30 April 2017

Remember to clean your clothes dryer vent


It's not sufficient to clean the lint trap screen on your appliance.  We did that for 15 years, but still found the efficiency of the dryer decreasing, so we called in the services of a professional.  The first thing he did was remove the contorted connector (above) that ran between the dryer and the wall conduit.  The previous owner of the house had done this because the dryer vent outlet and the wall site were not in line horizontally or vertically.   This segment was not occluded with lint, but it's inefficient and prone to collecting debris.

The replacement (not shown) is a short "transition vent" that runs diagonally; it will need to be detached in order to move the dryer out to clean the floor etc, but it's less likely to become plugged with lint.


The next step was to clean inside the dryer by removing the front panel. 


I've highlighted with a red oval the problem he usually finds - an accumulation of dust and (in our case) cat hair.   When home clothes dryers catch fire, THIS is the where the combustible material is typically located.  And most importantly, this material is NOT derived from the clothes in the dryer - it gets sucked into the cabinet from the floor of the room.

Think about it.  The dryer is going to heat and spin and blow air out its vent.  To do that, it has to pull air in from somewhere.  Not from outdoors, where the air might be subzero, but from behind itself and from the floor of the room.  Even if you're careful about cleaning, over the years dust and debris will accumulate.


The next step was cleaning the conduit between the utility room and the outdoors.  In our case, that conduit ran up the inside of the wall between the utility room and the garage, then horizontally between a crawlspace and the roof of the garage, then exited high on the outside wall.

Too high for me to access.  I don't have a ladder that long, and if I did, I wouldn't go up except at gunpoint.  He went up and removed the louvers that covered the vent.  The louvers were twisted and didn't move freely.  This happens because the exiting air is hot enough to warp the plastic slats of the louver (this risk is present on clothes-dryer vents, but not on ones for room-temp air such as bathroom vents).  He reached in and dropped down to me a handful of what he found inside:


That's typical clothes lint - the stuff that works its way through the trap in the dryer.

The next step was to clean the entire conduit - probably 30-40 feet in length.  On the internet I had read reports of homeowners claiming success in cleaning such vents by adapting the output of a leaf blower to the indoor end and blowing the ducts out.  He explained that it's seldom that simple.  The lint that exits sometimes carries some moisture and especially at bends or joins in the tubing it can accumulate in a consistency not unlike papier-mâché.

What professionals use (I didn't take a photo) is the air-duct equivalent of a Roto-Rooter for water drains.   It's a flexible "snake" with brushes that rotate as it traverses the ducts.  And as it goes through, vacuum is applied from the inside to suck out the material that is coating the duct.


Finally, he replaced the louver with an animal-exclusion cage (it lifts up for cleaning if lint accumulates).  Our exit site did not contain a bird's nest or any evidence of animal invasion.  Birds do sometimes nest in these sites if they are open (he had recently serviced the vents at an apartment complex where a dozen of the 30-40 vents had bird nests in them).  Chipmunks and other small rodents will nest in these locations if the outlet is low on the wall.  Bats are not a problem because they do not tolerate the heat.

We couldn't be happier with the result.  The first load we ran dried in probably half the time that similar loads required in the past, so there will be a saving in electricity plus much less wear and tear on tumbling clothes, plus eliminating one potential risk for a house fire.

Finally, a shout-out to the crew:


They were highly efficient and totally professional.  Their offices are on Odana Road in Madison, Wisconsin.

Addendum:  There is a relevant current article on "Dryer Duct Safety" in Reuben Saltzman's incomparable home inspection blog.

13 comments:

  1. I've seen "dryer vent cleaning kits at the hardware store, they look kind of like a chimney sweep that attaches to your drill, but then again you'd have to get up to that vent to use it

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    Replies
    1. Was it a flexible chimney sweep? Ours had to traverse at least three right-angle bends. Also, care needs to be taken that the cleaning brushes don't disrupt any joins between segments of the duct (which would result in venting into a crawlspace or an area between your joists or studs).

