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Properly maintaining dryer vents often gets overlooked, but this home maintenance activity can have a huge impact on indoor air quality, energy consumption, and fire safety. Regular dryer vent cleaning by professionals can help reduce waste and reduce risk, making it a worthwhile investment.

To operate properly, clothes dryers must vent hot air to the outside of the home or facility where they are used. Clothes dryers may produce lint or other debris, and often these objects can get trapped in the ductwork or exterior dryer vent. Over time these objects can accumulate, causing a significant blockage, which impairs the operation of the dryer and increases the likelihood that the device will overheat or catch the lint on fire.

Risks of Clogged Dryer Vents

According to the U.S. Fire Administration, 2,900 home clothes dryer fires are reported annually. These fires cause an estimated five deaths, 100 injuries, and $35 million in property loss each year. These fires typically occur during the fall and winter, with the most fires occurring in January. Failure to clean dryer vents and lint traps is the leading cause of these fires, contributing to 34 percent of them.

Clogged dryer vents aren’t just a fire hazard, however. They can also negatively impact indoor air quality. According to a report in Environmental Health Perspectives, published by the National Institute of Health, dryer vents are often an overlooked source of air pollution in homes.

The report states that many of the fragrance ingredients used in scented dryer products can be toxic when released into the air. The report details irritation of the eyes and airways, migraines, asthmatic reactions, and more when people are exposed to dryer exhaust of scented dryer products. Some of the compounds released through dryer vents into the air have also been found carcinogenic. If you’re using a gas clothes dryer, clogged vents can result in carbon monoxide filling the air in your home, posing an immediate danger.

When dryer vents are obstructed or there are leaks in the duct work connecting your dryer to the exterior vent, these harmful emissions can be released into your home, resulting in diminished indoor air quality.

Clogged dryer vents can add to your home electricity bill in a variety of ways. When your dryer vents are clogged, it can cause your dryer to take longer to dry your clothes, making the device more expensive to operate. If hot air is escaping into your home as a result of a clogged dryer vent, it can result in more energy used to cool your home in the summer, thus driving up your electric bill. Clothes dryers are already one of the most expensive appliances to operate. If they’re not working properly, your power bill may increase drastically.

Also, when clogged dryer vents are making your dryer work harder to dry a single load of clothes, the usable lifespan of your dryer decreases, diminishing your return on investment in your appliance. This further illustrates the value in having your dryer vents cleaned.

When to Clean Your Dryer Vents

If you’re not particularly handy or home improvement-oriented, it can be tough figuring out when to clean your dryer vents. After all, most of the devices don’t come with a “check vent” light to remind you. The following are a few warning signs that debris is obstructing your dryer vent and that it needs a cleaning:

  • Clothes are not drying completely after a regular drying cycle.
  • You notice that your clothes have a musty odor after drying.
  • Drying times are taking more than 35 to 40 minutes.
  • It gets really hot in the room where your clothes are drying.
  • A larger than usual amount of lint is accumulating in your dryer.
  • Dryer sheets are producing a larger than usual amount of odor.
  • You notice debris coming from the exterior dryer vent.
  • Clothes seem very hot to the touch after drying.
  • It has been more than a year since your last cleaning.

Other Safety Tips for Safe Clothes Dryer Use

In addition to having your dryer vents regularly cleaned, there are a few other things homeowners can do to reduce their fire risk. Following these tips can help keep you and your home safe:

  • Avoid overloading your dryer with too many clothes. This increases the workload on the device and the chance of overheating.
  • Avoid drying any items that contain foam, plastic, or rubber. For example, you shouldn’t dry bathroom rugs that have a rubber backing.
  • Read instructions before drying anything other than normal clothes. If the directions say don’t dry it, don’t dry it.
  • Avoid putting items that have come into contact with flammable substances such as gasoline or alcohol in the dryer, even if you’ve washed them. Dry these items by hanging them outside on a traditional clothesline instead.
  • Avoid leaving your clothes dryer running when you’re not at home. Also, avoid running the device while you sleep.
  • Make sure your lint filter is installed and clean and in good condition before using your dryer.

Modern Problems

In the past, cleaning dryer vents and ducts was simple and straightforward. Most dryers were located along exterior walls and ductwork from the dryer led straight to the exterior vent, making cleaning easy. Times have changed. Modern homes try to save on space by squeezing washers and dryers into a variety of areas in the home. The end result can be several yards of ductwork twisting through the home before connecting with an exterior vent, making cleaning much more difficult than it was in the past.