Dryers & Vents: 20 frequently asked questions

A Dryer is a household appliance typically used to dry clothing, linens, and different types of fabrics.

Clothes dryers vary in terms of size, style, and features. They typically use either electricity or natural gas as a power source.

Dryers are made up of many components and their function and features can be confusing to a layperson.

While it may look simple on the outside, in reality, it isn’t as simple as it looks. There are so many things that happen inside a dryer during a drying cycle.

Here’s what you should know about a dryer and dryer vents if you are using one.

Table of Content

What is a Dryer Vent?

A dryer vent is a pipe-like object made up of a smooth rigid metal duct and is usually located at the back of the appliance. It is responsible to remove the excess heat generated during the dryer cycle. A dryer Vent is an extremely important component in your clothes dryer as it not only prevents fire but also releases moisture and hot air outside.

How often should dryer vents be cleaned?

It is quite obvious to clean a dryer vent periodically to keep the performance of the dryer intact. The tiny pieces of fabric fibers and other filth that interfere with the dryer’s functioning can be removed with regular cleaning. It is advised to clean the dryer vents at least once a year. 

You may require cleaning the vent more often in the following scenarios:

  • Size of the family: With a larger family, you have excessive loads of laundry to be washed every day. The more frequent usage of the dryer is on a daily basis, the higher the chances of filth accumulation. Hence it is advised to have the dryer vent cleaned 2 to 3 times a year.
  • Pets in the house: If you have pets in your home, vent clogging is likely to happen sooner. Here you need to clean the dryer vent more often to keep the pet hair and fur out of the vent.

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Do you need to replace the dryer vent?

If your fabric does not dry after a drying cycle, this could possibly mean that your dryer vent needs attention. Ideally, your garments should not take more than one cycle to come out clean and dry. Hence after a wash and dry cycle, If your clothes are damp, check if the dryer vents are functioning as expected. If your dryer is unable to dry the clothes repeatedly, then replacing it could be an option.

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How often should dryer vents be replaced?

A dryer vent does a sensitive job by constantly expelling out the moisture and hot air during the dry cycle. It is advisable to replace the vent if it is in a clogged state.

  • Constant hot airflow through the dryer may cause instances of damage or faults to the vent. In such cases, if you notice any airflow leakage or a burnt smell, or damage to the connected areas make sure you get it replaced.
  • At times due to moisture, there is a high possibility of wet spots formation that advances inside the tube. It will attract tiny pieces of wool or cotton that get trapped in these wet areas, this further causes mold formation. Excessive mold development and clogging will increase the dry cycle time, in this situation cleaning the vent may not resolve the issue and hence a replacement becomes a must.
  • It is always a good idea to get the dryer exhaust vents inspected and serviced by an expert, at least once a year.
  • If your household tends to use the dryer more frequently, here you might consider the servicing or replacement every 6 months.

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Why is my dryer not getting hot?

Your dryer might not be heating due to various reasons, it can be a tripped circuit breaker, the thermal fuse, a clogged vent, or an interrupting gas flow. Let me give you a few scenarios due to which the dryer may not heat up.

  • Electricity/Gas supplies: Inspect the electric connection and make sure it is plugged in and the switch is on. Check for any electricity fluctuations, in most cases, a tripped circuit breaker is the common cause. If your dryer runs on gas, you need to check the gas supply if it’s set to ‘ON’ or if there is no gas. 
  • Blocked Lint Trap: A lint trap or the lint screen may have been clogged due to excessive fabric fiber and lint accumulation. Hence it is advised to clean the vent filters regularly.
  • Defective timer: A defective timer could be one of the causes why your dryer is not heating while operating at a motorized timer.
  • Ventilation: The ventilation tube, as well as the lint filters attached to the hose, may have been clogged. You may clean them immediately and try running the dry cycle.
  • The thermal fuse: The thermal fuse is a fire-retardant agent that prevents your dryer from causing a fire due to excessive heat. It quickly triggers when the dryer temperature surpasses a specified level.
  • Heating element: A damaged heating coil can be one of the reasons, this may occur due to clogged vents intervening in the heat flow. If the hot air flow is interrupted, then it results in a buildup of immense pressure on the heating elements, thereby causing damage.
  • Flame sensor: In a gas dryer a broken flame sensor could be deterring it from heating. To dry clothes, a gas dryer uses a flame to heat the air and if there is any fault, it could be a bad flame sensor preventing the flame from igniting.

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Is it normal for smoke to come out of the dryer vent?

When you use a dryer, it is typical that steam gets discharged through the vent. This steam is produced with a combination of hot and damp air. Having said that, it will be concerning if an unusual amount of steam is getting accumulated inside the washer after running the dry cycle. This usually happens when the vent tube is clogged.

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Can you use a leaf blower to clean the dryer vent?

A leaf blower blows a strong, continuous stream of air in a straight line. After you have detached the duct from the wall, you should be able to discharge the obstructed debris through the opposite side of the dryer vent using a leaf blower. This method is only effective if your dryer vent system meets the below requirements:

  • If there are no metal screens on the outer wall, then it’s okay to use a leaf blower. On the other hand, with a metal screen’s presence, there is a possibility of the leaf blower compacting the lint, threads, and dust on the other side towards the outer wall.
  • It is advised to have the length of the vent tube to be as short as possible. The leaf blower won’t be able to blow the clogged elements effectively through the vent. In such cases, a vent tube length should be around a couple of feet or lesser.
  • The vent tube placement is straightforward and without curves or bends. The clogged elements can get trapped, if there are twists and turns.
  • Smooth aluminum material is coated inside the tube and ducts are usually shaped in accordion style. Hence lint accumulates in the folds which at times becomes difficult to drive off the tube using a leaf blower.