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  2. Our venting is through one of those aluminum hoses to a hole in the wall. Not too long ago I took that off and gave it a good manual cleaning (reached my hand down through it and got out what I could. Remarkably, there wasn't that much in there. I was surprised.

    Your situation, of course, is much different, in that you didn't have access to the air passageway. Getting it pro-cleaned was the way to go.

    Lurker111

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  3. Perhaps there should be a public relations campaign, like changing your batteries in the smoke alarm, to address this.
    https://www.usfa.fema.gov/prevention/outreach/clothes_dryers.html

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  4. let me speak to the value of the animal-exclusion screen. We noticed an objectionable odor in the general area of the laundry that over a couple of weeks slowly worsened. I eventually pulled the dryer away from the wall and found the remains of a 'possem at the exit of the partially detached dryer vent. He was liquid enough that I needed a shovel (and focused control of my gag reflex) to clean it up. We now have a stainless steel hardware cloth mesh at the exit of the vent. Since this acts as a course lint filter as well, it needs periodic cleaning. Fortunately, mine is far more accessible than yours.

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  5. A fun story: My mother-in-law had complained for years about her dryers. She kept replacing them, still hated them. She'd had the vent cleaned, no difference. She decided that it was the fault of the new-fangled energy efficient machines. Finally one day someone advised her to clean the vent from the outside rather than from the inside. Turns out whoever installed the first dryer had left their coffee cup in there.

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    Replies
    1. And now you know.... the rest of the story

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  6. Well damn! One more thing to check. I hadn't thought about it but I have a dryer that is a year old and doesn't seem to dry as well. Now I know why probably so i will check it out. Thanks for the info!

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  7. I do cleaning for a living, so have experience with lint. I noticed a lot of it once under someone's refrigerator. It seems that modern fridges have fans in them, and they suck in any lint and dust that is nearby. Over time this amounts to a lot of it, and could cause the fridge motor to run for more time than you'd want, adding to your power bill, just like with clothes dryers. This happens especially in a warm climate. There is information about it at a site called www.howstuffworks.com in their home and garden section.

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  8. All my adult life, I've bought washers and dryers used. To be honest, most were on their last legs, and never lasted long enough for me to have those problems. A new install always meant hoses got changed out. Now I have my first new washer-dryer set, and will have to make a note to do maintenance. Lucky for me, the outside vent is only a couple of feet from the dryer.

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  9. @Miss Cellania: My mom had her dryer vented to the inside of the attached garage (where it sat, next to the washer). She used old nylons to trap the lint that was blown out. Worked for 43 years. When she passed, code required that I have an outside vent knocked into the wall, before I could sell the house.

    Lurker111

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  10. IF YOU HAVE A DRYER THAT VENTS TO THE ROOF, READ THIS:
    What I learned the hard way (burning through two new dryers and nearly a third) is roof mounted dryer exhausts are (seemingly) more prone to problems than horizontal ones. And this was WITH cleaning out the hose and using brushes on extenders to clean the pipe going to the roof. Despite maintenance, the dryer (not the drum, but the inside of the dryer) would still fill up with lint and and, of course, start smoldering. I know, yikes! I was scared to leave the house or go to bed with the dryer running. One technician taught me how to disassemble the dryer so I could vacuum out the accumulated lint. And I had to do this every 4 months or risk a fire.

    FINALLY, I bought a longer hose used some foam core poster-board to make a make shift frame for the window and vented the dryer that way. Drying times were cut from 90-150 minutes to 20-50 minutes. No joke. I wish I had known this 12 years ago when we moved in.

    I've been told that with roof mounted vents, the wind comes down the pipe, creating pressure that pushes the lint through any gaps and it ends up coating the inside of the dryer. I don't know if this is the case. Sometimes, it is windy, other times it isn't. Maybe the cover just becomes clogged over time and no amount of cleaning the pipe is going to fix that. As the vent is on the roof, I am not risking my life to go up there and take a look.

    In any case, if you have a vertical exhaust pipe venting your dryer through the roof, and drying times and hovering around 90 minutes - 3 hours, just do a test and try to vent it out a window.

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    Replies
    1. I have heard that advice before. Thanks for posting the details, Tomasz.

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