One of the more unsafe, overlooked maintenance items in a home is your dryer vent. The National Fire Protection Association reports nearly 17,000 home clothes dryers catch fire yearly resulting in, on average, 51 deaths, 380 injuries, and $236 million in property damage. The leading cause of these fires are poorly maintained dryer vents.
In understanding how a dryer vent gets dirty; you first need to understand what your dryer is doing every time it is used. When you put a load of clothes in your dryer there are three fire creating components, lint, heat, and moisture. The heat, friction, and garments in your dryer will create lint that will collect in your dryer’s filter, and some will go through your exhaust vent. Lint by itself is highly flammable. Next, the heat in your dryer which is either created by electric or gas elements, can create the spark for a fire if not functioning correctly or poorly maintained. Finally, the moisture or humidity from the drying process will cause lint to stick in places it should not, and that is reason why your dryer has a lint filter. Unfortunately, a lint filter will not capture all the lint and will fail if not cleaned properly.
The biggest mistake in venting a dryer is the connection to the wall. Many times, due to cramped circumstances, the dryer vent is poorly attached or overtime, will break free from vibrations during use. Because it is behind the dryer, lint will build up behind your dryer next to the wall and will start collecting around the heating elements. It only takes one spark or surge to create a fire which can cause irreparable damage. Look behind your dryer weekly to ensure the vent is connected properly and if you feel or see moister around your dryer, that is a clear sign something is not right with your vent.
One of the biggest obstacles in many new homes is the design. Many times, homeowners want washers and dryers in areas close to bathrooms, but this can create a situation in which vents are designed to go through the roof instead of just outside an exterior wall. If you have a steep roof with a lot of pitch, this can make a vent 30 to 40 feet long, and it takes a lot of air push to drive lint and moister out of the home. I am not a fan of dryer vents going through the roof as many dryers simply cannot generate enough air volume to keep the vents clear. Wetter clothes will create moisture on the sides of the venting pipe which acts almost like a glue for lint. In a short time, there can be significant build up and clogging of the vent.
The number one sign your dryer vent is clogged is the time it takes to dry your clothes. If moist air and lint are not freely venting, they will back up causing the moisture to stay in your dryer which makes the drying process much longer. This creates energy inefficiency in the drying process and will also eat up the air conditioning in your home. You may even notice damp or wet walls in your enclosed laundry areas.
If you see the signs of a clogged vent, you can hire someone to clean your vent, but understand there is a systemic problem, and it will have to be done at least yearly or more. For homeowners who have some handyman skills, you can clean your vent, but it will require a vent cleaning tool that generally runs about $50, a drill, and a shop vac., Additionally, you will have to have the physical ability to pull your dryer out and, in some cases, climb a roof.
The best and easiest method to cleaning your dryer vent is to pull the dryer out, vacuum the area as well as dryer components, and then disconnect the vent. The vent cleaning tool is a thin tubing that links together and connects to a brush which spins inside the vent via a drill. It is slowly sent into the vent releasing the attached lint from the wall of the pipe. You will probably be shocked at all of lint that comes out of the vent as it can be a substantial amount. This lint is the reason why your dryer is not working well, and the main cause of fire.
Just imagine if one spark from an overworking dryer hits a lot of lint build-up in your vent pipe that is in the middle of your home, going through the roof. The fire will be devastating, and it truly puts the health and safety of your family at risk. Whether you do it yourself or hire it out, keep your dryer vent piping clear and always look for the signs of a clogged vent, poorly working dryer, lint behind the dryer, or moisture in your laundry room. Take it seriously, your life and home could depend on you keeping your vent cleaned.
Don Magruder is the CEO of Ro-Mac Lumber & Supply, Inc., and he is also the host of the “Around the House” Show which can be seen at AroundtheHouse.TV.