If you want to keep your clothes dryer running efficiently and reduce the risk of fire and other hazards, you should do more than simply clean the lint trap before each load.
It's a good idea to have your dryer vent cleaned at least once a year, according to our researchers, who learned from highly rated vent cleaners and other experts that about 35 percent of lint will escape through the screen and collect in the vent.
As a result, vents can become clogged over time. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission says that more than 15,000 fires are associated with clothes dryers each year, with most related to an obstructed vent.
Clogged vents can also lead to carbon monoxide leaking into the home, and can waste energy and reduce a dryer's life span by creating longer dryer times.
Warning signs of a clogged vent include:
—Clothes won't dry in one cycle.
—Clothes smell musty following the drying cycle.
—The top of the dryer feels hot while running.
—Clothes feel hot and damp after one cycle.
—Lint or debris around the dryer's lint filter.
—Excessive odor from dryer sheets used during the drying cycle.
—Large amounts of lint accumulating in the trap during operation.
—Excessive heat in the room where the dryer runs.
MORE THAN LINT Beware of other culprits that can clog a dryer vent. Experts have found socks and rags, and if a vent gets so plugged that the cap won't close, animals and birds can get inside. Chipmunks and squirrels tend to favor vents low to the ground, and birds can enter more highly placed vents. Pros have pulled entire birds' nests from vents.
THE WORK Our team found that you can clean your dryer vent yourself, but there's a chance you won't catch all the lint and may damage the dryer or the vent pipe or duct.
There are HVAC companies and other service providers that specialize in cleaning ductwork and dryer vents. They have the tools to reach deep into dryer vents and clean all debris buildup.
Here's how the cleaning typically works: The service provider will look for an outside vent cap to remove, and then insert a long vacuum tube and snake brush into the ventilation pipe or duct.
Workers will use the vacuum to remove loose debris. The snake brush will scrape blockage from the walls of the pipe or duct and the vacuum will remove it. Professionals pay special attention to bends in the vent system, since bends can trap lint and other debris.
A ventilation pipe can range from 5 to 40 feet in length, depending on where the dryer is in the home. The longer the vent, the greater the risk for build-ups, clogs and fires.
If you forgo professional help, make sure to get to the vent that connects from the back of the dryer to the outside. Also, clean inside the dryer. But before you do anything, be sure to unplug the dryer.
Depending on the type of dryer you have, it should be fairly easy to open the access panel to clean around the machine components. Note that buildup removal is easier with some machines than others.
THE COST Professional cleaning typically costs between $100 and $150, depending on the vent length and location. But it could pay for itself, since experts say an improperly venting dryer can consume $18 to $24 more a month in electricity.
Angie Hicks is the founder of Angie's List, the nation's most trusted resource for local consumer reviews on everything from home repair to health care. To find out more about Angie Hicks and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Web page at www.creators.com.