Dear Angie: Our washer and dryer are in the basement and vent out of a window just above them, so it's not a very long distance. Should I still have my dryer duct work cleaned professionally or should I just buy an attachment for my vacuum cleaner and do it myself? — Tasha C., Shorewood, Wis.
Dear Tasha: Though your dryer vent is relatively short, it still is best to have it cleaned professionally and then set up a schedule for regular cleaning, probably every year or so depending on what your company representative advises based on your laundry habits.
Lint builds up in more places than most home owners realize. It's in the lint trap housing, the interior dryer duct, the dryer vent and even the dryer itself. This actually presents more of a fire hazard than lint buildup in the vent.
Homeowners who use do-it-yourself dryer vent cleaning attachments or kits are often left with a false sense of security that their good work has eliminated the fire risk. Unfortunately, specialists tell us that most of these devices fail to remove all the lint in the lint duct. They actually can cause a bigger problem if the homeowner inadvertently compacts some of the lint, which can create a blockage.
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Many homes have flexible plastic or foil vinyl dryer vents, which are prone to extreme lint buildup in the accordionlike ridges, thus restricting airflow. Those particular items also can be flammable. In addition to cleaning, you can minimize lint buildup and reduce the risk of a dryer fire by replacing those foil or plastic items with a smooth metal vent.
If you insist on cleaning the vent, make sure you get to the vent that connects from the back of your dryer to the outside outlet as well as inside the dryer.
Always unplug the dryer from the wall outlet before doing any work. Depending on the type of dryer, it should be fairly easy to open the access panel to clean around the machine components themselves.
Removal of this buildup is easier with some machines than others. One advantage to having an experienced, qualified and reliable professional clean your system is that he or she probably has seen just about every make and model and will be able to clean the interior components more efficiently than you will. Plus, you'll have the assurance that the job was done correctly and safely.