Updated: October 6, 2015

Dryer Vent Cleaning - How to Get Lint Out of Your Dryer Vents

Unlike the dishwasher or clothes washing machine, the dryer needs a little ongoing maintenance to keep it in safe, proper working condition. How does a clothes dryer work? The way your dryer works is pretty simple - it spins clothes around in hot air while an exhaust vent sends damp air outside. A round, flexible exhaust tube connects to the back of your dryer and then to a duct in the wall that leads somewhere outside -- so all the hot, moist air coming out of the dryer ends up outside. As your heated clothes tumble in the hot air, lint (tiny bits of the cotton or other fibers that make up your clothing) comes off the fabric and most of it gets caught in the lint trap as the exhaust air passes through it. The lint trap is usually accessed either inside the dryer door or on top of the dryer -- it usually looks like a plastic or wire screen. Whatever gets past the lint trap goes out the exhaust vent and duct and either clings to the sides of the tube (it is wet with condensation and can be sticky) or blows out the exhaust vent outside.


Dryer Vent Problems - How do you know when to clean your dryer vents and ducts?

Since your dryer has to blow exhaust air out through the ducts, the shorter the ductwork the better. The total recommended length is normally less than 25 feet from the back of your dryer to the outside vent cover -- that's with a straight running exhaust duct. If you have bends and turns, it should be an even shorted distance. The more turns and the further the distance, the harder your dryer must work to move exhaust air and loose lint -- and the harder your dryer works and the longer it runs, the sooner it will wear out and have to be replaced or repaired. If your dryer has clogged vents and ducts, there are usually a few signs you'll see:
  • Loads of clothing will take longer to dry;
  • clothing will be very hot and still damp when dryer finishes (heavy items especially, like towels);
  • the dryer itself will feel hotter;
  • there may be NO lint on the lint screen (ie, the exhaust system is clogged)
A lint-clogged dryer can often consume $20 worth of extra electricity every month trying to dry your clothes - so it makes good sense to keep your dryer clean.

So what kind of maintenance do you need to do for your dryer? Lint tends to build up in 3 areas: inside the lint trap, inside the flexible duct hose behind the dryer, and inside the in-wall duct work leading to the outside vent flap. The first step is to clean the lint trap after every load of laundry. How do you clean the lint trap? You pull out the lint trap and scrape out the lint with your fingers or bang it over the trash can to clear it out, then replace it. When you pull out the lint trap, look around inside the dryer in the pocket where it sat -- if you see more loose lint there, take it out (you can use your hand, a brush, or your vacuum). By doing this simple cleaning regularly, you will avoid 90% of dryer vent problems. Each year (or sooner if you suspect a problem) you should unplug your dryer and pull it out from the wall, then disconnect the exhaust tube from the dryer and the wall and clean it out with a vacuum. That cleans out area #2. Area #3 is the in-wall ductwork that leads to the outside. Clean out this area using a vacuum or blower along with a dryer brush or auger (see below), put everything back together and in place, and you're done. You can browse the best selling dryer vent cleaning kits here.

Professional Dryer Vent Cleaning Service

You can pay someone to come out and clean your dryer vent and ducts for you. How much does dryer vent cleaning cost? Expect to pay from $75 to $200, depending on what all they offer and if it is part of a package of other services. You can do a search for "dryer vent cleaning" in Google and you will usually find some local contractors advertising for service in your area. Get written quotes and references from several before selecting one. The actual vent cleaning job is not real technical or complicated -- with the right tools (see below), the average homeowner can do the job themselves in less than an hour.

Best Home Dryer Cleaning Kits

OK, so you decide you want to clean out your dryer vents and ducts by yourself. You can do some of it yourself with just a shop-vac, but in most cases you'll need some extra tools like a dryer brush or auger and some flexible rod attachments (so it can go around bends and turns) that connect to a power drill. You can buy a number of dryer vent cleaning tool kits that include everything you need, from the brushes to the rods to special vacuum adapters. Most kits we found cost about $20. The Gardus LintEater ($24.99 at Amazon.com) comes with five 36" rods that will reach up to 15 feet through ductwork, a blockage removal tool (looks like a hook), a 4" auger brush, a smaller lint brush, and a vacuum and dryer adapter. You connect the rods to the brush, connect the whole thing to your drill, then send it through the ductwork, using either a vacuum or the dryer blower to blast out the loose material. The rotating brush scours the sides of the tubes, scraping any lint free. Overall, the kit is rugged and performs well - we cleared out a small bag of lint from our dryer vent, which has to stretch about 12 feet through the attic to get outside. You can see a video of how to clean your dryer vents and ducts using the LintEater on YouTube here. You can see some additional accessories they offer on their website: Rewci.com/dryerventclean.html. Keep in mind you need either a strong battery-powered drill or an electric drill to connect to the rods and brush attachments. Another product is the Ontel Dryer-Max Lint Removal Kit for $20. It comes with a 10 foot long brush attachment, a separate 36" lint trap brush, and vacuum attachment -- works quite well. There are a few other cheaper kits and individual brushes, but we'd go with the LintEater -- it's affordable, it works, and it gets good reviews.

Dryer Fire Hazards - Do You Need to Clean Your Dryer Vent?

You can read the fire hazard and safety warning from the Consumer Product Safety Commission here. They recorded more than 15,000 dryer-related fires back in 1998. Basically, they confirm the things we have already covered about keeping your dryer vent and duct clean -- like cleaning the lint trap after each use, cleaning out the ducts and vents regularly, cleaning behind the dryer, having the right kind of duct material, and using caution when cleaning oil or chemical soiled items. Further reports have shown that most dryer fires occured with older dryers without thermostats (or broken thermostats), with crushed or kinked hoses in the back of the dryer, and often with a missing lint screen. So by keeping your dryer clean and in decent working condition, chances are you will not have to worry about a fire.