Cleaning Your Dryer Vent Can Reduce Fire Risk

  • 01 of 08

    Why Clean Your Dryer Vent Duct?

    Removing lint from clothes dryer
    Scott Leigh / Getty Images

    The U.S. Fire Administration reports that every year more than 2,900 home fires are started by clothes dryers, and the leading cause of these fires is a buildup of lint due to lack of simple maintenance on the part of the owner. Each load of laundry that passes through your washing machine and makes its way to your clothes dryer contains lint—mostly small particles of cloth and fiber that are loosened from clothing by the action of agitating water.

    If you think that the removable lint filter in...MORE your dryer catches all this, think again. The problem is that not all of the lint is caught by the removable lint filter, but the lint that passes beyond the filter and is trapped in crevices deep inside the lint filter trap and all along the dryer vent hose or duct as it makes its way to the outside vent opening.

    Warning Signs

    Here are some warning signs that dangerous lint buildup has occurred in your dryer and venting system, indicating that it needs a thorough cleaning: 

    • Clothes take longer to dry or don't dry fully
    • Clothes are hotter than normal at the end of the drying cycle
    • Outside of dryer gets very hot
    • Outside exhaust vent flapper does not open very much, indicating low exhaust velocity
    • Laundry room becomes more humid than usual
    • Burnt smell is evident in the laundry room

    Tools and Materials You Will Need: 

    • Vacuum with long hose attachment
    • Dryer vent brush kit
    • Screwdrivers
    • UL-listed metal foil duct tape
    Continue to 2 of 8 below.
  • 02 of 08

    Dryer Vent Cleaning Brush Kit

    Dryer duct cleaning tool
    Image courtesy of Amazon

    Thorough cleaning of your dryer and vent system requires special brushes. Vacuum attachments alone do not work as well because they do not agitate the lint to remove it from the walls of the duct, and they can't reach deep enough inside the dryer's lint filter housing. 

    Brush kits come with a long-bristle brush to clean the lint filter area, as well as a round-bristled brush that can clean out a 4-inch round rigid dryer duct—the kind you should have for all concealed portions of your duct...MORE run. The round brush tip fastens to a flexible fiberglass shaft that can be lengthened in sections. 

    • Note: If you have a flexible plastic or metal foil ductwork connecting your dryer to the outside vent, this is now forbidden by most building codes. These vent tubes are used because of the ease with which they can be routed through difficult spaces, but because their insides are ribbed, they can easily catch lint and cause fires. If you have one of these flexible ducts installed, it is best to replace it with smooth-walled metal ductwork. If you can't remove and replace it, the ductwork should be regularly removed entirely and carefully cleaned out from one end to the other. 
    Continue to 3 of 8 below.
  • 03 of 08

    Step 1: Remove the Lint Trap Filter

    Cleaning dryer lint filter
    Lisa J. Goodman / Getty Images

    Remove and clean the lint trap filter. This is the same thing you should do before or after each dryer load to keep as much lint out of the venting system as possible, but surprisingly, many people do not do this. Cleaning the lint trap with each load is the best way to prevent lint buildup on a regular basis. 

    Continue to 4 of 8 below.
  • 04 of 08

    Step 2: Vacuum the Lint Trap Housing

    Cleaning dryer lint trap housing
    © 2009 Home-Cost.com

    Vacuum the inside of the lint trap housing, using a long, skinny hose attachment. Follow this initial vacuuming with a second pass using the long flexible brush from the brush kit. Extend the brush all the way into the bottom of the cavity. Using a gentle and slight twisting motion, pull out the brush to extract clumps of lint. Clean the brush bristles with the vacuum. Repeat as needed until there is no more lint that can be removed from the cavity.

    Continue to 5 of 8 below.
  • 05 of 08

    Step 3: Disconnect the Dryer Duct

    Lint Clogged Vertical and Corner Dryer Ducts
    © 2009 Home-Cost.com

    Unplug the dryer and turn off the gas valve at the dryer (for gas dryers). Disconnect the duct joint closest to the dryer, then gently pull the dryer away from the wall. Disconnect the remaining exposed sections of dryer duct. If the sections are taped, remove and discard the tape. 

    Continue to 6 of 8 below.
  • 06 of 08

    Step 4: Vacuum the Ductwork

    dryer duct brush
    © 2009 Home-Cost.com

    Attach the round duct brush head to the flexible fiberglass shaft, following the brush kit manufacturer's directions. Insert the brush into each duct section and sweep it clean by using a rotating motion while pushing the brush back and forth. Pull out the brush and clean the head frequently.

    Clean the remainder of the duct run using the same techniques, adding more sections of flexible shaft as needed to reach the end of the rigid duct. Repeat until no more lint comes out of the duct. Check...MORE the vent cap at the exterior end of the duct to make sure it is clean and its flapper door works properly. 

    Note: Some brush kits can be connected to a portable drill to spin the brush inside the duct. If you use this option, run the drill at slow speed and advance the brush gradually through the duct. 

    Continue to 7 of 8 below.
  • 07 of 08

    Alternative Method

    Use a Gong Brush as a Makeshift Dryer Duct Brush
    © 2009 Home-Cost.com

    If you don't have a dryer vent brush kit, you can use a long-handled scrub brush to clean short sections of rigid duct. Although the brush has a limited reach, you can clean each duct section by going through both ends.

    Continue to 8 of 8 below.
  • 08 of 08

    Step 5: Reattach (or Replace) the Ductwork

    Use Rigid Dryer Exhaust Corner or Duct May Kink
    Use Rigid Dryer Exhaust Corner or Duct May Kink. © 2009 Home-Cost.com

    Reassemble and/or replace the duct sections, keeping the following recommendations in mind:

    • It's best to use an adjustable, rigid, 90-degree elbow at the exhaust end of the dryer. Semi-rigid flexible duct can kink when the dryer is pushed back into place, causing a major obstruction to exhaust flow. 
    • A section of flexible metal transition duct is acceptable between the dryer elbow and the rigid duct in the wall, provided the transition duct is UL-listed for this use and is permitted under the...MORE local building code. Do not use unlisted metal transition duct or any foil or vinyl flexible duct. 
    • Attach all rigid metal and semi-rigid ductwork sections with a 4-inch worm-drive stainless steel duct band clamp, tightening the clamp with a screwdriver.
    • All concealed ducting must be round, rigid metal duct. Replace any flexible duct that isn't exposed with the rigid metal duct. 
    • Seal permanent duct sections with UL-listed metal foil duct tape. Do not use regular plastic duct tape, which dries out and fails over time. 

    Once the ductwork is in good shape, turn on gas valve (for gas dryers) and plug in the dryer. Push the dryer back into its normal position, making sure it's not kinking or deforming any of the ductwork. Make sure lint screen is in place. Run the dryer and confirm that it is venting completely.