Wow! Nearly 3,000 Dryer Fires Each Year!
Dryer Vent Cleaning – DIFM (Do It For Me) or DIY – [ A Complete Cleaning Guide Included ]
Every year, since 1922, the National Fire Prevention Association Sponsors Fire Prevention Week. It begins on Sunday, October 8th and runs through Saturday, October 14th. Each year has its own theme. This year’s theme … “Every Second Counts.” And on this note, Dryer Vent Cleaning, Dryer Machine Cleaning, and Lint Cleaning are great topics of discussion for the prevention of Dryer Fires in homes.
Dryers have been known to cause thousands of house fires every year due to lint build-up, so the push for awareness on every aspect of a good Dryer Vent Cleaning for safety prevention purposes is in order.
Neglecting the necessary maintenance cleaning for your dryer machine is known to have been hazardous – and for some, it’s even been fatal.
The problem arises because most homeowners don’t realize there could be a potential fire waiting to happen inside their home. The best way to address this hazard is to have a dryer vent system cleaning every one to three years, to remove the lint build-up.
What makes an ideal condition for a dryer fire is too much accumulation of combustible material such as lint, obstructed vent pipes, and excessive heat.
AN ACTUAL USER EXPERIENCE
Just last week I received a call from a man who had several issues with his dryer. He knew that he needed his Dryer Vent cleaned, and also knew that the way to get to the bottom of his troubles was to call for experienced help.
He was somewhat anxious, yet not too desperate, but he must’ve made the decision to find a solution somewhere, and he was just looking for proper guidance.
I already had a long day scheduled, but I knew I could help solve his family’s dilemma by entertaining the thought of same day cleaning service. I just didn’t know if he’d mind being on standby or waiting until the end of the day for the fix.
Eventually, we arrived at his house, and even before going inside it didn’t take long to identify the first problem. It wasn’t bird nesting, it was the dryer’s exhaust hood. It was visibly covered with lint where the dryer vent reached the exterior of the house. I could only imagine that lint just built-up back towards the machine, but I needed to take a closer look inside.
When I got inside the laundry room everything looked normal, so I brought our equipment inside and got set up.
DIY or DIFM (Do It For Me)
Let me say that Dryer Vent Cleaning is best done by a professional in most cases. But the machine and the system can be cleaned by almost anyone as long as caution is used. If you have the desire and determination to clean it yourself, just follow the guidelines below for a proper and complete cleaning of your machine.
Doing-it-Yourself can save you money, especially over the long run. If you’re able to tackle this project yourself, just get the right tools. Consult your owner’s manual, and buy a Dryer vent cleaning kit. You’ll find some kits that operate manually and others that attach to a hand-held drill. They typically cost $20 to $50 depending on the length of the rods, whether it attaches to a drill, and the quality of the kit.
Whether you’re hiring someone to do it for you or doing it yourself, just keep this in mind … Not Springing for Dryer Vent Cleaning could cost you much more in the long run. How much?
• The worst is the costs from fire damage. Not to mention any aggravation of having to find temporary shelter and provisions.
• It could also cost you in the use of more energy to dry than is necessary. These costs mount over months and years.
• You need to have the foresight to see this next concern … you risk the dryer’s heating element working overtime to dry your clothes, and eventually burning itself out.
If the heating element burns out you’re forced to address the problem. You had two choices: To clean or not to clean. But now, you have three choices: DIY and take a trip to the appliance parts store and get your dryer running again, pay the cost of a visit from a repairman, or purchasing a brand-new replacement appliance.
The cause is simply lint clogging up the ventilation system, which by the way still needs to get done.
The only major obstacle when you’re doing it yourself might be the Wall Vent, depending on its length.
- If it’s a short run, like 2 feet between the interior and exterior wall of the home, you’re in luck. You can practically reach in and clean the lint out with your hand.
- If it’s longer than 3 feet, you may need to hire a professional. They’re sure to have the right brush and long-enough line to snake down that very crucial vent for the best cleaning.
Other than the length of the Wall Vent, machines vary in design.
HAVING THE RIGHT STUFF
The tools required are a drill or a Screwdriver, a dryer vent cleaning kit, a ¼ inch hex head bit, a Flat-head and Phillips-head screwdriver, a magnetic tray, a vacuum brush, and vacuum.
Here’s an overall step-by-step DIY Complete Breakdown of a thorough Dryer Machine Cleaning.
1. First, unplug the machine from the electrical outlet.
2. Pull the machine away from the wall and get ready to dig in.
3. Use your tools to disconnect the flexible duct from the machine and wall vent. Set it aside.
4. Pull out your Lint Trap. Set it aside.
5. For a deep cleaning inside the machine, you’ll want to clean your machine’s Trap Vent, Fan Motor, and Heating Element. Unless you know where these are located, you may need to consult dryer machine’s manual. Knowing where these are located, remove the screws and panel of dryer cabinet to get inside, being careful of any door switch wires. Use a magnetic tray to keep all of the removed screws handy. If you don’t have one, just keep track of them and don’t mix them all together.
6. Remove the screws that hold the Trap Vent in place. Set the Trap Vent aside.
Now the cleaning.
