Cleaning Dryer Vents
by Gary Foreman
Can you help with this question? We recently had our dryer vent "swept" by a professional chimney sweep service. The vent from the house to the roof had become so clogged with lint the dryer was taking as much as two full cycles to dry a load of clothes. This service was expensive (over $100), but we will save in several ways - less energy due to less drying time, prolonging the life of the dryer and avoiding a fire. Now that we've caught on about the dryer vent getting clogged, we feel we should have this done at least every 1-2 years. My question is, does anyone know how we could do this ourselves?
Jean asks a good question. In fact, it's easy to ignore our dryers and their vents until a problem occurs. But that may be a mistake. According to Appliance Magazine, the average American household of four does six to eight loads of laundry a week. Some estimates say that we spend about $186 each year to run our dryers. That sure is a lot of dirty clothes! Also a bunch of drying!
How does your dryer work? Actually, they all work about the same. It really doesn't matter whether you use an electric or gas dryer. The clothes are kept in motion while hot air is blown through the clothes. Air is pulled in from outside the dryer and exhausted to a vent outside the dryer. A microwave dryer that would have a completely different method is in the development stage but isn't ready yet.
What influences how efficient a dryer is? First, the source of the heat. Drying a load in a gas dryer (25 to 31 cents) is cheaper than in an electric dryer (31 to 57 cents).
The next most significant issue is whether the hot air is allowed to circulate through the clothes. Plenty of hot air doesn't do any good if it can't warm the clothes. The key here is run full loads, but don't over-do it. A too-full dryer doesn't allow air to circulate and is not efficient. Also dry light and heavy clothes separately.
Air flow is the issue than caused Jean her problem. As we dry clothes, lint magically appears. (At least it seems like magic!) Your dryer will have a lint trap. Pull the lint from it after each load. With some clothes you may even need to clean the trap once during the middle of the dry cycle.
After the hot air exits your dryer it needs to go somewhere. You should have a vent that leads to the outside. It will either be solid aluminum or flexible vent just like your heat and a/c system. If you have the option of deciding how to route your vent take the shortest route outside. Remember to keep bends to a minimum and avoid any kinks.
Traces of lint that pass through will tend to block your vents. Remember, the goal is simple. You want to get the lint out of the vent. Naturally most of it will accumulate at corners. Professionals will use two methods to clean your vents. They can close off one end of the vent and use a large vacuum cleaner to suction the lint from the vent. Or they can use a brush that's attached to a long flexible handle to sweep the lint out of the vent.
You can do some of the same things that the pros do. If you're fortunate enough to have a short run of vent you can simply disconnect both ends and reach in. If the vent runs through walls or for long distances it becomes more difficult.
If your vent runs to the roof you can try to use a homemade sweep. Tie a toilet bowl brush to a piece of clothes line and drop it into the vent. Make sure that you have the brush tied securely to the line. You don't want to lose it in the vent. Let gravity do the work. If your vent is pretty much straight up and down this might help.
You can also tackle the job from the dryer side. Since you won't have gravity to help you'll need something a little stiffer. Nylon rope can work. You might even want to use a plumber's snake. Remember, the goal is not surgical cleanliness. You just want to dislodge the lint that collects mostly at the corners.
Another way is to try to vacuum out the lint. You can use anything from a regular vacuum with attachment to a shop vac for the job. The trick is having a long enough hose to do the job. It doesn't need to be 50 feet. If you go at it from each end even a 10 foot hose can cover a lot of vent. Even if you can't do the whole job yourself, clean as much as you can. This will allow more air to flow through the vent (making your dryer more efficient) and also increase the time between professional visits.
Before you start you'll want to empty or replace your vacuum cleaner bag. This job requires all the suction your vacuum can muster.
There are a few other dryer tips that you should consider. The first is to dry your clothes outside. Sure it's a simple answer, but that's part of the beauty of it. It can't get any cheaper than free!
If you're using your dryer, dry two or more loads one after the other. This takes advantage of the heat already in the dryer. If your dryer has a 'cool down' cycle make sure that you use it. You'll be using heat that you've already paid for. If you can, put your dryer in a heated part of your home. That way you won't be trying to heat cooler outside air to dry your clothes.
Install a lint kit if you have an electric dryer. Their cost is easily made up by exhausting heat into your home during the winter. It's a fairly simple do-it-yourself job.
When all is said and done there are probably two things to remember. First, having a clean vent pays off in dryer efficiency. Second, do as much of the job as you can yourself. Even if you can't do it all yourself, you'll delay the day that you have to call a professional.
Updated November 2013
Gary Foreman is a former financial planner and purchasing manager who founded The Dollar Stretcher.com website and newsletters in 1996. He's been featured in MSN Money, Yahoo Finance, Fox Business, The Nightly Business Report, US News Money and he's a regular contributor to CreditCards.com. You can follow Gary on Twitter or visit Gary Foreman on Google+. Gary is also available for audio, video or print interviews. For more info see his media page.
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