Updated on 01.17.12

Clean Out Your Dryer Lint (17/365)

Trent Hamm

This seems like such a simple thing. Most of us do this as a matter of course whenever we dry a load of laundry in our dryer.

Forgetting to do it, however, adds up to a significant cost. Not only does it make your dryer run less efficiently (depending on the level of lint and your specific type of dryer, it can reduce the efficiency by 75%), it also forces your dryer to work harder and can contribute to a shorter lifespan for your dryer.

Clean Out Your Dryer Lint (17/365)

As Brittany’s photograph clearly illustrates, one key step to making sure that your dryer is free of lint is cleaning out your lint trap. Whenever you’re about to run a load of clothes, simply remove the lint from the lint trap with your fingers and toss it in the trash.

However, that’s just one step in the process. There are additional steps you can take which will maximize the airflow into and out of your dryer, making it run more efficiently. A more efficient dryer is a dryer that costs less to run per load and has a longer lifespan, saving you money both now and later.

First, make sure the external opening for your dryer vent is clear. If you don’t know where your dryer vent is, spend some time tracing the vent that goes out of the back of your dryer. One method is to simply inspect the outside of your house, particularly on a very cold day, when the dryer is running. At my home, if the temperature is below freezing, there is obvious steam coming out of the dryer vent.

Cleaning it is easy. Just lift up whatever is guarding the trap and remove any lint or debris that is filling the exit. Ours tends to fill with debris about every six months or so and it makes our dryer run much less efficiently.

Next, once a year or so, clean out your dryer vent completely. This is a straightforward process, but it does take a bit of time and requires you to move your dryer. eHow has a great step-by-step guide for the process.

Many people tend to do this only when they install (or have someone install) a new dryer – and they’re often shocked as to the incredible level of lint and other materials that have built up in the vent. Quite often, that material has caused the person’s dryer to work much harder than it otherwise would have, bringing on a dryer replacement much sooner than would otherwise have been needed and also using more energy per load, adding to the usage cost of the dryer.

A final tip: occasionally wash your lint filter. That’s right, pull out that lint filter wash it with soap and water.

Why does that make a difference? As Snopes explains it, “[j]ust removing the lint from the lint filter isn’t always enough – the fine mesh of most dryer filters can be clogged in ways that aren’t obvious at a casual glance.” A quick scrube and rinse in warm soapy water will do the trick.

We try to wash our lint filter once every three months or so. Honestly, we’d probably do it more often if the lint filter wasn’t on the other end of the house from our primary sink for washing dishes.

What will all of this accomplish? For one, it will make your dryer run efficiently. While it’s hard to find exact data on this, simple observation bears this to be true. If our vents are clogged, it can take twice as long or longer to dry a load of clothes. More efficiency when the dryer is running means more savings for you.

For another, it will extend the life of your dryer. The heating element will receive less stress, as will the fan. The less stress you put on these key components, the longer they will last.

Simply removing lint from your dryer’s exhaust system is a double win. You save now by using less electricity per load, reducing your electric bill, and you save later by not having to replace your dryer as often.

This post is part of a yearlong series called “365 Ways to Live Cheap (Revisited),” in which I’m revisiting the entries from my book “365 Ways to Live Cheap,” which is available at Amazon and at bookstores everywhere. Images courtesy of Brittany Lynne Photography, the proprietor of which is my “photography intern” for this project.

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  1. Money Beagle says:

    Many house fires start as a result of clogged lint traps, so cleaning it regularly also reduces your risk of fire damage.

  2. cathleen says:

    I put the dryer lint outside in a tree for the birds and squirrels to use as nesting material.

  3. Vanessa says:

    Lint trap, lint filter, dryer vent– I think I know what these are but more photographs would’ve been helpful.

  4. Kai says:

    ^Good point.
    The photo works as an illustration for the post, but since you’re taking a photo just for this, an informative photo of the parts people might not already know about could be highly useful.

