return it back into the dryer.
CLEANING THE AREA UNDER THE LINT TRAP
Another area that is often overlooked is the lint underneath the lint trap inside of the dryer. This poses an additional fire hazard.
Here is the proper way to clean this area:
Remove the lint screen.
Use a dryer lint brush.
Insert the dryer lint brush into the compartment and move it around to collect the lint.
Remove the brush, clean off the lint, and repeat 2-3 times.
Flush out the rest of the lint.
Do not put the lint screen back in just yet and turn on the dryer for 1-2 minutes. This will push any excess lint out of the duct behind the dryer, where you can collect it.
Reinsert the lint screen and you’re done.
HOW DO I CLEAN MY DRYER VENTS OR DUCTS?
The actual process of cleaning your dryer vents is straightforward, and you can do it with equipment you already have at home.
FIND THE DUCT
Unsurprisingly, this is the first step in the process. The duct is usually at the back of your dryer unit and is usually a 4-inch pipe that goes from the unit into the wall.
DISCONNECT THE PIPE
After shutting down the power to the dryer, and waiting for it to cool, disconnect the pipe from the back of the dryer. You will need to remove any metal clamps and potentially some of the taping material.
CLEAN THE DUCT
Using a vacuum cleaner with a hose extension, clean the pipe. The lint should be relatively easy to suck up through the hose. Repeat this process from the outside of the pipe, where the exhaust meets the exterior of your home.
You may also use a flexible brush to reach further into the vent. If you do this, you’ll need to vacuum again after you finish.
CLEAN THE AREA AROUND THE VENT
Once you’ve finished, clean up the area around the vents so that no debris is lying in the cavity behind the dryer (which may also prevent a fire hazard). Reattach the vent to the dryer in the same manner as it was attached previously.
DO A TRIAL RUN OF THE DRYER
Add some wet clothes to the dryer and set it to dry. Closely observe the connection between the dryer and the vent to make sure it is properly attached. You should also check the exhaust vent to see that it is operating properly. You should be able to see benefits to your dry cycle immediately.
The most obvious reason why you should build cleaning your vents into your annual cleaning routine is safety.
The 2,900 home fires caused by dryers, mentioned above cause:
The number one cause of these fires is the failure to remove lint buildup in the dryer vent. In the same way as you wouldn’t leave a gasoline can near an open flame, you shouldn’t leave large quantities of lint in the immediate vicinity of an appliance that generates a large amount of heat.