7. If you have a Shopvac, vacuum everywhere inside the machine where lint collects. Get the lint off the Fan Motor, from around the trap filter area, especially over, under, and behind the Heating Element, and the bottom-inside of the machine.
8. Vacuum out the Trap Vent, the Lint Trap Filter, if it has an open area inside the machine door itself, the panel that you removed, the Flexible Duct, the back of the machine, and as long as you have the machine off the wall … this is a good time to clean the floor and the wall behind the appliance.
Replacing all the cleaned parts in reverse order.
9. Install the Trap Vent securely in place.
10. Locate the panel of the dryer cabinet and the screws that hold it and install it securely in place.
11. Using the screws that hold connect the flexible duct, connect one end to the machine and the other end to the wall vent.
12. Insert your Lint Trap into the Lint Trap Vent.
13. Connect your machine to the electrical outlet to make sure it’s operating properly.
This next step is important.
14. Many DIY’ers have pushed the machine against the wall and smashed or kinked the flexible Duct in the process. But you’re not going to do that; you’re going to be extra cautious. Go carefully, leaving extra space between the machine and the wall, for the sake of the Flexible Duct. If the flexible duct is kinked, this too can be a hidden hazard, as it restricts air. If it does get kinked, consider replacing.
After putting my customer’s machine back together, the last thing I needed to do was to take a closer look at was his Lint Trap Filter. I had noticed something earlier, but I decided to put it aside for later. Now that everything is in order, I can re-visit the filter at this point.
Keep in mind that I could’ve easily overlooked this, but I didn’t and neither should you.
You and I both know what these lint filters look like and how they work. But this filter looked like it had a smooth plastic covering. In fact, that prompted me to take it over to the sink to give it a thorough cleaning under hot water. When I did, I noticed that the water ran right over it, or laid on top of the mesh, while a portion slowly made its way through the screen.
The cause of this covering was the family’s use of Fabric Softening Dryer Sheets. The sheets left a film covering on the filter. There was a hazard here because the airflow was mostly blocked. This was affecting the performance of the dryer machine.
You may want to check your filter. You might not see anything there now, but if you regularly use dryer sheets at home, it can and most likely will happen to you.
Simply running it under water may not rinse this film away, so I’d recommend using an old toothbrush with soapy water to scrub the screen. Cleaning it monthly until this too becomes a regular thing would make a great habit to have.
How will you remember this monthly cleaning? Just make a mental note or clean it on small anniversaries like:
• The 1st of every month
• Every time I pay the mortgage/rent
• Each time I change my furnace filter
Now, let’s get specific about those Flexible Foil and Plastic Duct Dryer Vent Hoses. Another hidden hazard that I often find is that they’re usually longer than is necessary. An oversupply of hose curled up behind the dryer can take up space, coil and restrict air flow, and keep you from getting the dryer close to the wall.
The coiled ridges in a flexible hose tend to “trap” dryer lint, which can heat up and catch fire. These hoses are also more likely to kink, and that too can trap more lint.
Here’s a Useful Tip: if installing a flexible hose is necessary, measure the space between the machine and the wall, and cut the hose a few inches longer than you need.
To measure to the best length, starting from the wall, positioned where the machine normally sits, pull the dryer out just enough for a normal size adult person to squeeze through when maintenance cleaning is needed. Now is a good time to measure and cut the hose down to length. But remember to measure it a few inches longer than you need. A hose with less slack helps your dryer work more efficiently, and the slight extra length of hose allows for easier access when cleaning.
To give you an idea how your vent pipeline gets clogged, let’s take an example from Musical Chairs, the fun party game. As soon as the music stops everyone grabs a seat right where they are, and that’s kind of what it’s like inside your dryer vent.
When the dryer reaches the end of the dry cycle, the flow of air stops. All of the lint lands wherever it happens to be inside the exhaust pipelining. Over months and years, you’ll have layers and layers of built-up lint deposits. What once was a new clean and clear 4” venting duct is now down to 3 ½” – or even worse 2 ½ or less at the elbows.
Think of it like a clogged sink drain – but worse. This kind of clog can cause your machine to overheat. The heat from inside the dryer, mixed with the highly-ignitable material such as lint or even material from a bird’s nest, can cause a fire. This can be hazardous, or even worse – fatal.
ONLY YOU CAN PREVENT CLOTHES DRYER FIRES
Now is a good time to ask yourself, “When was the last time I had a thorough cleaning?”
The U.S. Fire Administration (USFA) estimates there are 2,900 clothes-dryer fires in residential buildings in the United States each year, resulting in five deaths and $35 million in property damage. Many of these situations are preventable.
That brings me to one last area of concern, and I cannot stress this one enough. It has to do with the practice of running your machine while you’re away. I’ll leave you with these two closing tips.
- Don’t ever run your clothes dryer while you are out of the house – even if you’re just going out to check the mail.
- Never, ever, run your dryer when you are asleep.
Remember, “Every Second Counts” is the theme for this year’s Fire Prevention Week. Turn your back or close your eyes for a minute or longer, and your troubles grow larger and larger. It’s best to be there and be prepared to catch potential disaster quickly.
If there’s anything you’d like to contribute to this article, let me know your thoughts. We want to know. Please feel free to send a comment.