Sunday, September 2, 2007

Unclog a dryer vent clogged with laundry lint

Ever had your clothes dryer turn off well before your clothes are dry? Likewise, have you noticed lint built up on the wall behind your dryer? If either of these are occurring, it’s time to take a look at the lint within your dryer exhaust for possible clogs.

This project is a little different for Old Home Blog because it wasn’t performed on my 1939 Cape Cod. My friend Rob recently asked me what I knew about dryers. He had done some reading online about why his dryer would turn off shortly after starting. Essentially, he feared his dryer exhaust was clogged resulting in his dryer turning off prior to overheating. Lucky for him, his modern dryer has a thermostat which will cut its power if it gets too hot. Imagine if his dryer didn’t have an automatic shut off for overheating and he had thrown a load of laundry in the dryer and left the house for the day. I imagine 15 or 20 years ago his house would be a pile of ashes right now.

Prior to going to Rob’s house, he gave me the following prognosis of the dryer vent:
His laundry room is on the first floor of his ranch home.
The dryer exhaust vent goes into the wall, then up to a vent on his roof.
As if the vertical rise of the dryer vent isn’t bad enough, once the vent goes into the wall, it makes an immediate 90-degree turn to the left before going vertical. This turn to the left made it hard for Rob to maneuver any type of cleaning device into the exhaust duct. Rob had tried a dryer vent cleaning kit that he had purchased from the local Ace Hardware, but he couldn’t get the “brush on a wire rod” to work around the goofy 90-degree corner in his wall.

With all of this in mind, I set off for Rob’s house with only my electrician fish tape and a roll of duct tape. Since the design of the dryer exhaust duct made it difficult to get any traditional dryer duct cleaning device into the space, I figured I might be able to work the fish tape up into the space and see if I could loosen the clog.

To get started, I wrapped some duct tape around the end of the fish tape with the sticky side out in an attempt to loosen any big lint balls clogging the dry duct. The photo on the right shows me working the fish tape up into the dryer exhaust vent. Click on that image to see the larger version and you’ll notice that my plan resulted in some minor success. You’ll also notice the lint on the wall behind the dryer. I assume that since the vent was clogged, any small gap in the dryer exhaust hose (between the dryer and the exhaust hole in the wall) was blowing whatever lint could make it out of the hole into the room. I guess the lint on the all could have been Rob’s first sign of a problem, but in all fairness, when was the last time you looked behind your dryer for signs of a problem?

Since working from the dryer port in the laundry room wasn’t resulting in much success, I decided to take the project to the roof. The photo to the right shows me trying to loosen the dryer clog from the roof. In hindsight, I could ask the same question you might be asking yourself right now: why am I the one on Rob’s roof, and not Rob? Good question.

The fish tape really wasn’t doing anything notable, so Rob and I hatched another plan to loosen his dryer vent clog: forced air. Rob has an electric leaf blower, so we decided to see if using forced air through the dryer exhaust hole would move enough of the lint up and out of the vent on the roof. We worked from the exhaust hole in the laundry room. We put the end of the leaf blower into the dryer vent and I held it in place with an old towel. (The towel would keep the lint from flying back into my face!) I gave Rob a nod and he turned on the power.

Wow, it worked! The photo to the right shows the results up on Rob’s roof. You can see that using the leaf blower not only unclogged the vent, it was powerful enough to blow the lint a good six feet from the vent. The forced air was the best way to clean out the clog dryer vent in Rob’s house. Since the dryer exhaust vent took two turns (the 90-degree turn mentioned above, plus another jog once it got up into the attic) plus had to climb well over 12 feet to the vent on the roof, I have a feeling that cleaning the dryer vent of lint is a task that Rob will need to perform on a regular basis.

Checking your dryer vent for clogs is a task you should consider doing a couple of times a year. Remember how you see ad campaigns around Daylight Savings Time reminding you to change the batteries in your smoke detector? That bi-annual event would also be a good time to check your dryer exhaust for clogs. If you think about it, the two go hand in hand: Keeping your dyer vent clean will keep your smoke detector from going off.