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Basic Dryer Maintenance: How To Clean Dryer Vent Systems

vacuuming out a dryer

Clothes dryers are responsible for nearly 15,000 house fires each year. And according to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), the leading cause of dryer fires is failure to clean lint from the system.

We all know the importance of cleaning your dryer’s lint trap to prevent dryer fires. But many homeowners neglect to look beyond the machine itself to inspect their home’s dryer vent.

What is a dryer vent?

When you dry a load of laundry, your wet clothes produce moist, warm air. It’s the job of your dryer vent to direct all that air outside of your home. The system itself is simple. But failing to keep your home’s vent clean and clear of obstructions can have major consequences.

Why clean your dryer vent?

Your dryer’s built-in lint trap is the first line of defense. But even if you clean the screen with every load, your dryer vent can still become filled with lint — reducing your dryer’s efficiency and creating a serious fire hazard.

Luckily, a little routine maintenance can help prevent your dryer from working too hard or making a mess in the first place. Here are a few reasons why dryer vent cleaning is important:

  • Save on utility bills. Dryers use more energy than nearly any other home appliance. Cleaning out your dryer vent increases its efficiency, which can save money on your gas or electric bills.
  • Protect your clothes. Clogged vents can cause inaccurate cycles and longer drying times, leading to damp or scorched clothes. Clean the vent to help your wardrobe dry properly.
  • Prevent dryer fires. Dryer fires peak in the winter months. Plan regular vent cleanings to help your dryer run safely throughout the entire year.
  • Extend service life. Dryers have an average life expectancy of 14 years. Extend its service life by checking the hoses and cleaning the lint trap, heating element and exhaust duct.

How do you know if your dryer vent is clogged?

Blocked vents are one of the main culprits of dryer fires, causing millions of dollars in property damage each year. Want to know what happens when your dryer vent is blocked? Look for these warning signs:

  • Your clothes dryer is warm to the touch.
  • Your clothes take a long time to dry.
  • Your laundry room is hot or humid when drying clothes.
  • You find lint in, behind, or around your dryer.
  • Your dryer’s lint screen is filling up faster than normal.

How often should you clean your dryer vent?

According to the NFPA, you should clean your dryer vent at least once a year. But depending on your unique circumstances, it may need to be done as frequently as every few months.

Knowing how often to clean dryer vent systems depends on a number of factors: How many people live in your house; where your vent is located; how often you use your dryer; and whether or not you have pets. At a basic level, more hair and laundry means more lint to clean.

Here are some other factors that can cause lint to build up quickly:

  • A broken vent cover: Exterior dryer vent covers are designed to prevent water, insects and other debris from getting into the vent. Without a cover, your vent can get blocked more easily by elements coming from outside your home.
  • Improper ductwork: Bad materials and long, complicated hoses give lint more places to accumulate. PVC pipe and accordion-style mylar foil tubing aren’t approved for dryer vent systems. Instead, use rigid metal ducts with a direct line to the exterior vent whenever possible. (Bonus fire safety tip: While you’re checking materials, make sure your dryer vent hose is made of metal or foil and not plastic. If a plastic hose on a gas dryer is damaged during cleaning, carbon monoxide can escape when the dryer is running.)
  • A pest in the ducts: That’s right. Pests can get into your dryer vent system — especially if your vent cover is broken. You may notice inefficiencies at first, but the smell will be a dead giveaway.

How much does it cost to clean a dryer vent?

Like most home maintenance, general upkeep is cheaper than paying for expensive repairs. To have a professional clean your dryer vent, you’ll likely spend somewhere between $80 and $200. But more complicated vent systems will take longer to clean (and cost more).

Can you clean your own dryer vent?

If you’re the DIY type, you can purchase a dryer cleaning kit from a home improvement store for anywhere from $20 to $50. The price will go up depending on the quality of the kit’s materials and the length of the cleaning rods. If you have the proper attachments, a household vacuum may work, too.

How to clean out dryer vent systems

With long hoses, exterior vents, and more, the process of cleaning your dryer vent may sound overwhelming. But knowing how to clean a dryer vent yourself can help laundry day run smoothly for years to come.

Here’s how to clean your dryer vent safely and thoroughly:

  1. Unplug the dryer. Anytime you’re repairing an appliance, disconnect it from the power source. Unplug the machine or shut it off from the electrical panel before you start cleaning.
  2. Pull the dryer away from the wall. Give yourself enough room to access the dryer vent. Move the dryer as far away as the hose will allow.
  3. Detach the dryer vent hose. Remove any clamps or screws attaching the hose to the wall or dryer. This could be difficult depending on the length of the hose and where it leads.
  4. Clean the moisture sensors. Wipe down the sensors inside your dryer with a cotton ball and rubbing alcohol. Do this each time you clean the dryer vent or when cycles become inefficient.
  5. Clean the hose. Use a vacuum to suction lint from both ends of the hose. Then, use the brush in your cleaning kit to clear out any trapped lint. Keep a wire hanger nearby to snake out debris if necessary. Just be careful to not damage the hose in the process.
  6. Reattach the hose. Put the hose back in its place and reattach any clamps or screws. Slide the dryer back against the wall.
  7. Clean the exterior vent. With the hose clear, head outside to your home’s exterior vent. Remove the vent cover and clean any excess lint until the vent pipe is free from obstruction.
  8. Run the dryer. You’ll need to know how to vent a dryer to finish the job. Reconnect the power and run the machine empty for 20 minutes on the air-dry setting. Check for air and lint blowing out of the exterior vent. Then, turn off the dryer and put the cover back on once the vent is clear.
  9. When in doubt, hire a pro. If at any point something doesn’t look right – or you just feel like you’re in over your head – call a professional. They may recommend a different system, find another problem or let you know it’s time to replace your dryer.

Look out for your home

Being a homeowner has many rewards, but it also involves its share of demands. Dryer vent cleaning is a perfect example of one of those thankless jobs you just need to do to maintain a household. With homeowners insurance from ERIE, you can trust that while you’re looking out for your home, we’re looking out for you. We’re available 24/7 to help answer questions, solve problems, and provide remedies. To learn more, contact your local ERIE agent today.