How to clean a dryer vent and avoid a fire hazard

How to clean a dryer vent and avoid a fire hazard
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  • Cleaning your dryer vent is essential for keeping your dryer running optimally.
  • Too much lint buildup can eventually lead to a dryer fire.
  • A vent brush and vacuum hose attachment provide the most effective cleaning.

A dryer fire is not some freak accident with an unknown cause. According to data from the US Fire Administration, 2,900 home dryer fires are reported each year - resulting in five deaths, 100 injuries, and property loss totaling $35 million. And the USFA reports that failure to clean the dryer is the leading cause of these fires.

And Jason Kapica, president of Dryer Vent Wizard, says that a clothes dryer is actually the perfect environment for a fire. "To start a fire, it takes oxygen, an ignition source, and a flammable material," he explains. "Oxygen moves through a dryer and its vent when the machine is running, there is a heating element inside the dryer providing a potential ignition source, and lint is an extremely flammable material."

When you don't clean out your dryer vent or the duct that connects the dryer to the vent, Kapica warns that the buildup of lint can increase the possibility of a fire. And that's not the only potential problem. "In addition, dryer vent clogs can cause carbon monoxide accumulation, extra wear on clothing and your dryer, and excessive energy use."

How often should you clean your dryer vent?

How to clean a dryer vent and avoid a fire hazard
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Although you should clean your dryer lint filter after every load, fortunately, you don't have to clean your dryer vent that often. Kapica recommends having it professionally cleaned once a year, although handy homeowners may want to tackle this task themselves.


Your dryer can also provide warning signs to let you know there might be a buildup of lint in the clothes dryer and dryer vent system. Kapica lists the following six signs:

  • The clothes dryer takes longer than one cycle to dry a load
  • There is no lint visible on the lint screen
  • The dryer repeatedly stops during a cycle
  • Clothes are very hot after a dry cycle
  • The top of the dryer is hot to the touch while running
  • Clothes have a moldy smell after a dry cycle

Quick tip: Between deep cleanings, you should clean your dryer's lint trap after every load.

What you need

How to clean a dryer vent

How to clean a dryer vent and avoid a fire hazard
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  1. Unplug the dryer. This is a safety measure to prevent it from accidentally starting while you're working on it. And if you have a gas dryer, you'll also need to close the gas supply valve.
  2. Move the dryer away from the wall. Pull it out at least 12 or 13 inches so you'll have enough room to access the dryer vent.
  3. Put on protective equipment. A dust mask and eye goggles can keep the dryer vent's contents from irritating your eyes and nose, and reduce sneezing and coughing.
  4. Disconnect the dryer duct from the dryer. A dryer duct connects the dryer to the vent in the wall. Depending on what type of dryer duct you have, you may need to use a screwdriver to unscrew the vent clamp holding the duct in place.
  5. Loosen the debris in the duct. Some dryers include a brush and dryer cleaning kit for this purpose. If not, you can purchase a vent brush online or from a home improvement store. Gently insert the brush into the duct as far as you can and then retract it.
  6. Insert the vacuum cleaner's hose into the duct. Any lint left over can be cleaned using a vacuum cleaner with a hose attachment.
  7. Loosen the debris in the vent. You're actually repeating the two steps above, but this time for the vent in the wall, instead of the duct.
  8. Insert the vacuum cleaner's hose into the vent. Using the hose, vacuum any leftover dust.
  9. Clean the exterior vent. Locate the exterior vent cover (on the outside of your home), and clean it out using the hose on your vacuum cleaner. You may have to remove the exterior vent cover to reach the dust - or at least remove the bird guard from the vent cover.
  10. Reconnect the dryer. Back inside of the house, reconnect the duct to connect the dryer to the vent. Push the dryer back into place and plug it in (and turn the gas valve on, if applicable).
  11. Test the dryer. Allow it to run for 15 minutes to ensure everything is working properly. If there's a problem, you want to find out now instead of when you have a load of wet clothes.

Other ways to keep your dryer working properly and safely

How to clean a dryer vent and avoid a fire hazard
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It's also important to clean your dryer's lint screen. "Regular maintenance consists of cleaning the lint screen before every load, washing the lint screen with hot soapy water, and even using an old toothbrush every few months on the lint screen - especially if you are using dryer sheets," Kapica says. Dryer sheets can leave a waxy buildup on the lint screen, which can lead to issues - including the possibility of a fire, says Kapica.


In addition to keeping the actual dryer clean, you also need to keep the surrounding environment clean as well. "Dryers also work on the surrounding air in the room, so it's critical to keep the area around your dryer free of dust and debris," Kapica explains. "This will allow the dryer to work more efficiently and lower the risk of a fire.

Insider's takeaway

Taking a few minutes to clean your dryer vent can help you to avoid a dryer fire. Using a dryer vent brush and a vacuum with a hose attachment can help you easily clean your dryer vent and keep it free from debris.