Your clothes dryer is a little-noticed, taken for granted, kind of appliance that is mainly set-and-forget, until the buzzer or chime sounds. When it malfunctions there can be a cascade of problems from wet clothes to house fires. Proper maintenance will help keep it in that set-and-forget place, as well as save energy, time, and frustration, and ensuring safe operation.
There are four main aspects of dryer maintenance. For a dryer, maintenance is spelled LINTY.
- Clean - Lint filter: The lint filter will need washing more often usually every 3-6 months. And the surface lint on the filter should be removed every time the machine is used or at least once per day.
- Clean - INside of the exhaust ducts and INside the machine cabinet (a real fire hazard)
- Airflow issues - Test airflow and inspect for crushed or torn ducts if possible.
- Regularity - Yearly, clean the machine and inspect the ducts as indicated. Scrub the lint filter.
We will look at these issues in this order, as they are moving from easiest to more difficult.
Clean the Lint Filter
There is more to cleaning a lint filter than just swiping off the lint. Of course you should do that, but you should also go further.
The way a dryer is constructed, it relies on atmospheric pressure to circulate air through the dryer. The blower is not pushing air into the dryer, it is "pulling" it through.
For lint filters: there is cleaned, there is washed, and then there is scrubbed. Any filter can still slow airflow even when all the visible lint is removed. We want the "scrubbed" level for our full maintenance.
- Do you have a fine fabric mesh lint filter? These screens can have dirt that is glued to the screen because it is a kind of waxy residue. Also, very fine lint and dust will stay in place unless it is carefully rubbed off.
- Do you have the long screen type filter? This waxy clogging can also happen with coarse filters, like these.
- The waxy deposit is related to using dryer fabric softener sheets and in some cases liquid fabric softeners.
- A useful test for this waxy residue is to put a small amount of water on your lint filter and see if the water puddles or beads up. If it flows right through you are ok,
- You will want to clean the filter using warm water and liquid dish soap and a soft bristle brush. A soft toothbrush is good.
- You may need to repeat the process with a stronger detergent, You might have to soak the lint screen in detergent and water for a time, then scrub it afterward. Here's a good video on cleaning lint screens.
- Avoid operating your dryer if the lint filter is damaged, has missing parts o,r has a hole in it. Get a replacement immediately.
- As part of cleaning the lint filter, you should also clean the area where the filter is located on the machine.
- Pieces of lint will fall off into the filter housing area, and they can be drawn into the blower.
- These can be cleaned with a vacuum cleaner with a small crevice tool.
- There are also special semi-flexible long crevice tools that can clean the filter area of the long screen-type filters.
Clean Inside the Ducts
The next item to tackle in maintaining your dryer is to clean the exhaust ducts. Clean the duct coming out of the rear of the dryer which may be a flexible segment, and the ducts located in the wall or under the floor.
- There are brushes with flexible rod segments that can be used to clean the ducts. They work best when spun with a small electric drill. Here's a guide to using this method.
- It is important to be able to clean the duct from end to end. Make sure you can see that you reached the far end of the duct.
- Remove any screens or flaps or push them out of the way at the end of the duct. You don't want to create a clog by pushing the lint and debris into a pile there.
- If you can't get to or clearly see the outlet of the vent easily (like it is on a roof or up on a second story), consider hiring a professional to do the cleaning.
- There are several methods for cleaning the duct besides the round rotary brush. Given the clingy nature of the lint, however, using a brush or other physical means to remove it is best.
- It is possible to pull a rag or rags through a duct with a rope or cord, but screws or narrowed portions of the pipe where joints occur can be a problem.
- Be patient, gentle, and persistent when doing this, especially if the cleaning device is having a hard time moving forward. You might be moving a clog.
Clean Inside the Cabinet
Your dryer will also accumulate lint inside the cabinet or housing. Unplug the dryer.
- The way to clean is to open up the cabinet or housing and use a vacuum cleaner to suck up the lint.
- Better still is to also remove the drum so you can get to the bottom of the machine where the lint will settle.
- A brush is helpful to dislodge the lint as you vacuum, especially on the motor.
- This is a good time to take off the blower housing cover and clean out the lint from there. Check to see that the blower wheel is clean, nothing is lodged there and it spins freely.
- Also, clean the exhaust ducting inside the dryer while everything is open. Use a soft round brush inside the ducting so you don't damage anything in the duct.
- Be thorough; get every bit you can from every place you can.
- Reassemble the dryer for the next step.
Airflow and Duct Condition Check
When everything is cleaned you should check the airflow, especially if you had difficulty getting cleaning tools through the duct. Connect your dryer to the exhaust duct and move it back to its normal operating location, then go outside to observe the airflow.
- Stand back at first because a lot of loosened debris will probably come out of the exhaust opening, and it may take a little while to do so.
- If after cleaning, the airflow is low or nonexistent when the dryer is running, the duct may have come apart from the cleaning operation, or a large clog has shifted.
- Possibly, the exhaust duct from the dryer to the wall exhaust has fallen off. Check this first.
- Repeat the cleaning process. and note carefully any places where you can't get the cleaning tools to move freely. This will help if you need professional assistance.
- If you can see the duct (as when it's in a crawlspace) take a look for corrosion and crushing.
- Crushing is especially common with the flexible duct pieces that connect the dryer to the outside exhaust duct. When you are moving the machine take care not to pinch this duct.