Cleaning Dryer Vents

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Cleaning Dryer Vents

Dear NH,
We live in a four story condo. All the clothes dryer vent hose is flexible plastic. It runs horizontally and is about 20 feet in length. The outside vent is a three flap louvered design. The problem is that the vents are plugging and in some cases filling with lint. What do we need to do? By the way, the piping is not accessible.

Twenty feet is a not-uncommon length but far beyond the manufacturer's recommended length for any dryer I have seen. This long distance promotes the accumulation of lint, since it will settle onto the sides of the pipe long before the air flow reaches the outside. Eventually, enough lint will accumulate so that it will begin to break off in pieces from the lining of the hose and appear in chunks at the outside vent cover.

The standard technique for cleaning a lint-filled but inaccessible dryer vent hose is to blow it out with a powerful stream of air from a source of high volume air. No... bringing in a gabby neighbor is not enough... I mean REAL force! Unplug the dryer and move it out of the way and disconnect the vent hose from the dryer. Using a small hand-held electric leaf blower (buy or rent), insert the business end in the hose and turn on the blower. Wrapping the connection of the leaf blower and the hose with a towel will help make a better seal and force more air into the hose.

You might also like: The Joys of Dryer Lint?

Careful with that electric blower! If you allow it to run it too long under stress caused by the resistance within the dryer vent hose, it may overheat. This risk increases if the outside vent flapper becomes clogged as your are working! Also be sure that the blower's air intake doesn't become blocked by the towel or other material. Be aware that some of these leaf blowers have their intake on the bottom and when placed on the floor may become restricted. And please don't use a gasoline blower in the home under any circumstances!

Properly done, this procedure will force any loose material to exit the outside vent. I suspect that your vent hose is loaded with lint and the louvers will become blocked quickly during the cleaning process. Now, the ideal situation is to REMOVE the louvered vent BEFORE you blow. Unfortunately, most concealed installations don't allow you to do that without cutting an access hole in a wall or ceiling to get behind the vent cover. The solution is to select a brave and courageous partner... wearing appropriately grungy clothing and eye protection... to clear the vent with a pencil or other blunt instrument... carefully... while you blow! (Your buddy could puncture that old plastic vent hose with an inappropriate jab!)

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A word to the wise... make sure your trusty assistant isn't standing in line with the vent when you FIRST turn on the blower or they may get a face full of old stale lint. Yechh.

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