Q • I've read that a clogged dryer vent is a fire hazard. Why is it a fire hazard, and how do I clean it? — S.K., St. Louis
A clogged dryer vent can indeed be a fire hazard. If you think about the vent being stuffed with lint and the hot dryer air trying to get past it, it isn't difficult for a fire to get started. I've heard that hikers sometimes take a small bag of dryer lint with them to help get a campfire started. That should give you an idea of the danger.
If you don't clean your vent regularly, you might notice that the dryer takes longer to dry a load of clothes. In most cases, there is nothing wrong with the dryer, it's just that the circulation of the heat is reduced by not being able to exit.
Cleaning the vent and keeping it clean can probably reduce the running time of the dryer.
The easiest way to clean a dryer vent is to use an electric leaf blower, if you have one. Begin by moving the dryer out to gain access to where the vent goes into the wall. Remove the vent hose, which is usually attached to the dryer with a 3-inch or 4-inch clamp.
Loosening the clamp with a screwdriver will allow you to remove it. For the leaf blower, you'll need an attachment that goes on the motor body (instead of attaching the long tube pieces that are normally used). We use a PVC 4-inch to 3-inch reducer, but this may not fit perfectly for all leaf blowers, so you may end up just taping this reducer to the end of the leaf blower.
Next, on the outside of the house, remove the vent cover housing, if you're able. Sometimes these housings are just screwed on, so removing it shouldn't be difficult. Then, insert the leaf blower where the dryer vent begins at the dryer location and let the air blow all of the lint out. This may take a few minutes. It is also a good idea to physically check the outside hosing, as sometimes the lint may build up here, just before it exits the house.
If so, just remove as much as you can by hand, then run the leaf blower again. Afterward, it's just a matter of putting things back the way they were.
If you don't have an electric leaf blower, you may have to disassemble the duct work in order to clean it. If you have the solid, rigid ducts, this can take quite a bit of time. If you have the flexible ducts, it is usually easier to simply replace it, as the cost is about $15, and no matter what you do, you'll never get all of the lint out of them.
Steve Cloninger is the owner of Get It Done Home Repairs & Maintenance. Visit his website at getitdoneinc.com.