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How often you should clean your dryer — and the right way to do it

Is your dryer in tip-top shape? Here's how to make sure.
Vivian Le/ TODAY
/ Source: TODAY

Just like Joni Mitchell said, we don’t know what we’ve got until it’s gone — and that goes for the miracle that is a properly working clothes dryer.

Tim Smith of Chimney Sweeps of America is an Angi-recommended dryer vent cleaner, and he’s breaking down what you need to know about properly cleaning this appliance, including how to maintain filters, drums and vents. We also spoke to Nelly Martinez, Whirlpool's senior brand manager, on her suggestions and insight. These tips will not only maintain your dryer’s efficiency, but also prevent the appliance from breaking down.

Are you supposed to clean your dryer? | How often should you clean dryer vents? | What happens if you don't clean your dryer? | How do I know if my dryer vent needs cleaning? | How to clean your dryer vents | How to clean dryer lint traps and drums | The best products for cleaning your dryer

Are you supposed to clean your dryer?

"Yes! Each part of your dryer requires different cleaning and maintenance requirements," says Martinez.

How often should you clean dryer vents?

Dryer exhaust vents should be inspected and cleaned at least once a year, depending on the size of the household and dryer usage. “I have four children and do lots of laundry, so I clean it three times a year,” says Smith.

What happens if you don't clean your dryer?

Unfortunately, many times our dryers break because we haven’t properly maintained them. Sure, we swipe the thick layer of lint from the filter now and then, but there’s so much more to do.

"Your dryer will likely not function as well if you do not clean the vent properly, and could potentially damage the appliance or improperly dry your clothing," explains Martinez.

Dryer vents accumulate highly flammable lint and failure to clean out lint is the leading cause of dryer fires. According to the National Fire Protection Agency, nearly 14,000 dryer fires occurred in the U.S. each year between 2014 and 2018. A plugged dryer vent can also burn out the heating element.

How do I know if my dryer vent needs cleaning?

A telltale sign that the dryer vent needs cleaning is that your clothes take longer to dry.

“When it takes two to three cycles to dry a load of towels, it’s time to check things out,” Smith says.

Another indication of poor or obstructed venting is that the dryer’s external cabinet or its control area is hotter than usual. If that happens, disconnect the dryer and check the vent. Also, if you notice residue and lint buildup, it’s likely time to clean your dryer vent, says Martinez.

How to clean your dryer vents

Visually inspect the outside vent opening and remove any obstructions — usually these are prime locations for animal nests. Vents at the ground level are perfect for rodent nests (we're talking chipmunks, squirrels and rats). Upper level vents are more attractive to birds.

Next, tackle the lint. There are several options for removing lint buildup:

Whichever method you use, it’s important to remove lint throughout the entire length of the vent.

But wait! You’re not finished yet. After removing the lint from the vent, also check the area behind the dryer— the floor, under the dryer and the back of the cabinet specifically.

“The air being pulled into the dryer comes from behind the dryer,” says Smith. “If there’s lint around there, it will be drawn into the dryer, causing further buildup in the vent.”

Yikes! Does all this sound too complicated? You may consider hiring a pro to do it. According to Smith, the average price of a professional dryer cleaning runs $89-$179.

How to clean dryer lint traps and drums

Cleaning your lint traps and drums isn't too difficult, but you should still make sure you're cleaning them regularly.

"Lint screens can be cleaned by hand after each load, but for a deep clean, we recommend a nylon brush, hot water and liquid detergent," Martinez says.

How to clean a dryer filter

Let’s tackle the easiest chore first. We all know that dryer filters should be cleaned after each use. However, your filter may still be clogged if you use fabric softener sheets in the dryer.

Test your dryer filter by clearing it of lint, then pouring a small amount of water onto the filter screen. If the water pools up instead of flowing through the screen, wash the screen in warm, soapy water using a brush. Rinse, retest and repeat until the water flows through.

How to clean a dryer drum

The dryer drum usually doesn’t need cleaning unless you’re drying a load of hairy pet items or gritty play clothes. In those cases, try to shake the hair and grit off the articles before tossing them into the dryer. After the load is dry, wipe out the drum with a damp cloth to remove hair and grit.

Should lipstick, gum, crayon, etc. accidentally find their way into your dryer, it’s OK to scream. After you cool down, however, follow this advice from Debra Johnson, national home cleaning expert at Merry Maids.

“Get the stuff off by warming the dryer for a few minutes. (Toss in a couple old towels or rags first.) Remove the excess by scraping it off with a hard rubber spatula. Tackle the remaining residue by wiping the area with a cloth dampened with a small amount of laundry detergent and hot water. Use a dry cloth to remove any excess water or suds,” she suggests.

The best products for cleaning your dryer

You don't need more than a couple of handy gadgets to get your dryer in good working condition again! Here are some of our favorites.

Sealegend Dryer Vent Cleaner Kit

"We recommend using a dryer cleaning brush with a vacuum to get the inside of your dryer vent clean," says Martinez.

This attachment with 18,000 verified five-star ratings is compatible with most vacuum models and is an efficient way to clean your dryer vent. One Shop TODAY writer also had raves about its performance, saying, "I couldn’t believe all of that had been trapped in my dryer. And the kit seemed to work so speedily; I didn’t even see any of that debris zoom through the tube. It was satisfying to see how powerful the cleaning kit was and how much lint it was able to pick up.

Homexcel Microfiber Cleaning Cloths

Microfiber cleaning cloths are handy for more than just cleaning your dryer; they're great for cleaning jobs all over your house!

Estilo Ceiling Fan Duster

This may be intended for cleaning ceiling fans, but it works well for grabbing lint out of the dryer vent, too.