If your clothes take forever and a day to dry, it might be high time you learned how to clean the dryer vents. Ask yourself, honestly, when was the last time you did it. Maybe never? No, we’re not talking about the screen inside the dryer. We’re talking about the silver tube that carries all that hot, wet air outside.

These vents can get clogged with lint, which will keep your dryer from functioning properly. As a result, the dryer will not only take longer to dry clothes, it will also jack up your electric bill and your risk of a house fire. It’s kind of a lose-lose-lose proposition. According to the U.S. Fire Administration, there are about 2,900 dryer fires a year, and they cause an estimated five deaths, 100 injuries, and $35 million in property loss. The leading cause of those fires? Failure to clean dryer vents.

If that doesn’t get you running toward your dryer, we don’t know what will.

OK, we’ve done our part, now you do yours. Here are the steps, plus pics, on how to clean those dryer vents.

Tools you’ll need

  • Screwdriver or nut driver
  • Dryer vent brushes
  • Vacuum cleaner with hose

Step No. 1: Unplug your dryer

Pull your dryer out a foot or two for easier access, and unplug it. This is extremely important, especially for those of you who like being alive. If your dryer runs on gas, carefully disconnect that as well.

Step No. 2: Disconnect the vent and clean the area around it

On the back of your dryer, there is a clamp that’s attached to the vent. Undo that clamp with a screwdriver or nut driver, then slide the vent off.

Remove the vent from the back of the dryer.
Remove the vent from the back of the dryer.

Reach into the opening in the back of the dryer and clear out the lint there. You might want to insert a vacuum hose to extract everything.

Step No. 3: Clean the vent from inside your home

The dirtiest parts of the dryer vent are the foot or two on each end. Greenleaning consultant Leslie Reichert recommends using a dryer vent brush (she likes this Casabella brush) to clean inside the vent to remove built-up lint. Clean as far down as possible; to clean even deeper, you can use a brush with a long, flexible handle (say, about 10 feet long).

“Work the brush up inside as far as you can go,” she says. “The brush will latch onto the lint and drag it out of the vent pipes.”

After that, you could insert the attachment hose of a vacuum cleaner into the vent to pull out any remaining dust and lint.

Vacuum up the lint from the dryer vent.
Vacuum up the lint from the dryer vent.

Reattach the vent to the dryer and tighten the clamp back on. Be careful not to push the dryer back too close to the wall, Reichert warns, because that can collapse the vent and cut off exhaust.

Step No. 4: Clean the vent from outside

If you live in a house, you probably have access to your dryer vent from the outside. Start by removing the vent cover, unscrewing it and removing any caulk with a utility knife as needed.

Reach into the vent with a brush and remove built-up lint. If you have an outdoor vacuum, insert the hose to vacuum out lint from there as well. Clean lint from the cover.

Remove the cover from the outdoor dryer vent.
Remove the cover from the outdoor dryer vent.

Before replacing the cover, return to the dryer, plug it back in, and run it on fluff for a few minutes. This will help blow out any loosened lint. After about 10 minutes, turn the dryer off, place the cover back on the outside vent, and recaulk the edges to keep out drafts.

While you’re cleaning the vent, you might want to throw the dryer screen in the dishwasher. Why?

“The dryer screen gets clogged with fabric softener and oils from dryer sheets,” says Reichert. Those oils can also prevent safe airflow. She prefers to use fabric softener sparingly and avoids dryer sheets for this reason.

If all goes well and you’ve done your job right, your dryer should be in good shape. Reichert recommends cleaning your dryer vents seasonally, or four times a year, even if you can see exhaust coming from the outside vent. Better to be safe than sorry, right?