Dryer vent cleaning is usually a pretty routine event: the technician inserts a tool through the vent line from the outside and feeds it through to the back of the dryer, then pulls the tool out, extracting the lint with it. But every once in a while our technicians encounter a particular job that is not so easy, or so routine.
In March 2019 a homeowner in Maple Grove contacted us for a routine dryer vent cleaning. His dryer was not working efficiently and was taking much longer than usual to dry clothes. This is a frequent symptom of a clogged dryer vent, so our technician did not expect to find anything out of the ordinary. The dryer vent exhausted out the second floor of the home, about 15 feet up, making the total vent line about 30 feet in length. Longer vent lines often harbor more lint than shorter ones—for example, those that vent straight out the back wall.
The first order of business for our tech on this job, as with any dryer vent cleaning, was to vacuum the machine's lint trap compartment with a crevice-tool vacuum attachment. This step removes any debris that sneaked past the lint trap. He then eyeballed the back of the dryer to ensure all of the connections were secure. With those two tasks complete, he ascended the ladder 15 feet up to the outside vent.
Having turned the machine on "air dry" before leaving the laundry room, the technician expected to observe at least some air flow exiting the outside vent, but there was none at all. For this reason he assumed he was dealing with a 100% blockage in the form of a dryer vent clog. This is the number one reason for restricted air flow through a dryer vent line.
His tool of choice is a reverse-blowing spinning skipper ball attached to the end of an air snake. This he feeds into the vent line through the outside vent, where warm air (and some lint) typically exhausts. He expected to meet some resistance in the form of a clog, but he soon heard the skipper ball reach the back of the dryer, at which point he realized his first assumption may have been incorrect. On pulling the tool back toward him, a good deal of lint was expelled, but not as much as expected for a clog capable of completely restricting air flow. He inserted and retracted the tool several times until he was confident all of the lint was removed from the vent line.
Now certain that the issue was not a clogged vent line, he proceeded downstairs and had a closer look at the machine itself. Pulling the machine away from the wall, he noticed there was an exceptional amount of lint behind it. He further noticed that the portion of the vent line that normally extends from the back of the dryer across the bottom of the unit and connects to the fan was disconnected, sitting idle and useless in the bottom of the machine, enveloped in a gray cloud of combustible lint.
This particular dryer vent disconnect was unusual in that everything appeared, from the outside, to be appropriately connected. Additionally, the location of the disconnect, inside the dryer itself, is relatively rare; often disconnects occur further down the vent line, sometimes behind wall cavities or inside the attic.
Disconnects in the dryer itself pose a particular danger in that instead of lint building up down the vent line, removed from the machine and its heating element, in this case it builds up inside the dryer itself. Lint is highly combustible and easily airborne, so one can imagine how its blowing around inside the dryer near the heating element would be extremely problematic.
The first thing the technician set about doing was cleaning out all of the lint from inside the dryer, with an industrial vacuum. The photo above was taken when that process was nearly complete. Once the lint was thoroughly removed, he easily reconnected the missing portion of the vent line, confident that after doing so, excellent air flow would be established.
He was correct.
Having your dryer vent regularly cleared of lint and any blockages serves several purposes, primary of which is to minimize the fire hazard created by a buildup of lint. Doing so also improves the machine's efficiency, by increasing the air flow necessary for it to do its job.
But the often overlooked or unanticipated benefit of dryer vent cleaning is the discovery of these vent line disconnects, which typically occur in places where they can't be seen. Left unaddressed, they wreak havoc inside the home, exhausting warm, moist air into spaces where it surely doesn't belong.
Once corrected, the vent line exhausts fully outside, where the warm air, moisture, and bits of lint quickly disperse and harm nothing, as intended.
Wanna dig deeper? Download our free tipsheet: 5 Questions to Ask Before Hiring a Dryer Vent Cleaning Company.
Many thanks to our technicians Ben S and Roy S for lending their expertise to this article.