Despite the promise embedded in its name, a dryer doesn’t always perfectly dry your clothes each and every time. That said, if you’re finding yourself with particularly damp clothes even after a full drying cycle, or you’ve noticed that the outside of the dryer becomes very hot while doing its job, it may be time to clean out your dryer vent ducts.
Cleaning these ducts isn’t just important for your clothes and time (and sanity). Over months and years, lint can accumulate in these ducts and mix with hot air and ignite, creating a fire hazard. Every year, dryer duct fires cause $35 million in damages, hundreds of injuries and even deaths. If you ever notice a burning stench in your laundry room, this is another indication you should get cleaning sooner rather than later.
Experts recommend you clean out your dryer ducts twice a year. Doing so on your own might sound like an intimidating prospect but there are ways to do it easily, cheaply and relatively quickly.
Table of contents
- What to do first
- What you’ll need to clean your dryer vent
- How to clean your dryer vent in 6 easy steps
- How to prevent future build-up
What to do first
Before attempting a cleaning, it’s important to figure out whether your clothes dryer runs on gas or electric power:
- An electric dryer will have a grounded 240 volt electrical outlet. The plug will also be larger than your standard plug, containing either three or four prongs.
- A gas-powered dryer, on the other hand, plugs into your standard 110 volt three prong outlet and will also connect to a gas valve.
If your dryer runs on gas, you’ll want to turn off the gas supply valve while cleaning and be careful not to overly disturb the flexible gas line while repositioning the unit. If at any point you’re unsure about what you’re doing, call a pro.
What you’ll need to clean your dryer vent
- A dryer vent cleaning kit — you can purchase one of these at your local hardware store or online for about $24.
- Power drill
- Vacuum or broom and dustpan
How to clean your dryer vent in 6 easy steps
Step 1: Find your vent
Before you can clean your dryer vent, you’ll need to figure out where it actually is. Dryers are usually connected to a short, 4-inch diameter exhaust pipe that then connects to ductwork inside a wall. Hot air from your dryer is pushed through this pipe and escapes through a vent on the outside wall of your home.
Once you’ve identified your outdoor dryer exhaust vent, take a peek inside and look for any debris, including dust, lint or even dead bugs. Wash any screens and clear out any noticeable obstructions.
Step 2: Carefully disconnect your dryer
Once you’ve figured out how your ducts work, you’re ready to unplug your dryer. Once that’s done, remove any metal tape or clamps that attach your dryer vent pipe to its exhaust. Be sure to apply a gentle pressure when pulling the vent pipe from the wall duct, so as not to break the pipe.
Step 3: Vacuum the lint
By now you should be able to get a clear look inside your dryer vent from inside your laundry room (or nook). Use the hose attachment of a vacuum cleaner or shop vac to suck up any lint in or around the hole.
If you’ve got a handheld vacuum, you can repeat this process on the outside duct. Otherwise, try to clear debris manually from outside.
Step 4: Get in there with a brush
Attach the dryer brush from your vent cleaning kit to your power drill and insert the brush end of the rod into your duct. Push the brush as far back as you possibly can, bearing in mind that you might need to delicately maneuver the hose attachment depending on the route your duct takes.
If you’re unable to thread the brush through the entirety of your duct, or if your brush simply doesn’t extend that long, try inserting the brush head in the outside duct as well.
Step 5: Clean up and reconnect
At this point, you’ve likely unearthed a treasure trove of lint. You’ll want to use a vacuum cleaner or broom and dustpan to sweep away your new fluffy friends.
Next, plug your dryer into the outlet and reconnect your wall duct.
One catch, though: if your dryer uses a soft foil-style vent to link to its wall duct, you’ll want to replace it with something sturdier. A 90-degree, fire-resistant aluminum elbow will suffice, while also providing superior airflow. You can buy them from Home Depot for just under $5.
Step 6: Celebrate
You did it! Cleaning out a dryer vent may not be glamorous work but you rose to the challenge and for that you deserve a victory lap. Turn on your dryer and listen as the air flows smoothly out the vent—the sweet sound of success. No more damp clothes, no more endless cycles. And you did it all on your own.
How to prevent future build-up
To ensure those pesky lint fibers don’t mess with your future drying game, be sure to take out the lint trap filter at the outer edge of your dryer door and remove the lint before every cycle. You’ll also want to vacuum the lint screen regularly, depending on how often you’re drying your clothes. Finally, it’s also a good idea to sweep and dust around your dryer.