How to Clean a Dryer Vent

A dryer vent that's clogged with lint doesn't just reduce the appliance's efficiency—it is a potential fire hazard. Here’s how to get your vent clean and keep it that way.

By Bob Vila and Timothy Dale | Updated Aug 9, 2021 5:10 PM

Laundry Room in House

Photo: Zillow Digs home in Medina, WA

If you’ve recently noticed that your clothes are taking longer to dry than they used to, you may need to look no further than your laundry room for the cause. A dryer vent that’s clogged with lint can make for a longer drying cycle, but it also can trigger a much more serious problem—a dryer fire. Clogged dryer vents are one of the top causes of dryer fires, so it’s important to know how to clean a dryer vent.

Although it’s a much less dramatic concern, an inefficient dryer can cost you both time and money, tacking on as much as $20 a month to your utility bill. Sure, you could hire a professional to clear out the vent for you, but this is a job that many DIYers can do. Read on to learn how to clean a dryer vent, and how to keep it well maintained.

Project Summary

  1. Unplug the dryer.
  2. Detach the dryer vent hose from the wall.
  3. Remove and clean the hose and vent cover.
  4. Reattach the hose and clean the exterior vent.

For full instructions, continue reading below….

STEP 1: Cut power to the appliance.

The first and most important step is to cut power to the clothes dryer. To maintain safety, don’t do any work on the vent while the appliance is drawing electricity.

The simplest and safest way to cut power is to unplug the unit. Keep in mind that this may require pulling the dryer out from its current position. Don’t strain yourself. If the machine is too heavy to move on your own, enlist help from a family member, partner, or friend.

How to Clean Dryer Vent - To Prevent a Fire Hazard

Photo: fotosearch.com

STEP 2: Locate the vent.

Dryer vents are easy to find because they typically stand out from the actual dryer. Look for a thick silver or white hose coming from the back of the dryer. It should be about 4 inches in diameter and can be made with flexible white vinyl, thin aluminum foil, semi-rigid aluminum, or completely rigid aluminum piping.

Once you have located the vent hose at the back of the dryer, just follow it along to the place where it exits the home. It should be held in place by one or more circular brackets that fit over the top of the 4-inch vent hose and tighten around the transition vent pipe that leads outdoors.

STEP 3: Disconnect the vent hose from the wall.

Pull the dryer out from the wall as far as your vent hose will allow (typically, about 1 to 2 feet). Then use a screwdriver to loosen and unscrew the clamps that keep the dryer vent hose attached to the wall. The clamps should be loose enough to move freely along the flexible dryer vent hose to prevent accidentally damaging the vent when you remove them.

However, before taking the vent away from the wall, make sure that you have a drop cloth or a garbage bag ready to catch any excess debris. This is especially important for any vent that has never been cleaned, because there is likely to be a large amount of accumulated hair, lint, dust, dirt, and other debris.

STEP 4: Carefully remove and vacuum the hose.

Next, detach the vent hose from your dryer by loosening the brackets on the dryer side of the vent to the point where they can spin or move easily along the exterior of the hose. With the vent hose removed, you have a few choices for how to quickly remove the bulk of the debris in the vent. Choices include the following:

  • Use the hose attachment on a vacuum cleaner or shop vac. The hose attachment of your vacuum cleaner can be used to simply suction out clumps of lint and hair from the hose. Work from both ends of the hose until all of the lint and debris have been suctioned out.
  • Blow out debris with a leaf blower. Consider using a leaf blower to push any excess debris out of the hose. Make sure the hose is directed into a garbage bag to prevent making a big mess.
  • Use an auger snake to break up the clog. Some tough clogs may not move with a vacuum or a leaf blower, so the clog will need to be broken up with an auger snake. After breaking apart the clog with the auger, use a vacuum or leaf blower to remove the leftover debris.
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Photo: istockphoto.com

STEP 5: Use a brush to clean out any residual obstructions.

Dryer vent cleaning brushes can be used to remove remaining dust, dirt, hair, lint, or any other debris. These tools typically consist of a multi-sided brush and a telescopic pole that can be increased in length, allowing the brush to move through the entire vent hose. Some of these products can be used with a drill, so that while they are moving through the vent hose, the brush is also rotating rapidly to scrub away stuck-on debris.

STEP 6: Wash the vent cover.

The vent cover on the dryer should be cleaned to ensure that leftover debris doesn’t build up within the dryer because this can create a clog that increases the risk of fire. It also may cause the dryer to overheat and burn out the sensitive internal mechanisms.

