Home insurance

Clean your dryer duct, or risk fire at home

Thursday, November 3, 2016by  Jon Osterberg

man reaching into dryer for clothesLast weekend I got rid of a hazard in my home that accounts for more than 16,000 fires each year, and you can do likewise in just a couple of hours.

The hazard: dryer lint. Not the gray fuzzy stuff that's trapped on your dryer's lint filter, which everyone knows to clean with every load.

I'm talking about the lint that sheds off your clothes, evades the filter, and clings to the inside of your exhaust ducts, clogging air flow and trapping heat. The combustible stuff that also sticks to wiring and anything else between your dryer's back panel and the drum.

person cleaning dryer lint filter The National Fire Protection Association says that of those 16,000+ dryer fires, the leading cause (32%) was failure to clean.

If you've never checked your ducts for lint, or if your clothes are taking longer to dry, that could be a warning sign that you have lint buildup.

You can pay companies to come to your home and clean your ducts. But if you're sometimes a "do-it-yourselfer" like me, it's not difficult, providing you can access your ducts.

flexible aluminum dryer duct Start by unplugging your dryer, pulling it away from the wall, and disconnecting the duct. Remove the screws that fasten the dryer's back panel and carefully remove it. You'll probably find lint everywhere, clinging to wires, the outside of the drum, and other surfaces. Vacuum everything thoroughly. (If you really want to dive in, you could remove the other outer panels in search of more lint. I didn't do that.) Reassemble.

Next, I examined the flexible duct that connects the dryer exhaust vent to the vent in the wall. My duct is thin aluminum, and it was torn and dented. Constrictions cause lint to build up, so to be safe, I replaced my duct. It’s cheap at any hardware store. If yours is fine, straighten and vacuum it.

I then stuck my shop-vac hose into the wall duct and cleaned it out.

Our laundry room sits in the middle of our house, about 18 feet from the outside wall. So the wall duct drops down into our crawl space, makes a bend, and connects with rigid metal duct that shoots straight to the outside wall. I disconnected the duct at that bend. Typically, ducts are connected with metal worm-gear clamps and/or duct tape.

roll of duct tape I also disconnected the rigid metal duct at the outer wall, then took that entire 15-foot piece outside. Sheesh, lint buildup had constricted the inside of it to about half its capacity! I used my shop vac to suck out what I could reach. For the inaccessible innards, I got my trusty 200-mph leaf blower and stuck its snout inside the duct, turned the blower on high, and voilà! Blasted the lint out in seconds. Peering inside, my eyes confirmed the duct was now lint-free.

I took the duct back into my crawl space, then cleaned the final short piece leading outside the house. My screened flap that prevents birds and other critters from entering the duct was in good shape. If it weren't, I would have replaced it. You don't want critters having access inside your home.

After reconnecting and taping everything back together in the crawl space, that was it. All done in less than two hours.

You can do the same. Whether you clean your dryer duct or replace it, you'll gain safety and peace of mind – and also discover that your clothes dry much faster, cutting your energy bill!

Bonus tip: Rather than discard the lint, use it to make superb firestarter for camping.

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