How to Clean Your Dryer and How Often You Should Do It
Forgo hiring a pro and learn how to clean your dryer with these helpful tips from an expert.
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You know the basics of how to clean a dryer. In fact, you clear the lint trap on your dryer after every load and even use a lint brush to remove the excess fuzz that slips through the cracks. But lately you’ve been noticing that your clothes are coming out damp and are taking a lot longer to dry. In other words, your clothes dryer isn’t drying. While there could be a few explanations as to why your dryer isn’t functioning the way it should, the most common culprit is a lack of deeper cleaning.
Longer dry times and wasted energy are small beans compared to the bigger issue that comes from failing to properly clean your dryer: You can end up with a fire hazard. The U.S. Fire Administrations says that 2,900 home dryer fires happen each year, killing about five people and injuring about a hundred. And the leading cause of those fires? A failure to clean the dryer. According to the National Fire Protection Association, the majority of washer- and dryer-related fires happen because of loose dust, fiber, and lint in the dryer vent.
“Over time, daily use can fill your dryer with dust and lint, which can affect your dryer’s performance and even pose a fire hazard,” says Shawn Ashby, brand manager with Whirlpool Laundry. “By cleaning your dryer and its vent, you can keep optimal drying times shorter and your clothes in good shape.” Read on to learn exactly how to clean your dryer—along with how often you need to do it. And prevent fires elsewhere in your home by learning how to put out a grease fire, how to clean your oven, and how to clean your stove top.
Gather your supplies
Before you can master how to clean a dryer, you’ll need to gather the items below. There’s a good chance you have most of them on hand from other cleaning projects. A microfiber cloth, for instance, comes in handy when cleaning stainless steel. And white vinegar is an all-purpose cleaner useful for cleaning everything from coffee makers to shower heads.
Toothbrush or nylon brush
Spray bottle filled with one part white vinegar and one part water
Dryer vent cleaning kit
Clean the dryer lint trap
Yes, you need to know how to clean a dryer vent, but your education begins with learning how to clean lint out of a dryer. It’s your first step, after all, and the dryer-cleaning task you’ll be doing most often.
“You should clean the dryer lint screen after every use, as lint can increase drying time,” says Ashby. The process couldn’t be easier—or quicker—to complete.
How to clean a dryer lint trap after each use:
- Remove the screen by pulling it up.
- Gently remove the lint from the screen by hand.
- Put the lint trap back.
That’s it. Seriously. You may be tempted to wash the lint off, but resist the urge. “Wet lint is harder to remove, so don’t scrub or use water,” Ashby says. Washing with water is part of a deeper cleaning process, which you’ll do twice a year.
How to deep clean a lint screen every six months:
- Use a lint roller to remove lint from the screen.
- Wet both sides with hot water.
- Scrub with a nylon brush or toothbrush in a mixture of hot water and liquid detergent to remove any buildup.
- Rinse with hot water.
- Dry thoroughly.
While the lint trap is out, take the opportunity to vacuum the crevice inside of the dryer that holds the lint trap. Remove any excess lint that has built up. Now would be a good time to clean your washing machine too.
Clean inside the dryer
If you’re dealing with a dryer that has a less-than-fresh scent, you’ll want to know how to clean a dryer drum—you know, the part of the dryer that holds your clothes. Aim to do this about once a month. Ashby lays out an easy-to-follow cleaning plan:
- Clean or vacuum any debris out of the drum.
- If you have an electric dryer, rub the drum with a soft cloth that has been dipped in very warm water mixed with mild dish soap. If you have a gas dryer, use a soft cloth to wipe the interior with a liquid, nonflammable household cleaner.
- Rinse with a wet cloth, sponge, or towel.
- Place a load of clean clothes inside and set to tumble dry.
- Leave the dryer door open after use to ensure proper drying.
For a totally natural cleaning alternative, use a spray bottle filled with a solution of one part vinegar and one part water. You’ll follow the same steps above: spraying the drum with the cleaner, using a microfiber cloth to wipe it down, rinsing the walls of the dryer, then tumble drying a load of clean clothes.
Clean the dryer vents and ducts
Understanding the basics of how to clean a dryer is one thing. Knowing how to clean a dryer vent and duct is the trickiest and most time-consuming task. Many people opt to hire a professional to do the job for them. But with the right tools and by following a few simple steps, you can save money and do it yourself.
How often should a dryer vent be cleaned?
Ashby and the Whirlpool brand suggest cleaning your dryer vent once every couple of years, as needed.
How do you tell if your dryer vent is clogged?
The little “as needed” tacked on to the experts’ recommended cleaning schedule is key. So how exactly can you tell if your dryer vent is clogged?
“One common sign to tell that the dryer vent needs to be cleaned is that the dryer is not drying or is experiencing long dry times,” explains Ashby. Other signs of an issue: You can’t feel air moving through the outside vent or it’s emitting a strange odor.
What is the best way to clean out a dryer vent?
Don’t expect to clean your dryer vent with just your hands—you won’t reach it all. “There are long, thin brushes one can buy to make it easier to reach and remove lint in the vent pipe and around the drum,” writes Richard Campbell in a 2017 National Fire Protection Association report on dryer fire safety. “There are also dryer lint removal services. Have a qualified service person clean the interior of the dryer chassis periodically to minimize the amount of lint accumulation.”
If you want to DIY this task, your best bet is to invest in a dryer vent cleaning kit, which can be purchased at any hardware store or online. With that in hand, follow the steps below.
- Locate your dryer’s exhaust vent. “Typical locations include the outside of your home, your roof, or your attic,” says Ashby.
- Remove the plastic cover that protects the end of the vent.
- Unplug your dryer’s power cord.
- If you have a gas dryer, close the shut-off valve in the gas supply line, then disconnect and cap the supply line pipe. Gas leaks are serious business, so if you’re unsure of yourself, call in the pros.
- Remove any tape or clamps that connect the exhaust to the dryer vent.
- Pull the dryer vent pipe free from the exhaust, and pull the vent pipe away from the wall duct.
- Remove the duct cover from the exit point outside so you have access to the entire ductwork.
- Gently push the brush from your dryer cleaning kit as far as possible into your dryer duct, spinning it counterclockwise as you move to loosen clogged lint. “Make sure to follow any turns or corners,” Ashby notes. If your brush doesn’t reach the full length of the duct, add a segment to your vent brush from the kit.
- Use a vacuum to clean up any lint that comes out of the duct.
- Reconnect the vent pipe and plug in the power cord. Turn on the gas supply, if you had turned it off.
- Slide your dryer back into place. “Run an empty dryer cycle for ten to 15 minutes to blow out residual dust and confirm that the vent is clean,” he says.
It’s worth noting how to clean a dryer vent from outside: Suck up accumulated lint with a vacuum. If the dryer vent exhaust on the outside of your house is located higher than your dryer, you may want to clean your duct from there. Gravity will do part of the job for you, sending lodged debris to the exit in your laundry room.
Call in the pros
If you don’t feel comfortable cleaning your dryer vent, get professional help. “You should call an expert when you are experiencing an issue beyond your means,” says Ashby. “Going to a professional will help you to understand the problem, troubleshoot, and resolve it.”
If you’re having a tough time finding or accessing your dryer duct and outside exhaust vent, you might also consider having a professional come in and do it for you.
- Shawn Ashby, brand manager with Whirlpool Laundry
- U.S. Fire Administration: “Clothes Dryer Fire Safety Outreach Materials”
- National Fire Protection Association: “News & Research”
- National Fire Protection Association: “Home fires involving clothes dryers and washing machines”