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How Often To Clean Dryer Vent

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We’ve often been told to clean our dryer vent on a regular basis for both safety and functionality. The question is how often to clean a dryer vent? That all depends on what you are putting into your dryer, how you use it, and even the location of your dryer compared to the external wall.

What a Dryer Vent Does

A dryer works by forcing hot air through your clothes, and then expelling that air out of the dryer vent. If it were to recycle that same air, it would have too much moisture in it to thoroughly dry your clothing. That moisture-laden air has to go somewhere, and that is through the dryer vent.

As a dryer spins and spreads out your clothing, the hot (or warm) air is forced through your clothing. This often removes tiny bits of fabric, attached hair, and other material that ends up binding together and turning into lint. This jumble of fibers collects together in a fairly humid environment, causing clumps and allowing it to attach to other surfaces.

Dryer lint buildup often happens at joints, bends, or any other area where airflow is restricted or redirected. In a normal household, this can occur within the dryer, or even in bends of the dryer vent before it terminates outside of the house.

Why You Should Clean Your Dryer Vent

There are many reasons why you should clean your dryer vent, some that are obvious, and some that you may not have thought of before. They mainly come down to safety and efficiency. The buildup of dryer lint, after it has dried, causes blockages that can cause many issues, both with your dryer and your home.

Safety Issues with Dryer Lint

Lint can be very flammable, and if introduced to anything incendiary can start a fire that may go unnoticed for quite a long time since the wash is typically removed from the main area of the house. One study showed that approximately 16,000 home fires were caused by involvement with clothes dryers or washing machines between 2010-2014. Over 50% of those were from fabric, 27% of them being from lint, dust, or fiber.

Copy of a report regarding fires that were caused by clothes dryers

Dryer vent safety should be a big concern for anyone drying their clothes at home with a machine.

Dryer Efficiency

When lint or debris builds up in your dryer vent, it blocks the expulsion of the hot, humid air from the dryer. This may go unnoticed at first, but the buildup will continue over a long period of time.

If this air is not able to remove itself, humid air ends up going back into the dryer. In these cases, your clothes will dry less quickly since the moisture is not being removed. This causes longer cycles in automatic dryers that have moisture sensors, and in timed dryers, the clothes may just end up not drying completely.

Better efficiency means lower energy consumption and less time spent doing laundry. If your dryer isn’t working as hard, it also means that it will last longer without additional maintenance.

How Often Should You Clean Your Dryer Vent

The period of time between dryer vent cleanings will vary between different households. At the very least, clean dryer vents at least once a year. If your clothes normally create more lint or have a lot of debris on them, clean the vent more often.

Woman using a vacuum to clean dryer vent

One to Two People in a Household

Without any extra lint, dust, or other items stuck to clothing that may clog up a dryer vent, a small household like this should just focus on the bare minimum, about once a year. If, however, you wash and dry your clothes and/or bulky items on a regular basis, increase that to twice a year or so.

Large Family

Large amounts of washing will logically create more lint and debris from your dryer. In these cases, increase the number of times you clean your dryer vent to at least two times per year. In the cleaning process, if you notice a lot of lint or dust buildup, increase the amount.

Houses With Pets That Shed

Animal hair adds an incredible amount of extra material that ends up going out of our dryer vents. Whether cats, dogs, or any other animal that may shed hair on your clothing, you should probably count each one as an addition 2-3 family members when it comes to lint. 

For a small family with one shedding four-foot family member who sheds, clean your dryer vents about twice a year. If you have more family members of any type, check your dryer vents every few months and judge whether you need to clean them more often than that.

Signs That You Need to Clean Your Dryer Vent

Outside of normally scheduled dryer vent cleaning, there are some specific signs you should look out for.

  • Whenever it has been more than a year.
  • Clothes take too long to dry
  • The outside of the dryer is hot to the touch
  • Smoky or burning smell coming from the dryer or clothes
  • The laundry room is hotter or more humid than normal after drying clothes
  • A musty smell in the laundry room

How To Clean a Dryer Vent

Now that we know how often to clean a dryer vent, it is also important to know how to actually clean it. This can be a very extensive process, but we will break down the most important points for you.

  • Clean lint trap
  • Scrub area around the lint trap with a dryer brush
  • Vacuum out the area around the lint trap
  • Disconnect the vent from the dryer
  • Remove any large accumulation of lint around the vent/dryer connection by hand
  • Vacuum in and around the vent
  • Clean around the back of the dryer
  • Go outside to where the dryer vents
  • Remove the vent cover
  • Inspect the vent cover for wear and replace if necessary.
  • Clean any buildup, dirt, leaves, animals, etc. from inside and around the vent cover
  • Vacuum out the vent from the outside as well.
  • Brush out any remaining lint or dirt from the dryer vent with an extendable brush
  • Reconnect the dryer vent to the dryer
  • Test to make sure everything is solidly connected and moving air correctly
Close up of a person using a vacuum to clean dryer vent

Tools That May Help With Cleaning a Dryer Vent

  • Use a leaf blower to force lint out of the dryer vent from inside the house to the outside. Remove the dryer vent or covering first This can cause a huge mess outside, so make sure you capture the expelled lint with a leaf bag or something similar.
  • Use a long vacuum hose attachment to clean out the inside of your dryer. Most vacuum hoses are too wide to fit inside of the small areas inside a dryer, so purchasing a product like this or even duct-taping a hose to your vacuum may work better.

Tips to Keep a Clean Dryer Vent

If you are able to keep your dryer vent clean during normal operation, you will probably be able to limit the number of times you need to get in and really clean it.

No Dryer Sheets

Dryer sheets can cause multiple problems with your dryer vent. In the best cases, dryer sheets that get separated from clothes will get caught in the lint filter. They are, however, very thin and unpredictable. They often get past the lint filter and get caught in the dryer vent, whether in the vent itself or in the vent hood.

Dryer sheets also have a tendency to create a film over lint filters when used over a long period of time. To test this, you might try pouring a bit of water over a removed lint filter. If the water flows through the filter everything is fine, but if it beads up and does not go through, you will need to wash those filters out with soap and water.

Straight Vent Pipes

The easiest way to finagle a dryer vent is by using flexible tubing that is easy to extend and rout around corners without having exact measurements drawn up. This tubing normally has an accordion-style form that creates more surfaces for lint and dust to grab onto. In addition, every bend (no matter how small) breaks up the airflow even more.

We know that a completely straight line is almost impossible in most homes, but as few bends and corners as possible will create the best airflow through the dryer vent to the outside.

Keep Vent Pipes Short

The shorter distance that air has to pass between the dryer and its final destination keeps the airflow pressure more consistent, the chance of lint getting captured smaller, and reduces the amount of vent to clean.

Conclusion

A clean dryer vent can help with energy efficiency and also help keep your home safer. Do not neglect this type of home maintenance. Whether it is dryer vents, gutters, drains, or any other part of the house that has liquid or air moving through it, if they cannot move freely, they will cause problems in the long run.

Allen Michael is the Founder and Editor of Home Viable, a website that he started to provide readers with tips on home efficiency and automation. He draws on his engineering background combined with his family-of-four experiences for his articles.