Introduction: How to Clean Out Long Dryer Vents

Picture of How to Clean Out Long Dryer Vents

Purpose Of This Instructable

This Instructable is designed more from a maintenance aspect, rather than fixing an already plugged up dryer vent. If your dryer vent has no air blowing through it, it is time for more serious measures, which I will talk about later. Understand, too, that a totally plugged up vent is a MAJOR fire hazard. Fix it now, before it's too late. If a single fire is prevented by this Instructable, my time spent here will have been well worth it.

This is a simple and inexpensive device that I made to clean out longer runs (one I deal with is about 25 feet) quickly and easily. The vent clean out kits that you find in your home improvement stores are only ten to twelve feet. Or at least here in my neck of the woods. The dryers I service are in use almost 24 hours a day, seven days a week. I clean the vents monthly. It only takes a few minutes, and the peace of mind is well worth the minimal effort. Besides, sometimes I find some beer money in the vents, or under the dryers, and that makes me happy.

Step 1: Parts List

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You will need the following:

  1. One small lightweight drink cup. I used a 5 fluid ounce paper Dixie style cup.
  2. One 4" ducting Tee fitting (found at your local home supplies store)
  3. One 4" cap (again, found at home supply store)
  4. One 4" plastic / nylon / soft vent brush head (mine came from an inexpensive kit that only had a ten foot wire handle on)
  5. A length of paracord a few feet longer than your longest vent run. Strong, braided fishing line would also work great, I think.
  6. Duct tape
  7. Tin snips
  8. A drill

Step 2: The Cap

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Take your 4" cap, and with the tin snips, make a couple of cuts, as shown. Bend the tab back, and cover any sharp edges with some pieces of duct tape. You don't want your cord cut while it is still in the vent line.

Step 3: Build-A-Brush

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Take your brush, and drill a hole large enough to accommodate the cord you will be using. In my case, I am using paracord that I "hollowed out" to make it lighter and more flexible, and just because taking the guts out of paracord is just kinda cathartic for me. You can do this by grabbing the center strands with a pair of pliers and sliding the outer portion of the cord back a few inches. When it is pulled back, you can tie an overhand knot in the inner strands and hook it over a doorknob or something to hold it in place while you pull the outer sheath off, a few inches at a time, from starting point to end. You'll get the hang of it quickly.

I used a couple of feet on the brush with a loop so I could remove it easily of I wanted to from the rest of the cord. After the cord goes through the brush, just tie an overhand knot and ensure that the cord will not come out if you yank hard on it.

Step 4: Raise Your Cup

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Here is where your cup comes in.

In this image, I am using a short length of paracord inner strand line. See how I took a piece of duct tape, and split it halfway? Then I made a few loops in the cord, to give the tape something more to grip onto. My goal was to have the cord coming out of the inside center of the cup. Press the tape down tight. Note, a waxed cup might not work well. I don't think the tape would stick to it very well, especially if the vent gets really warm.

Step 5: Vent Hose to a Tee

Picture of Vent Hose to a Tee

Now you are going to pull your dryer away from the wall, enough to get in there behind it. Your goal is to attach one straight side of the Tee to the wall or floor vent, and one to the dryer outlet. In the photo above, the back of the dryer is on the right, and the wall bent on the left. This was held in place by the four inch worm drive hose clamps that were existing on the vent and dryer. If you turned the dryer on now, dryer exhaust would blow out of the Tee.

Step 6: Now Stick It Where the Sun Don't Shine

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Tie the cup onto your longer cord. Then place the cup in the Tee, with the small end towards the outside. Be careful with sharp metal and cords.

Step 7: Put on Your Cap

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The cap does two things for you. First and foremost, it will help increase airflow for the cup to ride on. Secondly, it will help prevent hot air and lint from blowing up on your face. What you want to do is to place your cap in the Tee, making sure that the line attached to your cup is in the slot of the cap. Got it? Good. Now, tape the cap in place with several short pieces of duct tape, tie off the end of your paracord so it won't all go flying into the Tee, and get ready for some fun.

Step 8: Fire the Dryer

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Now, simply turn on the dryer, and feed the paracord through the slot a little at a time. When it stops pulling, the cup should be out the other side. Turn off the dryer now. While you are there with the dryer pulled out, see if you can find any beer money on the ground where it had been sitting. You found some? Lucky you!

Now go outside and see if you can see the cup hanging out of the vent, as shown.

Step 9: Time to Tie One On

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Now, tie your brush onto the end of the paracord that is sticking out of the dryer, and place the brush into the Tee, pushing it back towards the exit.

