Many of us often take the convenience of a dryer for granted. After all, dryers are tucked away in the laundry room, only to be used for a single purpose: doing that dreaded pile of laundry. However, the convenience of a clothes dryer is highly dependent on the maintenance it receives — and this quickly becomes apparent when something is amiss with the appliance, or worst of all, when it causes a fire.
In other words: If your dryer isn't kept clean, it could spell trouble. Here are some essential cleaning tips for maintaining your machine and why you absolutely must do so.
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Why You Must Clean Your Dryer
Dryer cleaning, whether for a gas or electric dryer, is crucial for removing stains and mildew from your machine's inner workings so your dryer produces clothes that are ready to wear. But more important, maintaining and keeping the venting components of your dryer free from lint, debris, and other buildup is absolutely critical to reducing the very real possibility of starting a fire.
A buildup of dryer lint, which is responsible for roughly a third of all dryer fires, is highly combustible. And when combined with the heat of a dryer it can reach the temperature at which it can ignite, making it a huge fire hazard.
Here's how to keep your dryer clean and properly maintained:
Things You'll Need
How to Clean a Dryer Properly
Thoroughly cleaning your dryer can take a couple of hours. You don't need to perform all of these tasks each time you use your dryer or even each time you clean it. However, remaining vigilant and dealing with stains, smells, and stray lint as they happen goes a long way toward keeping your dryer running as it should.
1. Identify and Locate Dryer Parts
Before thoroughly cleaning your dryer, it's beneficial to identify and locate the parts of your dryer that require regular maintenance and cleaning. Find the parts in the chart below. If you can't locate a part, consult your owner's manual for your particular model.
Dryer Part Locations
Where to Find It
Large container where clothes are placed for drying
Located inside dryer door in front of the drum
Located on top of the machine; look for a small panel with a lifting handle or slot
Lint Trap Housing
Metal or plastic cavity that contains the lint filter screen
Two metal strips, several inches long, usually located at the edge of the drum near the lint trap or at the back of the drum (old dryers may not have them)
Exhaust Vent Pipe
Large metal or vinyl duct pipe (possibly flexible pipe) extending from the rear of the machine. It may be wrapped in insulation, connected to another large pipe in the wall, or extended to a visible exterior vent.
2. Clean the Filter Screen
You'll find your dryer's filter screen in the top of the machine under a panel or inside the door. Become familiar with this particular dryer part. It requires attention every single time you operate the dryer. If too much lint builds up on the filter screen, your dryer will struggle to move air through the exhaust vent, affecting its ability to dry your clothing.
At the very least, the filter screen requires minimal cleaning between clothing loads. Take out the lint screen and remove lint from the screen with your fingers. Mop up additional lint with a used dryer sheet, if you have one.
Perform a thorough cleaning once every couple of weeks or each month to remove buildup of reside from dryer sheets or fabric softener as well as stuck-on lint residue. Use a vacuum with a brush attachment to remove as much of the lint residue as possible. Take the filter to a sink and scrub it gently with an old toothbrush or soft-bristle brush dipped in a solution of dish soap and warm water to brush away all remaining residue. Rinse the filter thoroughly under clean water and lay it out to dry.
3. Clean the Lint Trap Housing
While the filter screen is drying, clean the lint trap housing with the vacuum and a crevice tool. Twist the tool back and forth while raising and lowering it within the housing. If necessary, shine a flashlight into the cavity to verify that all of the lint and debris have been removed. Reinstall the filter screen once it's completely dry.
4. Clean the Dryer Drum
Once a month, wipe down the inside of the dryer's drum to remove dryer sheet residue and any lingering lint or debris. Mix 1 part white vinegar with 1 part water in a spray bottle. Spray the entire interior surface of the drum and wipe dry with a lint-free cloth rag. Leave the machine's door open for a while until it dries completely.
