DEAR MIKE: I had my clothes dryer serviced because my clothes took longer and longer to dry. The technician said to have the dryer vent checked because it might be clogged and this makes the dryer less efficient. How difficult and/or dangerous is this? -- Dawn G.
DEAR DAWN: It is neither difficult nor dangerous, so long as you take the right precautions.
According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, there are more than 15,000 fires per year started by clothes dryers.
A full load of wet clothes carries about one-half gallon of water. The dryer removes the water from the clothing, producing lint, a combustible material.
If you don't clean the lint traps often (like every time you use the dryer) you run the risk of the lint building up, getting into the vent and even into the cabinet of the dryer. This is where the burner or heating element and the motor are located.
A buildup of lint reduces the airflow and can cause the dryer to run at a higher temperature. This, of course, is bad. You will have to run the dryer longer, and since dryers are one of the most expensive appliances to operate, it will cost you more money.
The extra heat and added drying time probably aren't good for your clothes, either. The short answer is to maintain your dryer by cleaning the lint trap with each use and periodically clean out the vent and cabinet.
To clean the cabinet, the first thing to do is to unplug the dryer. If you have a gas dryer, also shut off the gas valve behind the dryer. This valve sits at the end of a rigid pipe coming out of the wall. Turn the handle so that it is perpendicular to the valve.
To get into the cabinet, find the manufacturer's removable panel. You may have to unscrew it or it may just pop off with a little force.
You will likely have lint on the bottom and sides of the cabinet. Clean it off using a clean rag or use a vacuum cleaner with a brush attachment on it. The most important places to clean are around the motor and the burner or heating element.
Next, disconnect the vent and pull the dryer away from the wall. You will need a four-inch dryer vent brush, a round brush attached to a long flexible snake.
Stick the brush through the exterior opening and push. The opening will either be through the wall or up on the roof.
If the opening is on the roof, you will need to remove the vent cap.
If the opening is through the wall, there will be a hood that covers the vent. The brush may fit through the hood or you may have to remove it from the wall.
When you have access to the vent, push the brush down the duct. As it moves through the vent, it will brush the sides and loosen the lint. Some of the lint will stick to the brush. Push the brush until it comes out of the other side of the vent.
Clean out the debris that the brush will bring with it and then clean off the brush. Pull the brush back out and clean it off again. Do this several times until the brush comes out clean.
Push the dryer back in place and reconnect the vent, turn the gas back on, and plug the dryer back in.
Incidentally, it is recommended that all-metal venting be used. Many homes have the foil connections that easily collapse when you push the dryer back in place.
If you have this type of connection and you don't want to install the all-metal type, make sure that the foil venting material maintains its shape and doesn't get squished. They are convenient, but they can also dramatically reduce the airflow.