With every load of laundry you do, your dryer vent takes on just a little more lint — even if you clean out the lint trap religiously. And that slow, gradual accumulation of lint can lead to a myriad of problems — all of which will end up costing you extra money and a few of which could prove to be downright dangerous. Here’s what you need to know.
What is a dryer vent?
A fan in your dryer pushes the hot air, lint, and moisture out of the machine into the dryer vent, which is a flexible tube that ushers the hot air outdoors. “Dryer vents are typically made of flexible or rigid metal, aluminum or plastic,” explains says Kevin Busch, President of Dryer Vent Wizard, a Neighborly company. “Their job is to expel moisture and hot air from the dryer to the outdoors, preventing a buildup of the two that can lead to issues ranging from inconvenient to downright dangerous. If you don’t have a relatively clean dryer vent, you could be at risk.”
What happens if you don’t clean the dryer vent
As a dryer vent becomes increasingly blocked, it can cause several issues that can impact the performance and safety of your dryer and your home, including:
- Reduced drying efficiency: A blocked dryer vent can restrict the flow of hot air and moisture out of the dryer. This leads to longer drying times as the moist air gets trapped inside the dryer drum. Your clothes might not dry properly, and you might need to run the dryer for longer cycles.
- Increased energy consumption: Longer drying times due to a blocked vent means that the dryer needs to work longer and harder to dry clothes, consuming more electricity or gas in the process.
- Reduced lifespan: The harder a dryer has to work, the more strain is put on its heating element and other components due to the restricted outflow. Sokolowski says this can lead to premature wear and tear, shortening the appliance’s lifespan and requiring costly repairs or even replacement.
- Mold and mildew: “Like any other surface in your home, bacteria, viruses and fungi can make their way into dryer vents and spread,” cautions Busch. Sokolowski adds that the excess moisture from poor venting can promote the growth of mold and mildew, negatively impacting indoor air quality and potentially causing health issues.
- Overheating and fire risk: When the airflow is restricted due to a blocked vent, the dryer can overheat. Excessive heat can potentially lead to a fire, especially if there’s a buildup of lint. Dryer fires are a serious safety concern and can result in significant damage to property and even injury or loss of life. “The National Fire Protection Association estimates that more than 14,500 household fires are related to our dryers every year just in the United States,” states Logan Taylor, founder of The Dazzle Cleaning Company.
How to tell if your dryer vent needs cleaning
Thankfully, if your dryer vent is clogged, there will be a lot of warning signs. Many of them are hard to ignore, if only because they make doing laundry more inconvenient.
Warning sign: Longer drying times
If your clothes are taking a lot longer to dry than usual with seemingly no explanation, it’s likely because of a clogged dryer vent. “Restricted airflow prevents moisture from being efficiently expelled, leading to extended drying cycles,” says Alicia Sokolowski, President and Co-CEO of AspenClean, an eco-friendly cleaning product brand.
Warning sign: Hot, but damp clothes
Are your clothes confusingly hot but not actually dry? According to Sokolowski, that’s “an indication that the moisture-laden air isn’t being properly vented out.”
Warning sign: Excessive lint buildup
In Sokolowski’s experience, a significant amount of lint collecting in the dryer’s lint trap, on clothing, or in the dryer itself means that lint is also accumulating in the vent.
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Warning sign: Burning smell
“A burning odor while using the dryer can indicate lint buildup in the vent, which is a fire hazard,” Sokolowski explains. This is because the lint can get overheated and start to burn, which is something you definitely want to avoid.
Warning sign: Closed vent hood
Don’t just search around your laundry room for clues – head outside as well. “If the exterior vent hood located outside the house doesn’t open when the dryer runs, it’s a clean sign of restricted airflow due to a clog,” says Sokolowski.
Warning sign: Hot dryer or laundry room
Your clothes aren’t the only thing that can get unusually hot — dryers and laundry rooms are at risk too. Sokolowski claims this is because heat and moisture can’t escape when the vent is basically out of commission.
Warning sign: Increased energy bills
There’s nothing like spending unexpected money to shock you into action. “A clogged dryer vent makes the dryer work harder and longer to dry clothes, resulting in increased energy consumption and higher utility bills,” says Sokolowski.
How often should a dryer vent be cleaned?
According to Laurie Fulford, a Laundry Pro at Poplin, your dryer vents should be cleaned at least once a year. But just because you’ve unclogged them in the last 365 days, doesn’t mean you should ignore any issues that arise. Instead, set an annual maintenance date on your calendar and pay attention to how your dryer is performing in the meantime.
Can I clean my dryer vent myself?
It’s definitely possible to accomplish a clean dryer vent yourself, and bonus: It’ll always be the cheaper option. Sometimes it does make sense to outsource to the professionals though, like if you encounter any issues, your vent has significant buildup or you simply don’t feel confident. “Many of our technicians see various issues caused by using the wrong materials, improper vent configurations or attempts to fix a problem without consulting a professional,” explains Busch.
What is the best way to clean dryer vent?
The concept of cleaning your dryer vent is fairly simple: Remove all of the lint and debris from the vent duct, exterior vent opening and lint trap. To most effectively achieve a clean dryer vent, there are just five steps and seven materials you need.
Materials for a clean dryer vent
- Vacuum cleaner with a long hose attachment or leaf blower/shop vacuum
- Flexible brush kit
- Power drill
- Lint trap brush
- Microfiber cloth
- Water and white vinegar
Step 1: Disconnect the Dryer
The first step is easy — simply turn off the dryer and unplug it from its power source. An important note from Taylor: If you have a gas dryer, don’t forget to turn off the gas.
Step 2: Clean the lint trap
“Next, remove the lint trap from the dryer and use a lint trap brush to clean any lint and debris from the screen,” says Sokolowski. “You can also use a mixture of equal parts water and white vinegar to dampen a microfiber cloth.” Use it to wipe down the lint trap and vent duct interior to remove any remaining lint and residue.
Step 3: Disconnect and vacuum the vent duct
To actually access the vent, Sokolowski instructs people to “pull the dryer away from the wall and remove any clamps or screws that secure the vent duct to the dryer.”
From there, the first step to a clean dryer vent is vacuuming the vent duct by feeding the long hose attachment inside. This, Sokolowski says, will help remove loose lint and debris. She recommends a flexible brush kit attached to a power drill to help dislodge and remove buildup, in addition to the microfiber cloth and water and white vinegar mixture. Taylor prefers to simply twist and turn the attachment around to agitate everything out.
Step 4: Clean the exterior vent opening
To take care of the exterior vent, head outside. Sokolowski likes to pull out her flexible brush kit again to clean up all the visible debris and lint. At this point you should now have a completely clean dryer vent.
Step 5: Reconnect the vent duct, then plug in and test the dryer
All that’s left to do now is put everything back the way you found it and check your work.
“First, carefully reattach the vent duct to both the dryer and the wall vent, then secure it with clamps or screws,” instructs Sokolowski. Then it’s time to plug the dryer back in and run a short cycle to make sure everything’s working as it should. During the cycle, go outside and make sure the exterior vent hood opens properly, which indicates proper airflow and a clean dryer vent.
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