5. Clean the Moisture Sensors
Modern clothes dryers are equipped with moisture sensors. Typically, there are two of them located just inside the machine's door at the edge near the lint trap or on the back wall of the drum. They are typically several inches long and made of metal; they sense the moisture level inside the drum and work with the dryer's timer function to shut off the drying cycle when the clothes are dry. Dirty moisture sensors can fail to signal when your clothing is dry, resulting in the dryer stopping before the clothes or increasing drying time and wasting energy or damaging clothing.
To clean the moisture sensors, douse a cotton ball with isopropyl alcohol and rub the exposed area of the sensors. Perform the task once every three months or so or if you notice that the sensor-dry function isn't working properly.
6. Clean the Exhaust Vent Pipe
Once a year, you must thoroughly clean the inside of your exhaust vent pipe or hire someone to perform the job. Regularly cleaning the inside of the pipe is crucial to prevent lint and debris buildup that could lead to an inoperable dryer or a house fire. Before starting, make sure the dryer is off, then unplug it from the outlet and turn off the gas (for gas dryer models).
Pull the dryer away from the wall several inches or enough to allow you easy access to the exhaust pipe.
- You'll need to disconnect the dryer vent pipe to clean it. First, determine how the pipe is connected and detach it from the machine. If it has a large hose clamp around the pipe, use a screwdriver to loosen the clamp and slide the pipe off its fitting. If the pipe is held on with foil tape, peel back the tape with your fingers or pliers or cut it free by dragging a utility knife around the junction between the pipe and the fitting on the back of the dryer.
- If both ends of the pipe are accessible, consider disconnecting both ends and removing the entire duct section.
- Use your vacuum's hose to suck the lint out of the exhaust fitting on the back of the dryer.
- Attach a dryer vent cleaning brush to your electric drill and carefully insert the brush into the detached vent pipe.
- Engage the drill forward or clockwise to spin the brush within the pipe.
- Continue inserting the brush deeper as you go, stopping and adding extension sections one at a time as needed until you reach the end of the vent pipe.
- Remove the brush by continuing to spin the drill in the same direction while gently pulling the brush out, removing sections of the apparatus as you go.
- Vacuum up the lint and debris after the brush is fully removed. If there's lint behind the dryer, give it a quick vacuum for general tidiness.
- Reattach the vent pipe to the dryer with the clamp or by rewrapping it with foil tape.
- Push the unit back into place, plug in the power cord and turn on the gas, as applicable.
- If you can reach the exterior exhaust vent housing on the outside of the house, clean any lint that is stuck to it with a brush or cloth.
Always run the drill in forward (clockwise) rotation. Running it in reverse can cause the brush extensions to unscrew and separate, leaving them stuck inside the dryer vent duct.
Common Dryer Stains and Smells
Regular cleaning and maintenance of your laundry dryer will keep it working its best. However, you could run into several problem scenarios that you'll also need to address. Here are some common stains and smells that may occasionally show up and how to deal with each situation.
Common Dryer Smells and Stains
Lint or debris trapped in dryer or exhaust venting
Thoroughly clean the lint trap and exhaust pipe.
Lint accumulation in the dryer duct or wet clothes left in the dryer drum for long periods of time
Wipe the inside of the drum with a cloth dampened with white vinegar; open the door to let the drum dry, then dry a load of washed light-colored towels, and leave the door open afterward. Clean the dryer duct annually. Avoid leaving damp laundry sitting in the dryer for too long.
Dead animal smell
Rodent or bird may have died in the exhaust vent; possible dirty exhaust vent
Remove the animal from the exhaust vent or hire a pro to remove it. Thoroughly clean the exhaust pipe.
Install a laundry exhaust cover on the exhaust vent to block animal entry, but check the cover frequently for lint blockage.
Could be lint in the exhaust or filter or a more serious problem
Unplug the dryer and check for excessive lint buildup on the filter screen and in the exhaust. If these are relatively clean, call a pro for inspection and repair.
Ink, crayon, candy stains
An ink pen, a crayon, or candy likely fell from clothing
Remove ink from inside the dryer drum using a cloth and rubbing alcohol. Use a plastic spatula and lubricating spray to remove crayon. Use heat from a blow dryer, a plastic spatula, and an all-purpose cleanser to remove hardened candy.