The Fundamentals of Residential Dryer Vent Cleaning

Many a frustrated homeowner has called a dryer technician to repair their clothes dryer only to find that all that was needed was a dryer vent cleaning. Some homeowners have even been known to completely replace their clothes dryers and then experience the same symptom that triggered the replacement: long drying times. But once a homeowner gains appreciation for the benefits of regular dryer vent cleaning, they’re quick to add it to their annual to-do list.

Residential dryer vent cleaning
Lint removed from a residential dryer vent in Plymouth, MN, that hadn’t been cleaned in several years.

Of course, improved performance and increased efficiency is not the only reason to religiously have your dryer vent cleaned. The NFPA reported that from 2014-2018, 32% of home dryer fires resulted from “failure to clean.” Regular dryer vent cleaning is critical to home fire safety.

How residential dryer vents are cleaned

One of the most efficient methods of residential dryer vent cleaning employs a tool called a reverse-spinning air ball, which allows the technician to clean the dryer vent from the outside, at the exhaust, without entering the home. The tool features a metal ball attached to an air line. Tiny holes on the surface of the ball spit out air when the tool is engaged, blowing air and lint backward, toward the vent exit. The tool can be inserted and withdrawn several times over until all the lint has been expelled from the vent line.

In other cases a dryer vent brush kit is used for the cleaning. For example, if the vent can’t be accessed from the outside—if it’s underneath a deck or other hard-to-reach location—then the vent line must be accessed from inside the home. The dryer would need to be pulled out from the wall and disconnected, and the brushes inserted at the beginning of the vent line. Brushes would also be used in cases where nesting or other thick clogs are present in the vent line, since air tools aren’t intended to clear dense clogs.

Ground-level vs rooftop dryer vent cleaning

Home builders probably didn’t have dryer vent cleaners in mind when they decided to install clothes dryers on second floors. These second-floor dryers sometimes exit out the side of the house, but more often they vent onto the roof. The level of difficulty in cleaning these will depend largely on the height and pitch of the roof, but customers are likely to see a surcharge in pricing for a rooftop dryer vent.

Residential dryer vent cleaning from the rooftop.
Cleaning a dryer vent that exits onto a high and steep-pitched rooftop in Chaska, MN.

Aside from the increased challenge of navigating the roof, rooftop dryer vents are cleaned in a manner similar to those that vent out the side of the house. One difference, however, is that rooftop dryer vents are covered by a hood rather than the standard three-flap cover. Behind the hood is a backdraft damper that is in the open position when the dryer is in use. Technicians will take an air trigger and clean vigorously around the hood to loosen caked-on lint and remove it so the backdraft damper works properly.

Can I use a leaf blower to clean my dryer vent?

Sometimes customers try to DIY their dryer vent cleaning with a leaf blower and end up making a bad situation worse. We’re often summoned to customers’ homes after they’ve attempted this fix, and what frequently happens is that the process simply pushes all the lint forward until it collects in the form of a clog. The leaf blower, not having the force required to completely clear the clog, merely serves to compact it, sometimes forcing it up against the damper, causing the damper to malfunction.

The most effective way to clean a dryer vent is to pull the lint out, with specialized tools wielded by a professional, rather than trying to push or blow it out.

Planning ahead

Since it’s not a matter of if your dryer vent needs cleaning but when, it’s a good idea to get on a regular schedule with your local HVAC cleaning company. In this way you won’t be caught off guard one day when your dryer stops working, or worse.

Reach out with any questions or to schedule and get ahead of the game.

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