What is dryer vent cleaning?
Ask someone what dryer vent cleaning is and you may be surprised by how many are under the impression that it means emptying the lint trap compartment. It's a forgivable error. Lots of homeowners, especially new ones, are surprised to find that cleaning the dryer vent—or more precisely, the dryer vent line--is a critical task for the sake of unit maintenance, but more importantly, for fire prevention. For the record, dryer vent cleaning is the removal of lint and debris buildup from inside the dryer vent line--the pipe or duct that runs from the back of your machine all the way through to the outside vent.
Why is dryer vent cleaning necessary?
The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) warns that "the leading cause of home clothes dryer fires is failure to clean them." Thanks to organizations such as the NFPA, local fire departments, and dryer vent cleaning companies, awareness of the importance of cleaning your dryer vent is increasing. So, why is it necessary? With every load of laundry you run, small bits of cloth loosen from your clothes and end up in the machine. The lint trap catches a good amount of this debris, but some of it invariably ends up in your dryer vent line. This lint, which is extremely combustible, builds up over time, reducing air flow and, in sufficient quantities, creating a fire hazard. Its removal is essential to the smooth—and safe--functioning of your dryer.
How are dryer vents cleaned?
The most common method (and that embraced by lots of DIYers) utilizes a brush head attached to flexible rods that are fed into the dryer vent line incrementally, adding length as the distance increases. The rods are powered by a handheld drill that serves to rotate the rod-and-brush combo inside the vent line, loosening lint and pushing it out (or pulling it in) the other side. This method can be successful for most vents, especially those that are shorter or do not contain many turns.
A more effective method (we've found) utilizes a spinning skipper ball with reverse-blowing air nozzles. The tool is fed through the vent line from the outside until it reaches the dryer. Once engaged, the ball spins around and shoots out air behind it, toward the vent (thus "reverse-blowing). As the tool is pulled toward the technician, the lint is blasted out with it.
When should I have my dryer vent cleaned?
Frequency of cleaning will depend on household size and how often you use your dryer. The ideal home maintenance schedule would include a yearly dryer vent cleaning. Spring or summer is the best time of year for the service if you have a rooftop vent, so the technician does not have to negotiate an icy roof (most won't). Some indications you're due for a cleaning are if your clothes are taking longer than usual to dry or if your machine (or the laundry room) feels hotter than normal. One of the surest ways to tell if there's a clog in your vent line is to check for airflow from the outside vent when the dryer is running. Is the flap being pushed open? Is warm air coming out? No sign of air flow is cause for concern.
How much does dryer vent cleaning cost?
Pricing on cleaning out a dryer vent tends to vary less than for some other HVAC cleaning services, like air duct cleaning. That's because in most cases, it is relatively straightforward, allowing most companies to use the same process or tool for each situation. With that said, however, there are a few factors that can affect pricing. The number one reason you'll be charged more for the job is if your dryer vent is difficult to reach or on the roof, which entails more risk and liability. Some companies also charge more for a longer vent line or multiple turns.
At any rate, the price for having your dryer vent cleaned is negligible when compared to the possible cost of not doing so!
Wanna dig deeper? Download our free tipsheet: 5 Questions to Ask Before Hiring a Dryer Vent Cleaning Company.
Many thanks to our technicians Ben and Kris for lending their expertise to this article.