Use a screwdriver to remove the vent cover and vacuum up any remaining debris. Place the vent cover into hot, soapy water and use a microfiber cloth to clean the cover. Dry the cover with an additional microfiber cloth or allow it to air dry before reattaching it to the dryer.

STEP 7: Reattach the hose and clean the exterior vent.

Reinsert the vent hose and reattach it with the clamps to the dryer side of the ventilation system. Repeat the process to reconnect the vent hose to the exterior ventilation pipe, then slide the dryer back into position against the wall. Once the dryer is in place, head outside to clean the exterior vent.

Remove the cover, then put on some work gloves and clear out any accumulated lint with a vacuum. Wipe away remaining dust and debris with a microfiber cloth to ensure that the ventilation system is completely clean.

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Photo: istockphoto.com

STEP 8: Reconnect the dryer.

When the vent looks clear, go back inside the house, plug the dryer back in, and run the empty machine on the air-dry setting for about 20 minutes. Check outside to make sure that both air and any remaining lint are blowing out of the vent before turning off the dryer and replacing the outside vent cover.

Dryer Vent Cleaning Safety Precautions

There are several dryer vent cleaning safety precautions that make the job easier and safer.

  • Enlist help to move a heavy clothes dryer and help prevent injury. Dryers are very heavy. If it’s difficult to move the machine by yourself, consider getting help from a friend or a family member to avoid injury.
  • Wear a mask to avoid breathing in hair, lint, dust, and debris during cleaning. While cleaning the dryer vent hose, it’s a good idea to wear a dust mask or a respirator mask to protect against breathing in dust, dirt, hair, and other airborne debris.
  • Test the dryer carefully to ensure there are no leaks in the ventilation system. After cleaning and replacing the vent hose, double-check that the hose is reconnected properly to avoid venting the dryer exhaust into the home. This is especially important for gas dryers which can cause the accumulation of carbon monoxide if the vent is not properly attached.
How to Clean a Dryer Vent - Dryer Vent Tube

Photo: fotosearch.com

Regular Clothes Dryer Vent Maintenance

It’s important to clean your dryer vent at least once a year. If the buildup is so great that you can’t break through the lint, hire a professional or try a dryer vent cleaning kit.

A thorough yearly cleaning isn’t quite enough, however. It takes regular dryer maintenance to help maintain a clean dryer vent so it stays clear and safe.

  • Limit the number of dryer sheets used. Fabric softeners and dryer sheets can clog your dryer’s lint filter and leave behind small amounts of potentially flammable chemicals that can accumulate over time. You might also consider using a lint brush to remove pet hair from your clothes before washing them to reduce buildup in the lint filter.
  • Hang heavy bedding outside to dry. Duvets, bedspreads, and other heavy linens require much more heat and drying time than the average load, and this translates into more lint. Hanging them on a clothesline or drying rack means a lot less work (and lint) for your dryer.
  • Clean the lint trap after every use. You can usually remove the lint with your hands, but from time to time you should rinse off the screen and vacuum out the compartment that holds it. Remember: If the lint trap is full, the lint has nowhere to go but onto your clothes or out into the vent.

FAQs

Q: Does your dryer have to vent outside?

While there are some electric dryers that are designed to vent indoors for locations like apartments and condos, this isn’t the case with most products. If you have access to an exterior wall, it’s better to vent outdoors. Gas-powered dryers always need to vent outdoors to prevent the buildup of hazardous gases.

Q: Is venting a dryer into a house safe?

There are some apartment-sized electric dryers that may vent indoors, but venting inside can lead to serious mold, mildew, and other moisture-related issues. Venting indoors with a gas dryer, however, is absolutely not safe. The fumes produced by burning natural gas can build up indoors and cause serious harm or even death.

Q: Can I vent a dryer into the garage?

Venting an electric dryer into the garage may seem like a good idea, but unless the garage is always open to the outdoors, you will run the same risk of creating moisture-related problems, like mold and mildew. Likewise, venting a gas dryer into the garage can cause toxic fumes to increase within the enclosed space, causing a significant hazard to anyone within the garage.

Q: How do you fix a dryer vent that is disconnected?

To reconnect a dryer vent hose, simply loosen the existing brackets to allow the vent hose to slide over the ventilation pipe, then tighten the brackets, making sure that they are tight enough to prevent the vent hose from sliding or shifting. If the problem persists, you may need to replace the brackets or the vent hose.