How to Clean an Outside Dryer Vent

Broken dryer vent
Photo by MML

I am embarrassed to say that this photo was taken of an outside dryer vent at my home. The home was custom built and less than one year old when I discovered this situation. The builder had opted for an inexpensive hard plastic cover that fell apart after a season of extreme heat and then bitter winter cold weather.

Fortunately, I was able to have the vent replaced with a hard, galvanized metal vent that is much more sturdy and easier to clean and maintain. As opposed to the several hinged plastic slots, the metal vent has only one hinged flap or damper that is forced open by the dryer's exhaust and then closes when the dryer isn't running. 

Why Worry About the Outside Dryer Vent?

Fires that begin from clothes dryers that are clogged with lint are second only to kitchen fires as the leading cause for home fire damage. Accumulated lint and dust leads the list of why laundry room fires occur far head of wiring problems or other issues. While emptying the dryer lint screen after every load is essential to preventing fires, a properly installed and maintained dryer vent system is also key.

The majority of properly installed dryer vent systems lead to an exhaust escape vent on an exterior wall or roof line. Keeping the outside dryer vent clean is essential to dryer safety and efficiency and to prevent structural moisture problems. Most outside dryer vents have hinged slats or "doors" that are forced open when the dryer is running to allow moisture and lint to escape. If these become clogged with lint, the moisture will remain in the dryer venting, making your dryer work harder. The moisture and presence of lint will also allow mold and mildew to grow in laundry area walls and floor.

At least quarterly, check the exterior vent while the dryer is running to make sure the slats are opening freely. If not, turn off the dryer and open the vent manually. Inspect the hinges for rust and oil lightly with a lubricant is needed. The vent should also be inspected for cracks or missing parts. Missing parts can allow insects and vermin to enter the duct work and your laundry area...and no one wants that.

Regular cleaning is especially important in humid climates where moisture can cause lint to mat and cling to the vent causing it to malfunction. Use a long, wire brush to remove clogging lint.

Keep the Outside Vent Air Flowing

In addition to cleaning the outside vent regularly, it is important to maintain an unblocked flow of air into and out of of the vent. You should follow these tips:

  • Do not plant large, dense shrubs in front of the vent.
  • Do not allow yard debris (leaves, pine straw, mulch) to block the vent.
  • Do not allow snow to pile up in front of the vent. The hot air exhausted from the vent may temporarily melt the snow but it will refreeze and cause more problems.