If your dryer is still producing heat, but taking longer and longer to dry clothes, the exhaust duct may be clogged with lint, birds’ nests and/or other debris.
This is a no-win situation! It’s hard on the dryer, frustrating for you, and–in the case of a gas-fueled dryer– possibly life threatening. Lint and flue gases use the same avenue of exit from the house. A blocked vent can cause poisonous carbon monoxide (CO) fumes to back up into the house. These fumes are colorless and odorless and they can be fatal. CO poisoning symptoms mimic those of flu (without the fever): headache, weakness, nausea, disorientation and deep fatigue. You can fall asleep, lapse into a coma, and die.
If you have an electric clothes dryer, you need not worry about carbon monoxide, but a plugged-up exhaust duct is bad news!
The fire hazard
With both types of dryers, heat that builds up and cannot escape presents a safety hazard. Clothes dryers do catch on fire.
Many chimney sweeps service dryer vents, using special equipment for the job–a round brush the right size, with a long flexible handle to reach far into the vent pipe or ductwork.
More and more often these days, you’ll find sweeps routinely adding this maintenance job to their annual visit to clean and service chimneys and heating-system flues of all types. (if your local sweep does not offer this service, perhaps an air duct cleaning company can help.)
An ounce of prevention ..
The National Fire Protection Association recommends that all flues be inspected and serviced on an annual basis. The non-profit Chimney Safety Institute of America (CSIA) also stresses the importance of a yearly “chimney check.”
Some dryer vents/ducts need attention more often, depending on how heavily they are used, what they’re made of and how and when they were installed.
Don’t wait until clothes take forever to dry before you have your dryer serviced. Otherwise, you may wear it out long before its time, or be living with a fire or CO poisoning hazard in your home.
The benefits of regular maintenance are twofold: a more energy-efficient dryer and enhanced safety.
A family in California could not locate the source of a horrible smell. The clothes dryer wasn’t working right, either, so they called their sweep. He found a dead rat, plus an accumulation of lint that had blocked the opening.
A do-it-yourself project?
Could this be a routine little chore for the home handyman? Sure, if you are willing to invest in the necessary equipment, and if you don’t run into a situation that makes it strictly a job for a professional. If the exhaust duct is a short run and was put in not too long ago, there should be no problem.
However, installed as an afterthought, the exhaust duct or vent may have to be traced and accessed from the crawl space, through the bowels of the house or from the attic.
If the vent pipe is inside the wall, sections could have vibrated apart, spilling out lint and moisture.
Holes must be cut into the wall in order to inspect, clean out, repair or replace it. This is certainly no job for an amateur.
The duct or vent pipe may need to be made of better material, without rough edges that catch and trap the lint. Perhaps it’s just worn out, or mashed, and has outlived its usefulness. Rigid metal duct is best, because flexible plastic can kink or sag. (Plastic is illegal to use in some states, due to the fire hazard.)
An end cap is needed
The exhaust duct should have an end cap to prevent air from entering the house through the clothes dryer, save energy, and keep out birds, rodents and bugs. Birds’ nests can block the opening and are also quite flammable.
One such end cap has a floating shuttle that rises to let moist air and lint escape while. the dryer is running, then drops back down to seal the opening shut. Sweeps often carry dryer-duct end caps and flue caps for vent pipe on the company truck.
Cleaning out the duct or vent pipe could prove to be “a piece of cake.” But do keep your chimney sweep’s phone number handy, just in case! –,Jay Hensley
Reprinted, with permission, from the July 2000 issue of SNEWS, The Chimney Sweep’s Newsmagazine, an independent trade magazine for chimney service professionals, 3737 Pine Grove Road, Klamath Falls, OR 97603 USA; 541-882-5196. Jim Gillam, editor/publisher.