How to clean out a dryer vent – and when to do it

Tackle this task at least once a year to ensure clothes dry properly and prevent a fire risk

Dryer vent brush approaching dryer vent
(Image credit: Alamy)

There are plenty of DIY tasks that you can do yourself around the home and cleaning the clothes dryer vent is one of them. As well as allowing laundry to dry properly and effectively, it’s also a safety must, as clogged and dirty vents are one of the leading causes of domestic fires in the US. 

Spend a few hours at least once a year – more if it becomes clogged – and clothes dry quicker and more evenly. If the vent does get clogged and it’s not cleaned out, you could be running the risk of your dryer overheating, which can start a fire pretty quickly. 

To clean out a dryer vent, all you need is a vacuum cleaner with a long hose attachment and a brush to remove stubborn lint from the vent.

So whether you want to dry a comforter or clothes, you can discover how to clean dryer vent in this simple guide.

How to clean a dryer vent

For families of four or more or households that use their dryer more than the average person, it might be a good idea to clean out your dryer vent twice a year. It’s also never a bad idea to have a professional come to clean and inspect to ensure that everything is still safe and running well. However, it’s really easy to clean out a dyer vent yourself and it shouldn’t take more than an hour or so. 

Before you start, make sure you wear a mask, safety goggles and rubber gloves as well as old clothes.

You will need:

1. Unplug the dryer, disconnect the duct

‘The first step you need to take is to pull out your dryer and unplug it,’ says Rick Berres, owner of Honey-Doers. ‘Then, you’ll disconnect the duct, where the real cleaning will take place.'

2. Vacuum the duct

'For the vent on the dryer, you can simply use a vacuum to get most of the dust out of the vent. Turning toward the duct on the wall, you can vacuum the inside of it, but you should know that the duct goes far back and an occasional deep cleaning is a good idea. For a general vent cleaning, you can stop here and put it back together,' says Rick Berres.

In most cases, a vacuum with a long hose attachment will do the job – even better if it’s a HEPA vacuum.

3. Go deep with a duct cleaning kit

'To get into the duct, you can purchase duct cleaning kits that come with flexible rods that will clean deep into the duct. You attach the end to a drill and it will spin a brush going into the duct. This is a great way to take your dryer maintenance into your own hands. When you are finished, you merely need to reattach the duct, plug it in and you’re good to go,’ says Rick.

If you are thinking of buying a DIY kit, always check the quality carefully first – Amazon's Holikme kit is highly rated. ‘While you can buy rod and brush kits from local hardware stores to clean your dryer vent, you must be careful due to the poor quality of most DIY kits,’ advises Christos Philippou, owner and technician at Dryer Vent Cleaning of Delaware. ‘Rods can easily break or twist off while inside the vent, making the whole process even more challenging.’

4. Tackle the exterior

Vacuuming should get rid of most of the lint and debris and then a dryer vent brush should be used to clean any remaining lint and dirt off the walls of the vent. Once you’ve cleaned the inside you can tackle the outside. Use a thin wire brush to get rid of any clogged-up lint and clean the vent cover with warm water and dish soap. Dry thoroughly then reattach.

Do you clean a dryer vent from inside or out?

Whether you clean a dryer vent from the inside or out depends on whether you want a thorough job or less hassle. Cleaning the vent from the inside allows you to remove all lint and debris but you’ll need to disconnect the dryer from the vent first, which can be awkward. If you clean it from the outside, you won’t have to disconnect, which is simpler, but you won’t remove all the dirt from inside. Whichever way you tackle it, use a vacuum with a long hose attachment. Take the lint trap off the dryer and vacuum the lint out. Then disconnect the dryer vent from the wall and vacuum out the vent and the area surrounding it.

‘You can clean the dryer vent from either the inside or outside,’ confirms Chris Alexakis, founder of CabinetSelect. ‘However, it is generally recommended that you do so from the outside. This is because cleaning the vent from the inside can be difficult and there is a greater risk of harming yourself or damaging the dryer.’

Can I clean a dryer vent myself?

You can clean a dryer vent yourself, but if after vacuuming and brushing to remove any stubborn lint or dirt, there are still clogs stuck in the vent, it is time to call in the experts.

How can I tell if my dryer vent is clogged?

As well as regular maintenance cleaning, you’ll also need to thoroughly clean your dryer vent if it becomes clogged. You’ll know if this has happened if clothes take longer to dry and feel really hot when they come out. Also, the vent itself may feel hotter than normal. Another tell-tale sign is if lint or dirt comes out of the vent. This is all because the clogged vent harnesses the moisture from the dryer and doesn’t release it properly, which in turn makes the laundry and the vent too hot.

‘There are different unmistakable signs your dryer vent is clogged,’ explains Stacey Kane, business development lead at EasyMerchant. ‘The first sign is when your clothes feel hot to the touch after drying. The dryer itself may also feel hot. This means that moisture and hot air can't properly dissipate, causing the machine to get very hot. Moisture can cause mold growth, which can be a health concern if not addressed quickly. 

'Another sign is when you can see a build-up of lint or debris outside the dryer flap or in the dryer hose. This is an indication that the dryer ducts should be cleaned immediately. Dust and debris can attract rodents and pests and these may even cause a fire because lint and fabric fuzz are highly flammable.’

Another indicator is if your clothes take a lot longer to dry than usual, as Christos Philippou, owner and technician at Dryer Vent Cleaning of Delaware explains: ‘Most people will complain that they are running their dryer multiple cycles for their clothes to dry. This is due to a lack of airflow coming out of the dryer vent and moisture cannot escape. Another excellent way to test the performance of your dryer vent exhaust is through the use of an anemometer. This will test the velocity of air coming out of your dryer vent. Most dryers will produce at least 1500 feet/minute of airflow. Anything else than this may indicate you have an obstruction or clog.’

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

It’s not generally recommended to clean a dryer vent with a leaf blower, as they aren’t powerful enough to remove all the lint and debris and can actually damage the vent. They can also blow dirt back into the vent instead, which can cause clogging and blockage. If you are tempted to use one, make sure you also use a vacuum cleaner afterwards.

How often should I clean a dryer vent?

You should clean your dryer vent at least once a year. For families and heavier use, do it every six months. You should also clean it twice a year if you have pets. Lint building up in the vent not only makes laundry take longer to dry but it can also be a fire hazard so make sure this is one job you keep on top of.

Hayley Gilbert
Contributing Editor

Hayley is an interiors journalist, content provider and copywriter with 26 years experience who has contributed to a wide range of consumer magazines, trade titles, newspapers, blogs and online content. Specialising in kitchens and bathrooms, she has twice won the CEDIA Award for Best Technology feature. Hayley writes for H&G about kitchens, bathrooms, cleaning, DIY and organizing.