How to clean a dryer vent

Reduce your risk of fire by cleaning your dryer vent. Here's how

According to the National Fire Protection Association, fire departments across the United States responded to nearly 16,000 fires involving clothes dryers or washing machines each year between 2010 and 2014.

Failure to clean the dryer is the leading cause of dryer fires. You have to clean more than just dryer’s the lint trap though — you also need to clean the dryer’s vent system. On most dryers, there’s a duct that runs from the dryer to the wall, and then there’s another duct inside the wall that runs out to the exterior of your home. The duct inside the wall can collect a lot of lint that you don’t even see because, well, it’s behind the wall. How do you know if the duct is dirty if you can’t see it? A good dryer can start to perform poorly, and your dryer may start having issues it didn’t have before. For instance, your clothes may take longer to dry, and excess lint might accumulate inside of the dryer. You may also notice excess lint building up on the vent outside of your home.

how to clean a dryer vent exterior2
Erika Rawes/Digital Trends

Depending on how often you use your dryer, you should clean out the vent anywhere between every three months and once a year. You don’t have to hire a professional to clean your dryer vent. Using an inexpensive duct cleaning brush, you can do it yourself. Here’s how to do it.

how to clean a dryer vent duct cleaning brush with crew in extender poles

What you’ll need

  • A duct cleaning brush kit (preferably one like this one here, which uses screw-in extender poles)
  • A power drill
  • A vacuum with a hose attachment
  • A ladder to open the vent on the exterior of your home (if it’s up high)
  • A flat-head screwdriver
  • Duct tape

How to clean a dryer vent

Step 1: Pull the dryer away from the wall and unplug the unit.

Step 2: Pick up any clothes that fell behind the dryer and vacuum up the lint. There will likely be a significant amount of lint, especially if you don’t clean behind your dryer very often.

how to clean a dryer vent interior attached
Erika Rawes/Digital Trends

Step 3: Disconnect the exterior duct hose from the back of the dryer. Using a flat-head screwdriver, unscrew the screw at the top of the fitting, and the duct should loosen enough for you to slide it off.

Step 4: Disconnect the exterior duct hose from the wall using the same method as in step 3.

Step 5:  Clean the exterior duct hose with a vacuum cleaner and hose attachment.

how to clean a dryer vent cleaning kit
Erika Rawes/Digital Trends

Step 6: Prepare the duct cleaning brush and a power drill. Make sure your power drill is fully charged. Attach the brush head to the first pole and have the other connection poles nearby. As you clean the duct, you’ll continue to attach extender poles until the brush reaches outside, and has therefore cleaned the full length of the duct.

Step 7: Remove or completely open the exterior vent hood (outside of your house) so the lint can be discharged outside as you push it from the inside.

Step 8: Go back inside the house and start cleaning the dryer duct from the interior. Ask another person to stay outside so they can tell you when the cleaning brush reaches the exterior.

Clean the duct by inserting the brush/rod assembly into the duct opening in the wall where the dryer was connected. Push and pull the brush into the duct one foot at a time. Add additional rods as you go until the brush reaches the outside of the house.

As you’re cleaning the duct, twist the rod clockwise, as this will help grab the lint. Turning the brush clockwise will also help guide the brush around turns in the duct.

You can use the drill for additional cleaning power, but you can also turn the brush by hand and forgo using a drill.

Do not turn the rods counterclockwise, and do not reverse the direction of the drill. If you do, the poles or brush may unscrew inside of the duct in the wall. Then, you’ll have a much bigger problem on your hands (you could end up with poles and a brush lost inside of your dryer duct).

how to clean a dryer vent exterior

Step 9: Go outside and collect the lint that was pushed through the duct with the brush.

Step 10: Reassemble the dryer. Attach the duct to the wall and to the dryer, and then reattach the fittings. Plug the unit back in.

Tips

  • Make sure you have enough extender poles to run the whole length of the duct. Many brush/rod assemblies come in 12, 18, or 24-feet. If you have a lot of footage to cover, you may be able to save money by purchasing two smaller assemblies instead of one larger one. For instance, if you have a 20-foot duct, you can purchase two, 12-foot brush assemblies and that may save you money when compared to the price of one 24-foot brush assembly.
  • Place duct tape around the metal portions of the extender rods (after you screw them together) to avoid scratching or dinging the duct’s interior.
  • It’s a good idea to purchase a new exterior duct and exterior vent. You can buy an exterior duct for less than $10 on Amazon, and you can buy a new vent for about $4 on Amazon. This makes the whole process faster and easier because you’re left cleaning only the duct inside the wall, and you won’t have to clean those exterior inexpensive parts.
  • It’s wise to buy a duct cleaning kit that’s sturdy, and one that has extender poles that screw together. Brushes with metal springs can be difficult to navigate through the duct, as they tend to be flimsier. Vacuum attachments work great for cleaning the duct between the wall and the dryer, but they are not as effective for cleaning the ducting inside of the wall. We used this kit here, and it was about $25 on Amazon.
  • If the brush gets stuck, and you absolutely cannot push it through a certain point in the duct, try the following: Pull out the assembly and remove the brush from the extender rod. Add a padding of duct tape to the first rod (to avoid scratching the duct’s interior). Then, run just the extender poles through the duct to the exterior. This will help to remove bad clogs in the duct. After that, run the brush through the duct again.
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