The blaring warnings.
Several years ago, I was stunned when a friend told me her previous home had burned down because they had neglected to clean the dryer vent. Oblivious to what a dryer vent actually consisted of, I thought she meant the lint trap compartment. A year or so later, a firefighter on a courtesy visit to our home to look for potential hazards, when entering the laundry room, announced, “Dryer lint is the most combustible material in your home.”
Without those two blaring warnings, I would have remained oblivious to the dangers of dryer lint, as I suspect many people do, based on the number of home fires that occur every year for that very reason. The US Fire Administration states that “2,900 home clothes dryer fires are reported each year and cause an estimated 5 deaths, 100 injuries, and $35 million in property loss,” and that the majority of clothes dryer fires are caused by clogged dryer vents.
What you can do.
Every time you dry a load of laundry, some of the lint from the clothes loosens. Though some of this loose lint is caught by the lint trap, some of it slips past (as evidenced by the clumps you’re likely to observe if you remove the lint trap and look underneath it) and enters the machine itself and the venting system. This renegade lint builds up over time, restricting air flow and creating a fire hazard. Here are some things you should do to keep yourself and your family safe, some obvious, some perhaps not so:
- Replace any plastic, foil, or ribbed ducting with metal ducting.
- NEVER run the dryer without the lint filter in place.
- Remove lint from the dryer lint filter before every load, without fail.
- Periodically clean the lint filter with water, detergent, and a scrub brush (especially if you use dryer sheets), allowing it to dry completely before replacing it.
- Periodically vacuum all visible lint from underneath the lint trap compartment, inside the drum, and around the dryer.
- Once yearly, hire a professional dryer vent cleaner to clean the length of the dryer venting.
- Ensure that the outside exhaust vent is free of blockages and that the flap freely opens when the dryer is running.
Consider having your dryer vent cleaned more frequently if the vent line has several turns, which would allow more opportunities for lint to become trapped, and additionally render an effective cleaning more difficult. You'll also want to do it more frequently if the outside vent is located on a floor other that where the dryer itself is located, which would indicate a longer run. Also, the more frequently you do laundry the more often you’ll want to have the dryer vent cleaned. (Want to learn more about the cleaning process itself? Visit our dryer vent cleaning service page.)
Some signs that your dryer vent is in need of cleaning include the machine taking longer than usual to dry a load of laundry, large amounts of lint collecting in the lint trap and around the drum, clothes feeling hot to the touch after a cycle, and the outside vent flap not opening when the dryer is running (air flow should be pushing this open, so its failure to do so could signal a blockage).
Finally, although do-it-yourself dryer vent cleaning tutorials abound on the internet, best to consider hiring a professional for the job. Their specialized tools successfully navigate 90-degree turns, jostle around inside the duct to loosen and break up lint, and blast debris toward the outside much more effectively than any high-powered leaf blower.
So there’s your blaring warning. Tuck it inside your brain, and when the time comes, call a professional.
Wanna dig deeper? Download our free tipsheet: 5 Questions to Ask Before Hiring a Dryer Vent Cleaning Company.