Erin Doman on September 30, 2015 2 Comments The clothes dryer is one of the most important appliances in your house, but surprisingly, it can also be one of the most dangerous. Dryer lint is a serious problem that can cause home fires–and although it’s out of sight, it should not be out of mind. Here are a few tips on why your dryer vents need to be cleaned and maintained, when you need to do it, and how you can get it done. Why You Should Clean Your Dryer Vents Dryers are the number one cause of home fires in the US, and 80% of these dryer fires start because of clogged vents. On average, dryers cause 15,600 fires around the country every year, which result in 400 injuries and 15 deaths annually. In addition, if you have a gas dryer, clogged vents can also cause poisonous gases to collect inside your home. Thousands of people are treated each year for gas inhalation due to vent problems. Cleaning out your dryer’s lint screen is always recommended, but it doesn’t even come close to addressing the problem of clogged vents. It’s also a good idea to make sure that the dryer vent outlet on the exterior of the house is kept clear of bushes, bird nests, and other debris–but this isn’t a substitute for keeping the vent cleaned out either. Lint from drying clothes can easily fill up and clog these vital ducts. How Often You Should Clean Your Dryer Vents How do you know that it’s time to get your dryer ducts cleaned out? There are a few major signs that can indicate you have a problem. Your clothes are still damp after a drying cycle Drying time takes more than 35 or 40 minutes to complete You notice a strong odor–a musty smell, a burned smell, or an excessive aroma of dryer sheets Clothing seems especially hot after drying, or the room where the dryer is located seems unusually warm There is debris inside the vent opening outdoors, around the lint filter, or inside the lint screen There is an unusually large amount of lint inside the lint screen The outside dryer vent hood flap does not properly open when the dryer is running More than a year has passed since the dryer vents were last cleaned If you notice any of these, it’s a good idea to get your dryer vents cleaned out. Who Can Clean Your Dryer Vents It is typically a good idea to consider having a professional HVAC company come and clean out your vents. They are highly trained and can eliminate the lint without damaging your dryer or venting system, and know how to quickly and safely remove vent clogs. If you hire a HVAC professional to clean your ducts, they will use a snake brush and long vacuum pipe. The snake brush can help dislodge and pull out lint buildup, while the vacuum can help eliminate any residue. Technicians know how to handle the specific bends and elbows in the pipe, where buildup is especially likely to occur. Some companies can also offer diagnostic testing to determine how much pressure is inside your ducts and whether there are any gaps in the system. Most dryer ducts range in length from 5 to 40 feet, depending on factors like where the dryer is located inside the house and where the outside vent is situated. It is highly recommended that you hire someone to clean your vents if you have a duct system that is very long, very old, or has an inordinate number of bends. In general, if you aren’t familiar with your unit, it is a good idea to bring in the experts. How To Clean Your Dryer Vents If you are opting to clean your vents yourself, there are ways to do it. First and foremost, it is important to make sure that your dryer is unplugged. If it is a gas dryer, make sure to turn off the gas as well. Then pull the dryer away from the wall by about 18 to 24 inches. Using a screwdriver, loosen the large vent clamp on the back of the unit and allow the vent to slide right off. Once the vent is disconnected, remove any lint or buildup from the hole on the back of the dryer. You may wish to use a snake brush to help pull lint from the harder to reach areas inside of the unit. A shop vacuum can also help: feed the hose or extension into the hole and suck out the leftover lint. Once you’ve done that, reach into the vent tube and remove as much lint as possible from the interior of that as well. Most of the lint buildup will usually occur at the ends of the tube, but if a clog appears in the middle, try using an unfolded coat hanger or plumbing snake to extend your reach. If you do this, be sure to take special care not to accidentally poke a hole in the sides of your vent tubing. You can also use the extension hose and tube on the vacuum (when it’s turned off) to reach trouble spots and dislodge them. Once all of the lint buildup has been removed, go ahead and replace the vent tubing, re-tighten the clamp, and slide your dryer back into place. Then go outside to the spot where the vent emerges on the exterior of the house. When you find the vent, go ahead and remove the cover. This will probably involve removing screws, but sometimes also requires you to strip away caulking. This can be annoying, but just keep in mind that you can always re-caulk later if necessary. Then use the same techniques as before to clean out this end of the vent tube. The final step is to plug the unit back in or turn the gas back on. You’ll want to run the empty dryer on a fluff setting for ten or fifteen minutes so that any debris you’ve just loosened can work its way out of the tube. Then reattach the outside vent. Preventative Care If you want to reduce the likelihood of your vents clogging, then try to reduce your use of fabric softener and dryer sheets. These can create oily residues that cause lint to stick to itself and create buildup. You also may want to consider replacing any plastic or vinyl vent piping from your unit with metal tubing, which can reduce the chance of your unit catching fire. Cleaning out your vent tubing on your own can be difficult, but there are ways to do it. If you are ever skeptical of doing it yourself, it really is worth it to hire a professional to come in and do it for you. Keeping your dryer’s vent ducts clear is essential for staying safe.