Step 10: Pulling Paracord

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Now go outside and gently but firmly start pulling the paracord and brush through the vent, as shown. When the brush comes through, pat yourself on the back for your ingenuity, and go have a beverage of your choice! (hint: Think of the beer money I helped you find)

Step 11: Other Ideas

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What is this? A paint strainer bag? Yep. I use them to keep dryer lint off the side of the buildings. It rains a lot here, and as I mentioned these vents are almost constantly blowing. Lint gets stuck to the sides of buildings, and gets all over the place, and is hard to clean up. The strainer bag is held in place with three binder clips. NOTE: It needs to be checked on and emptied often, in my case every two to three weeks.

Step 12: Plugged Vents

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This is bad. This is very bad. There was so much lint in this run that there was NO air coming through at all. This was the way I "inherited it", not because of my neglect. What happened was that the vent was not maintained, and the lint accumulated. What happened next was that the lint would collect moisture from the wet air coming through, and that would cause more lint to stick to the wet lint. When the tube was packed full, the lint was soaking wet. I really mean soaking. I could grab a handful of this stuff and squeeze it and water would drip out like a hippie's bandanna on a hot and humid day. That in turn caused water to collect in the lines, and rust out the vent pipes even though they were galvanized. Yes, I pulled out all the vent line and replaced it. (Yep, you guessed it. I had to give it up for lint. Sorry, I just had to say that corny joke!) Anyway, now I protect my investment by keeping it clean.

The dryer that caused this also had to be taken apart completely and cleaned. The entire inside was covered with buckets-full of lint. Much of it rested on the electric element, and was burned and charred around the edges. It was ready to burst into flames very soon. A bullet was dodged this day. Keep it clean and you won't have to worry.

Step 13: Thanks

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Just a quick word of thanks to this wonderful community. Instructables is my favorite website, and I am proud to be a Pro Member. If you like what you see here, consider supporting them. It's a great value!

Comments

626Aussie (author)2017-03-07

I had a dryer fire this weekend. Thank you for posting this because my laundry is an internal room so my dryer vents into a pipe that runs through a wall, into my garage, and out the other side, so I'm going to need to use your technique to do a good cleaning like this.

I'm also going to need a new fire extinguisher because after sitting around for years and years, in my hour of need my little fire extinguisher did what it's made to do.

CutterSlade (author)2016-08-14

Sorry for the possible ignorance. But do American dryers not have filters in the doors you clean after every cycle and therefore have very little lint in your ducts?

Ninzerbean (author)2016-07-19

My dryer vents right behind the wall it's up against so I don't have to do this but it was a really great and fun read, thanks for sharing!

NorthWind (author)Ninzerbean2016-07-26

Thanks, and you're welcome!

dwgrosso (author)2016-07-25

Really loved this. (Coincidentally, I just added this task to my to-do list earlier today.)

Three questions: Do you leave the tee in place and, if so, I'm guessing you don't need to cover the slot in the cap, correct? What about leaving the cord in the vent as a continuous loop so you could quickly and easily pull the attached brush through anytime?

Thanks for sharing.

NorthWind (author)dwgrosso2016-07-26

dwgrosso...No, I remove the Tee and use it for other dryers in the facility when I am done cleaning one of the lines. Covering the slot will allow more air flow to push the cup. Leaving the cord in might be a good idea, it might not. I am really scared of fire, and don't want anything in there that might melt or ignite. Not a bad idea though, if you can find something that won't cause that problem, though a fire marshal might disagree.

ruth11 (author)2016-07-15

With over 35 feet to clean I hire a chimney sweep He comes out every year for a good clean. at my age I do not trust myself on the roof.

NorthWind (author)ruth112016-07-16

Your dryer vents to your roof?

VancoD (author)NorthWind2016-07-18

Lots of them here in FL do.

MagnoliaBelle (author)NorthWind2016-07-16

Like Ruth11, my dryer vent is in the roof. My dryer is on an inside wall in my kitchen and vents up the wall through the attic and out the roof. I've heard people call the vents "whirley birds." I have yet to figure out to clean out the dryer vent since it vents straight up, but from thanks to instructables such as yours, I will some day figure it out. ?

VancoD made it! (author)2016-07-18

When I cleaned mine I dropped a weighted string (used a huge socket) from my roof-top vent. There's no way a paper cup would have ever "blown" through my vent.

Same concept tho - once I had a cord going from end-to-end I was able to drag a brush back and forth while I ran a vacuum at the bottom. The amount of garbage that came out was pretty amazing......

