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How to clean a dryer vent

Vacuum dryer vent

The clothes dryer is a delight of modern life. We toss heaps of wet clothes inside, shut the door, and press Start. A short time later, voila, you have warm, dry clothes.

If you don't take care of your machine, however, it can become a fire hazard. Every year in America, thousands of clothing-dryer fires lead to deaths, injuries, and $35 million in property damage, according to the U.S. Fire Administration.

A major contributing factor to these blazes: not cleaning your dryer, including the vent where lint, dust, and debris collect.

At Asurion, we help millions of people repair, troubleshoot, and get the most from their tech and appliances. From fixing a noisy refrigerator to repairing a dishwasher that won't start, we keep the devices you rely on most working all day, every day. Here are our tips on how to clean a dryer vent.

How to tell when it's time to clean a dryer vent

If you notice that your clothes need extra time to dry, if the top of your machine is piping hot after a cycle, or there's a burning smell in your laundry room, your dryer probably has lint buildup. When this happens, it's time to clean your dryer vent.

What is lint buildup?

Over time, bits of lint evade the removable filter and wind up stuck inside the dryer duct. When enough builds up, air can't flow through freely, which can lead to overheating, even fires.

Reducing dust and lint in and around your dryer is an important part of dryer maintenance. Here's how to do so:

  • Make a habit of sweeping and dusting around your dryer.
  • Remove and clean out the lint filter before running the dryer.
  • Every so often, use your vacuum's hose attachment to clean in and around the lint filter opening.
  • If you use dryer sheets, you may notice a residue on the lint screen. Gently clean it in warm, soapy water with a brush, then towel dry.

How to prepare a dryer vent for cleaning

Follow these steps to prepare your machine's vent for a proper cleaning. The first thing you'll need to do is determine what energy powers your dryer: electricity or gas.

How to tell if you have an electric or gas dryer

You'll know you have an electric dryer if it has a grounded 240-volt outlet, along with an oversized plug with three to four prongs. A gas-powered dryer, however, plugs into a standard 110-volt three-prong outlet and has a gas valve.

Disconnect the dryer

If you have an electric dryer, you'll need to unplug the power cord. To do so, you may need to pull out the dryer from the wall by about a foot. Dryers are heavy, so if you need help, ask a family member or friend to help you move it.

If you have a gas-powered machine, you'll need to turn off the gas by locating the gas valve in your home and shutting it off before starting to clean. Gas leaks are serious hazards, so if you're unsure what you're doing, call a pro.

Find your vent

To figure out where your duct begins and ends, look for a thick silver or white hose, about four inches in diameter, that's attached to the back of your dryer. It can be flexible white vinyl or thin, semi-rigid or rigid aluminum. Follow the duct to the wall; its exit should be outside the home in a similar spot. Look for a scalloped vent cover or a vent hood outside your home to locate the dryer vent.

Disconnect the vent hose from the wall

Detach the tape or clamps connecting the vent pipe to its exhaust (you may need a screwdriver). Be sure to use light pressure to ensure you don't accidentally break the pipe. Keep a garbage bag handy, so you can catch excess lint, dust and dirt that may fall out. Lastly, wear a mask to ensure you don't breathe in dust, lint, or debris.

How to clean out a dryer vent

Now that you've prepared your dryer vent to be cleaned, let's begin.

Vacuum out the vent

Put on a pair of work or safety gloves and manually remove any lint you see inside the hole behind the dryer. Next, clean out the opening using the hose attachment for your vacuum, suctioning out as much debris as possible.

Brush out the vent

Often your vacuum won't reach all the lint in the dryer vent. To really clean the space, use a dryer vent cleaning brush, which you can purchase online or from a hardware store as part of a vent cleaning kit (it often costs less than $30). Insert the brush into the duct as far back as you can reach, and slowly rotate it while moving it back and forth. Keep going until you've removed all the dust and lint you can reach.

Clean the exterior vent

Go outside and locate the exterior vent. To clean out lint, dust, and debris, remove the vent cover and clean inside manually or with a handheld vacuum.

Reconnect the dryer

Reconnect the vent hose to the dryer side of the ventilation system, then the exterior ventilation pipe, using the clamps to help hold it in place. Then push the machine back into place.

When you're done, go back inside and plug in your machine in again. Remember to turn on the gas valve, too, if your machine is gas-powered. You can test the machine by selecting the fluff or air dry setting and running it for about 20 minutes.

How often should you clean a dryer vent?

Clean the lint filter near the dryer door before each cycle, and never use the dryer without a lint filter. You should also clean the dryer vent at least once a year; twice is better.

How much does it cost to clean a dryer vent?

Cleaning a dryer vent yourself is easy and inexpensive, but not cleaning it can increase your monthly utility bill.

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