How to Clean Your Dryer Vent and Reduce Fire Risk

cleaning the lint
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Lint buildup occurs slowly over time and poses a serious threat to your home if left unchecked. Here’s a quick tutorial to help you remove dangerous lint accumulation in your dryer and dryer vents.

What is Lint?

Lint is made of tiny fibers that come from the edges of clothing. As you wear your clothes, small bits of fibers break off and cling to the outside of the garment. The moisture from washing lifts dirt and loose fibers from your clothes, which are released during the drying process.

Most dryers channel loose fibers into a filter or collector. Regardless, lint will still build up in your dryer vents over time.

Why is Lint Dangerous

Lint’s small, dry fibers collect in dryer vents and filters, restricting your dryer’s airflow and creating a fire hazard. In fact, in 1999, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) developed a report entitled, “A Report on Electric and Gas Clothes Dryers” to help identify the cause of lint fires. In that report, the USCPC determined that of the 15,000 fires studied in one year, electric dryers were over 2.5 times more likely to be the cause of the fire than gas dryers

What Causes Lint Build Up

Lint naturally groups together, but your dryer usage and equipment could be encouraging clogs as well. Here are a few things to avoid:

  • Long dryer vents. Long or curved dryer vents provide additional areas for lint to collect. Always try to keep your vent as short as possible.

  • Plastic or foil duct extenders. Extenders made from flimsy materials are easily crushed and can cause buildup and blockage.

  • Lack of space between the dryer and the wall. Placing your dryer too close to the wall can restrict airflow and crush your dryer vents.

The Warning Signs of Lint Buildup

The most important part of preventing a lint-related fire is being able to recognize the warning signs of a problem.

Here are the common signs of lint blockage:

  • Clothes take longer to dry. Lint clogs will restrict the flow of air in your dryer, resulting in wet clothes after a full drying cycle.  
  • The outside of dryer gets hot. Lint blockage can trap heat inside the dryer, warming the outside to dangerously high temperatures.
  • Low exhaust velocity. A buildup of lint can block air from leaving through your home’s exterior dryer exhaust port. Place your hand near the port during drying cycles. If you don’t feel air coming out, you likely have a buildup of lint.  
  • Burning smell. Small amounts of lint can ignite inside your dryer, lint filter or dryer vent. If you smell burning, turn off your dryer and disconnect it from the dryer vent.

How to Eliminate Lint Buildup

Removing the lint buildup from your dryer will help you eliminate the risk of fire and boost the overall energy efficiency of your home. Here’s how to clean out your dryer:

Clean the Lint Filter

Most filters are located toward the front of the dyer. Slide the filter out and scrape away any lint. Use a vacuum to eliminate any lint in the lint trap (the space the filter slides into). Replace the filter after cleaning.

Empty the Lint Vent

Lint vents are located at the back of most dryers.

Pull your dryer away from the wall and look for aluminum piping. Most dryer vents are connected to the wall and dryer by metal ring clamps. A flathead screwdriver will loosen the clamps and allow you to pull the vent away from the wall and the dryer. Next, hold the vent upright and work a dryer vent duct brush down the piping. Gently turn the brush as you pull it out. Repeat this until all of the lint in the vent is gone. You can use a vacuum to clear out any small amounts of lint that the brush missed. Sometimes lint will still be stuck in your outer vent. Run the brush through your home’s exterior vent to remove any additional blockage.

Reconnect the vent and turn on your dryer for 10 to 15 minutes. This will force air through your vents and blow out any excess lint in the tubing or stuck in the outer vent.