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How often should you clean your dryer vent?

Modern laundry room with white cabinetry and wood paneling walls

Dryers are very hard-working machines. Because they involve a great amount of heat, they can also unfortunately be dangerous. With every load of laundry we throw in the dryer, small fragments of fabric, lint, hair, and dust can all get trapped in the filter trap, and dryer vent. If the filter trap and dryer vent are left neglected and full of flammable debris, it can become a major fire risk. Not only is it dangerous, but even if a fire doesn’t occur it will still severely degrade the efficacy of your dryer. To keep your home safe, and keep your dryer working its best, it’s important to give your dryer vent a deep clean every once in a while. Keep reading to find out how often to clean your dryer vent, and what tool you will need to do it. 

White exterior dryer vent on a gray stucco wall with plants

How often should you clean your dryer vent?

Because dryers use a high level of heat to get the job done, unfortunately, they can be quite the fire hazard if not taken care of. In fact, the “U.S. Fire Administration reports that every year more than 2,900 home fires are started by clothes dryers”[2]. The fires are caused when there is a build-up of lint in the dryer or dryer vent, which acts as kindling when it comes in contact with the heat. Typically, you should clean your dryer vent once a year at the least[1]. If you live with many pets, or in a large household, you likely use your washer and dryer a lot more frequently. If you run drying cycles more frequently you should try and clean your dryer vent more often, and keep your eyes peeled for any warning signs.

Signs that your dryer vent needs to be cleaned

If you’ve had your dryer for several years and have never cleaned the dryer vent, then this is all the sign that you need. You should clean your dryer vent at least once a year. If you cleaned your dryer vent last year but are unsure if it’s time to tackle this big cleaning job again, here are some signs you can look for. 

Extreme temperatures

When your dryer vent is clogged with debris and lint, it obstructs hot air from being able to escape. This can cause your dryer to become overheated, as well as your laundry very hot. If your dryer is very hot to the touch, or your laundry is extremely hot when being removed from the dryer, this is a good sign that your dryer vent is obstructed and needs to be cleaned. If your dryer is overheating this can be a fire hazard. To prevent overheating you should first of all clean your dryer vent, but also not obstruct your dryer. You should keep the top of your dryer free of clutter, and also the surrounding area clear. 

Clothes take a very long time to dry

If your clothes are still damp after running through a full drying cycle this could be an indicator that your dryer vent needs cleaning. If your dryer vent is clogged it won’t be able to filter out the humid air out of the outdoor vent. The humidity will become trapped in the dryer which could leave you with damp and musty clothes even after multiple cycles. This can damage your clothes as well as can cost you more energy by running several dryer cycles. 

Dryer gives off a burning smell

If your dryer is giving off a burning smell this is a major warning sign that you should clean your dryer vent right away. The burning smell could mean that a build-up of lint, dust, and hair stuck in the dryer vent is beginning to burn due to the high temperatures. You should clean your dryer vent right away before running any more dryer cycles. 

Excess humidity in the laundry room

If your laundry room becomes very humid after running a drying cycle this is another pretty good sign that your dryer vent needs cleaning. Your dryer vent when it is functioning normally will pump humid air out the exterior vent. This will keep your clothes warm and dry. If your dryer vent is backed up it will be unable to pump out the moist air and will become trapped in the machine, making your clothes, and laundry room more humid. If your laundry room is steamy or humid when running a drying cycle, you should clean your dryer vent. 

Lint trap is fuller than usual

If your lint trap is exceptionally full with lint after running a drying cycle, this could be an indicator your dryer vent needs cleaning. Normally, lint collects in the lint trap, and some lint will be expelled out of the dryer vent to the exterior vent. If your dryer vent is clogged, more lint will be trapped in the drum of the dryer, and will quickly fill up the lint trap. 

Deflecto DVBRUSH12K/6 Dryer Duct Cleaning Kit, Lint Remover, Extends Up to 12 Feet, Synthetic Brush Head, Use with or Without a Power Drill, accessory

What you will need to clean your dryer vent

Cleaning your dryer vent can be a big job, so it’s best to have the right materials to make the job as easy as possible. 

Vacuum with a hose attachment: A vacuum with a hose attachment is great for the preliminary cleaning of your dryer vent. It will allow you to clean up the most accessible debris in the vent, as well as vacuum the area surrounding the dryer.

Electric drill: An electric drill is crucial when cleaning a dryer vent, as it will properly agitate and loosen any build-up of dust, lint, and hair trapped in the vent. Your drill will be used in combination with a number of attachments to get the job done as painlessly as possible.

Dryer vent cleaning kit: A dryer vent cleaning kit will involve a number of attachment brushes that will be used to agitate the inside of the vent. The cleaning kit attachment brushes will attach to your drill and spin using the power of the drill, moving in and out to loosen and remove the obstruction.

Persons hands removing and cleaning a lint tray from a dryer

Tips to keep your dryer vent clean

Clean your dryer vent after every use

After every drying cycle, you run you should be cleaning your lint trap. Lint is extremely flammable, and if left to continue building up it can pose a major fire risk. Be sure to clean your lint trap every time you use your dryer. 

Replace aluminum with stiff metal 

Most new homes will have a stiff smooth metal dryer vent as opposed to the collapsible soft aluminum tubes. The soft tubes have hundreds of ridges that can trap lint, dust, and debris. Because of the nature of these tubes many consider them unsafe[2]. If possible, you should have your soft aluminum dryer tube replaced with a stiff metal one. 

Cross section view of an alluminium dryer vent tube

Clean once a year or more 

To make the process as easy as possible you should stay on top of things and clean your dryer vent every year. If you live in a large household or live with many pets, you should clean it more often. 

Keep the area clean to prevent fires

While a dirty dryer vent poses a pretty serious fire hazard, so does clutter around your dryer. You should keep the top clear of clutter, as well as the area surrounding the dryer clear of clutter. You should be especially cautious of clutter that can trap heat, like heavy blankets.

Run shorter cycles

Dryers produce a ton of heat. To keep your dryer from going on the fritz, try running shorter cycles to give your dryer some recovery time. If you are running a very large load of laundry, like bedding, or towels, it may take a long time to dry completely. Instead of running an extra-long cycle with no breaks, try running a few shorter cycles. Give your laundry a shake between shorter cycles to help the items dry more easily. This will help your clothes dry more evenly without an excess of extreme heat, and will also give your dryer the opportunity to cool down and take a quick rest between cycles. 


Article Sources: 

  1. Architectural Digest. “How to Clean Out a Dryer Vent in 7 Simple Steps
  2. The Spruce. “How to Clean Your Dryer Vent Ducts