Dangers of clogged dryer vents

If there’s one appliance most homeowners rely on to get chores done, it’s the clothes dryer. Don’t let your dryer become a fire hazard because it's not cleaned regularly and properly.

According to the U.S. Fire Administration's National Fire Data Center, clothes dryers are responsible for approximately 15,600 structure fires around the country each year. Eighty percent of these fires start with clogged dryer vents, and result in 15 deaths and 400 injuries on average annually. Thousands of other home occupants are treated for symptoms of poisonous gas fumes that back up into the home due to blocked dryer vents.

Yes, cleaning the lint trap in your dryer is a good practice, but it's not enough to prevent a fire from sparking in your dryer vent. To keep your dryer efficient and safe, replace any vinyl or plastic flexible transition ducts between the dryer and the main vent (often located inside a wall) with a a semi-rigid metal transition duct, since plastic and vinyl transition ducts can catch fire, unlike the semi-rigid metal ducts.

Make sure the opening of the dryer vent pipe outside is free of any birds’ nests, bushes or other debris that accumulates over time.

When your dryer vent system can’t exhaust properly, it overheats and can threaten your home, health and safety. You can clean your dryer vent system yourself, but if you don't know how or want expert advice, a professional dryer vent cleaning service can clean and inspect your system to make sure it's safe, as well as answer your questions.

When to clean dryer vents

While the buildup in a clothing dryer presents many dangers to homes and its occupants, there are ways to prevent many of these hazards from occurring.

Homeowners may notice certain signs that signal the dryer vent is blocked by debris and needs to be cleaned. They include:

  • Clothing does not dry completely after a normal drying cycle

  • A musty odor is noticed in the clothing following the drying cycle

  • Clothing seems unusually hot to the touch after a complete drying cycle

  • The dryer vent hood flap does not properly open as it is designed to do during the operation of the dryer

  • More than a year has passed since the last dryer vent cleaning service

  • Debris is noticed within the outside dryer vent opening

  • Drying time for clothing takes longer than 35 to 40 minutes in duration

  • Excessive heat is noticed within the room in which the dryer is being operated

  • Large amounts of lint accumulate in the lint trap for the dryer during operation

  • A visible sign of lint and debris is noticed around the lint filter for the dryer

  • Excessive odor is noticed from dryer sheets that are used during the drying cycle

Video: Preventing dryer fires

Scheduling a dryer vent cleaning

Dryer vents can be professionally cleaned by an HVAC specialist and there are companies that specialize in cleaning ductwork and dryer vents. These professionals have the tools and training and reach deep into the dryer vent and clean all debris build-up that occurs along the lining of the ventilation pipes.

During the process of cleaning the dryer vent the professional will first look for an outside dryer vent cap which can be removed. The technician will insert a long vacuum tube and snake brush into the ventilation pipe. The vacuum will be used to eradicate any loose debris within the venting pipe causing blockage.

More solid masses of debris that may be attached to the walls of the ventilation pipe will be scrapped away with the snake brush and then vacuumed out. Technicians will take special care in the elbows and bends throughout the dryer venting pipe as these are problematic areas that can quickly build up with lint and other debris. Ventilation pipes typically range from five feet to 40 feet in length, depending on where the appliance is located and an outside venting site is installed.

Premium dryer vent cleaning services also provide homeowners with diagnostic testing following the cleaning services. These tests provide results for the amount of pressure which is sent through the vent, the amount of gases that may escape into the home and any unwanted gaps within the ventilation pipe itself. Costs for the clothing dryer ventilation cleaning services will be varied based on the company, the specific length of the dryer venting system, the time required for proper cleaning and various cleaning packages selected.

Decreasing dryer vent lint and debris

The U.S. Fire Administration recommends that homeowners have their residential dryer vents cleaned at least once a year so that excessive debris does not build up within the ventilation pipes causing risks such as residential structural fires, gas leaks into the home and large energy usage for operating the dryer. 

For homes that use the dryer more than two times per week regularly throughout the year the cleaning services sought should be increased accordingly. 

There are some ways that homeowners can decrease the amount of debris build up within the dryer ventilation in between these cleaning services:

  • Limit the use of dryer sheets when drying clothing and liquid fabric softener in the washing machine. Residue from dryer sheets can clog your dryer's lint filter and fabric softners can deposit oils and chemicals on some fabrics that may become flammable in the dryer. 

  • Only operate clothing dryers for intervals of 30 to 40 minutes per batch of laundry. This allows more air circulation within the dryer and less lint build up from occurring.

  • When possible, hang clothing heavy bedding, pillows and other large articles outside to line dry.

  • Perform minimal cleaning services on the dryer vent by using a shop vacuum to remove debris around the outside of dryer vents.

  • Keep the outside ventilation opening covered with a ventilation cap designed for this purpose. These caps allow debris to exit while preventing birds from nesting in the vent and causing blockages from occurring.

  • Use a vacuum to clean out the inside of the dryer around the lint trap and remove debris and excessive lint that may get trapped in this space.

  • Periodically it is okay to remove the back of the dryer to vacuum out lint that is trapped behind the machine as well. However, the homeowner should have adequate knowledge of the machine before they ever attempt to take it apart. 

    The appliance should always be unplugged and disconnected from gas lines before attempting this service for the safety of the home and its occupants.

DIY dryer vent cleaning

Though your dryer vent is relatively short, it is still best to have it cleaned professionally and set up a schedule for regular cleaning, probably every year or so depending on what your company representative advises based on your laundry habits.

If you forego professional help, make sure you get to the vent that connects from the back of your dryer to the window outlet as well as inside the dryer. Always unplug the dryer from the wall outlet before doing any work.

Depending on the type of dryer you have, it should be fairly easy to open the access panel to clean around the machine components themselves. Removal of this buildup is easier with some machines than others.

One advantage to having an experienced, qualified and reliable professional clean your system is that he or she has likely seen just about every make and model and will likely be able to clean the interior components more efficiently than you will. Plus, you’ll have the assurance that the job was done correctly and safely.

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