  5. Jackowick says:

    #3 Vanessa – a tough thing to do given all the variable spots for these. Some are on the top/side/bottom outside of the unit, I have one that is “inside” the door opening. It’s best to google your model or go to a showroom/store and look up a similar one.

    Your outside vent “should” be a round or square hole, usually on the back of the house. One easy way to find it is to take a walk outside when your dryer is on and you should find it. Then notice the spot relative to a basement or first floor window; my dryer vent is right through the wall behind the unit, but my parents’ house has it go down into the basement ceiling and THEN outside.

    I worked at a DIY store for years; you can/should be able to buy new venting by the foot if you need it; buy 3 feet more than you think you need and avoid a kit and save a few dollars.

  6. Jackowick says:

    @ #1 it’s a great idea to make it a part of regular spring and/or fall cleanup activities.

  7. lurker carl says:

    You need to clean lint out of the dryer proper. Lint build up at the heating element where the fire starts, not in the vent. Lint in the vent line becomes fuel as the dryer blows the air and flames through the system.

    Never use the cheap plastic vent line for a dryer. The plastic is electrostatic and attracts lint deposits. The plastic vent line breaches rapidly in the event of a fire, quickly exposing your home to disaster.

  8. Elaine says:

    Do not let them use pvc or plastic to vent your dryer-make sure it is flexible metal. Your dryer does not have to be on for a fire to start-ours started at 2am. I always cleaned the lint out of the dryer vent but had no idea that the outside vent causes the majority of house fires. And, believe me, that fire can move quickly!

  9. Vanessa says:

    I live in an upstairs apartment so I have no idea how the dryer connects outside, or even if it does. But I do know how to clear the lint from the trap inside the dryer.

  10. Sarah says:

    When we moved out of our second-floor apartment recently, I disconnected the vent hose and discovered a DEAD BIRD in there, just where it connected to the dryer. Besides being really gross, there’s no telling how much energy we wasted for who knows how long with that clogging things up.

  11. AnnJo says:

    I keep a lidded glass jar near the dryer and put the lint in that. When it’s full, I swap it out for an empty one and keep the full one near the woodstove. Lint is absolutely the best tinder to start fires. Honestly, the first time I read about “re-purposing” lint this way I thought it was carrying frugality too far, but once you try it, it turns out it really IS the best tinder.

  12. Andrea says:

    @#11 AnnJo,you are right about that. Just beware if your dryer lint contains a lot of dog or cat hair as mine sometimes does, the smell is awful.

  13. Tom says:

    Not only does it make your dryer run less efficiently (depending on the level of lint and your specific type of dryer, it can reduce the efficiency by 75%), it also forces your dryer to work harder and can contribute to a shorter lifespan for your dryer.

    AND… it is a huge fire hazard!
    I’ve heard suggestions for people with long runs of dryer vents (like 2nd floor installs) to install an additional lint screen in the ducting. Also, Dryer vents should be caulked from the outside with silicone (heat-proof) caulk to prevent air leaks.

  14. gail says:

    To add to the “repurposing” factor of lint, you can throw it in your compost pile.

  15. Jill says:

    Not only is using plastic vent line a bad idea from a fire possibility standpoint, it can actually invalidate the warranty on some brands & models of dryers. The manual for our dryer requires this.

  16. carol mason says:

    If you use dryer sheets, when you go to wash screen the water won’t go through the sheets coat
    it.Info from my appliance repairman

  17. Kathryn says:

    From Carol:

    If you use dryer sheets, when you go to wash screen the water won’t go through the sheets coat

    This is not only true, but the main reason for dryer fires. Dryer sheets are a petroleum-based product. Petroleum burns very well. It also has a number of chemicals you do not want in your house. Much better not to use them. The issues with dryer lint are much less problematic if you do not use them. If you do use them, this is one of the very reasons to regularly wash that lint screen.

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