Hardest issue for me was finding a decent brush. I ended up with a cheap one from Amazon (from the sounds of it - not too dissimilar from what the author used - a brush on a long wire "handle")

lgooms (author)2016-07-14

Mine vents to a crawl space under the house. It's difficult to get to. I'll put cleaning it on my list! I've never done it before.

cainchar (author)lgooms2016-07-17

I've never done nit before either. Have been here 4.5 years- need to get at it- thanks for the little push! And NorthWind, I agree completely (and intend no insult to anyone/living thing. ) All Lives matter indeed! One of my biggest fears is that my furkids should be home alone and there be a fire, and they not be able to get out. Thus I never run the dryer when I'm not home. Regardless- cleaning it this summer is a must do!

darkroommike (author)lgooms2016-07-14

Depending on your climate venting warm moist air to a crawl space is not a good idea and your crawlspace can potentially fill up with nice flammable lint (dryer lint is sometimes used as a firestarter).

peinkc (author)2016-07-17

What I have been doing for a few years now is unhooking the flexible duct from the dryer and then
sticking the electric leaf blower in the duct.
You wrap a towel, rag. etc. on the nozzle of the leaf blower to fill the
gap between the duct and the nozzle and hit the on switch and it’s pretty efficient
cleaning out that duct all the way to the
exhaust hood. You can shine a
flashlight up the duct and see what a good job it does with the blow job. This
is a child-free house so two/three times a year with a duct clean works for
us.

Gordyh (author)peinkc2016-07-17

peinkc; You beat me to it, 150 MPH BJ ;-) My drier is electric so it is easy to take it outside where I can blow back and forth through the lint trap opening and the exhaust hole till nothing comes out but air.

Another maintenance item is to wash the lint trap screen. I had read years ago that those drier sheets will plug the lint screen, but we don't use them so i did not think much of it till the wife complained that it was taking longer and longer to dry a load. Ours is the long top mount screen that has about a 1/2" bow on the cross section when placed under a faucet with water running the water would not flow through the screen, it would fill the screen like a bowl and overflow the edges. Soapy water and a soft brush I use the back brush from the shower with small swirling motion so the bristles pock through the holes in the screen. We are 2 in the house and if the screen is not washed it will hold water again in 6 months. This cleaning has reduced drying time and the extra air flow leaves less lint buildup in the rest of the system as well.

tractorman1960 (author)2016-07-17

Our gas dryer stopped heating last week so I pulled it apart to investigate. With the helpful DIY videos at repairclinic.com I quickly found the problem. It was the re-settable high temp snap switch mounted on the outside of the fire tube. When this thing pops it usually means the vent is clogged with lint. I knew I was years overdue to clean the vent and some time ago bought one of those 12' segmented clean out brushes that I was amazed to finally locate in my workshop. I attached it to my cordless drill and fed it in the vent discharge. It worked well but wasn't long enough so I had to get in the crawl space and remove a pipe section to get the rest of the run. Our machines are stacked and in an impossibly tight spot to use the method described in this instructable but it gives me ideas of how to adapt it with cleanout wye fittings in the crawlspace. Lesson learned- clean that duct regularly, whatever it takes! Then reward yourself with a cold one :D

OmarJ3 (author)2016-07-17

OMG, that was one serious load of lint. Yikes! no way that cup would have blown through. Hope that pipe wasn't buried too deep behind wallboard. etc. Beer money? Yayyyy!! Give it up for lint? OK :-) Great instructable!

vivienevolves (author)2016-07-15

Love the paper cup trick. An engineering degree and here I've been fishing the cord through with a plumbing snake for years. Here's to your ingenuity!

NorthWind (author)vivienevolves2016-07-16

Thanks, vivienevolves. That's one of the reasons I love this site. You can learn so much from others! A plumbing (or electrical cable) snake is a great idea too, as long as you are careful and don't punch a hole in the pipe.

woolfie (author)2016-07-14

Good instructable. For peace of mind, I would also attach a length of paracord to the back of the brush so that it can be pulled back and forth. This would be especially useful if it gets snagged somewhere in the depths of the vent pipe.

NorthWind (author)woolfie2016-07-16

Woolfie, that's a great idea, too. Maybe with markings on the cord, too, so if it does become snagged, you would have a general idea where it is in the system.

Orngrimm (author)2016-07-14

Well written 'ible! Enjoyed reading it although I don't have a dryer... :)

I once had to get a paracord thru a vent one day and fishing line worked were well for the first "preline". If you don't have tape at hand, simply poke a little (!) hole in the bottom of the cup and tie a little twig-part under the bottom of the cup.

Aso: be sure your cup is smaller than the smallest parts of the vents... helps with avoiding embarrassing situations... as I had. ;)

NorthWind (author)Orngrimm2016-07-16

Great info! Thanks!

parisusa (author)2016-07-14

I was told by my maintenance guy that for safety & efficiency a vent should be no more than 6-9 feet from dryer to the outdoors. Remembering that a bend in the hose counts as an extra 2-3 feet. My aunt had 2 house fires over 20 years caused by lint. This is no joke. Treat your dryer hoses like your fire alarms! Keep them running well & be safe! Great Instructable!

NorthWind (author)parisusa2016-07-14

Yep. I have heard that, too. But since I have "inherited" the buildings I work in, I have to do what I can do.

parisusa, this is great advice! Dryer vents are NOT something to be ignored. And with this type of device, it only takes a few minutes. Once never knows when one might be saving a life with something so mundane. In my opinion, ALL lives matter.

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