Note: Do not use a leaf blower if your dryer vent system does not fulfill all of the above conditions. This may result in worsening the clog inside the vent tube and you may have to consult a professional for an expert cleaning service.

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Why does the outside dryer vent get clogged?

This is not a good sign for your laundry system if your dryer has been clogged. It is simple, you cannot get your fabrics dried with a clogged or faulty dryer. In order to remove the dirt from the fabrics, a dryer must have a functioning filtration system. If your dryer vent is clogged, your dryer will be unable to dry the clothes effectively. 

Below are a few instances that may result in a clogged dryer vent:

  • Filthy trap: The lint trap does exactly what it is meant for. It collects the lint that separates from the clothes during the drying process and prevents it from blowing into your exhaust vent. If the lint trap itself gets clogged with dirt, then the lint begins to accumulate thereby reducing its effectiveness.
  • Stuck objects in the trap: The lint trap isn’t just great at catching lint but it also does a fabulous job of grabbing other objects like gum wrappers, pins, coins, other metal objects, etc. from your pockets. If these objects accumulate in the lint trap, there is always a possibility of lint propelling towards the dryer’s exhaust system and being trapped.
  • Vent areas: A vent flap/cover is placed on the outer side, which protects any unwanted objects to enter the vent pipe from the outside. At times a stuck flap may be one of the causes which stops from blowing away the debris through the vent tube. Due to this, there’s a high probability of lint running into your dryer’s ventilation system. Hence constantly closed vent flaps can compound the problem and speed up the clogging process.

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 Why does the inside part of the dryer look burnt?

Due to the frequent usage, the inner part of the dryer vent often turns tinted black and may look burnt. The constant hot airflow is similar to an exhaust system where hot air is forced via the heat inlet and outlet grills, therefore a burnt look may appear. 

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Why does the dryer smell burn?

The dryer generates heat with the help of its heating element. Constant heat evaporates water from the fabrics in the drying process, on the other hand, excessive heat may cause severe damage. A burning odor from your dryer is not a good sign, lets’s check out a few reasons below that may cause a burning smell from the dryer.

  • Accumulated Lint: Lint buildup is one of the most common causes, as these are formed through light and fluffy fibers that fall off during the drying process. This is further carried towards the exhaust vent by the hot air movement. When exposed to heat, dry lint is very likely to be flammable and can scorch like paper. So therefore if floating lint gets in contact with the heating components, you may notice a strong burning odor.
  • Heating Element: One of the other causes could be the overheated heating element. The heating element in your dryer along with the tumbling action is the core functionality of your dryer. If the heating element is malfunctioning, a burning smell may appear without any warning.
  • Failure of thermostat: A thermostat in a dryer stabilizes the heat flow during the drying process. A broken thermostat can also be one of the reasons why a burning odor appears. If in case you notice the fabrics are too hot after the dry cycle, then it may be an indication that the thermostat has gone bad and needs urgent attention.
  • Damp Fabrics: At times there are chances of garments getting stuck in the tiny holes of the inner drum. In most cases, the particles of furry garments accidentally escape from the tiny holes of the inner drum.
  • Dryer drum motor: The dryer has a motor with a specific lifespan, the burning smell can also appear if the drum motor goes bad. If it has been burned out, you may notice a burning smell along with the smoke.

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Can a dryer heating element get weak?

It is quite common for any electronic equipment to get weaker due to frequent usage and limited lifespan. Deterioration of heating elements at early stages can be caused due to few reasons such as overloading your dryer, uncleaned lint screens, inadequate or unstable airflow, etc. Following proper instructions and timely servicing will prolong the lifespan of the heating element.

Why are the clothes steaming in the dryer?

If your clothes are steaming heavily, it means the vent is unable to blow away the hot air effectively, resulting in the formation of steam due to hot and moist air inside your dryer. You may have to clean the dryer vent OR clear the clogging.

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How common are dryer vent fires?

Almost every home operates a washer for their day-to-day laundry, and surprisingly fire due dryers are very common. Lint build-up in the dryer vent is one of the most common causes of fire, hence it is of utmost importance to timely inspect the dryer’s vent for any unusual activity observed.

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Why does lint build up in the dryer vent?

Lint build-up is quite common, hence it needs attention at regular intervals. Surprisingly lint buildup inside the dryer vent areas is one of the most common causes of fire.

There are various causes of lint build-up in the dryer vent, the most cause is placing the washer-dryer at a longer distance from the exit walls. As a result, lengthy vent pipes are installed to reach the exterior walls.

Lint accumulation becomes easy due to excess room available in these lengthy vent pipes. Hence placing the washer-dryer closer to the exit wall is always a good idea.

Another possibility could be due to condensation, this is because of warm and cold conditions. An un-insulated duct sometimes results in condensation, due to which wet surfaces within the pipe attract and encourage unfavorable lint collection on its inner walls. You may have to be more alert in such conditions.

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Should a dryer heating element glow red?

Glowing red is normal due to heating, as the heating element is designed in such a way that it generates heat with the help of electricity. Urgent attention is required if there is any unusual heating or burning odors.

Final Thoughts

A timely inspection of your dryer is always a good idea.  While inspecting your dryer make sure you have the vent inspection as well in your checklist.

Keep a practice of cleaning the dryer vent area as you do for the washer’s inner tubs and other parts.

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For more useful tips for your laundry, do visit our FAQ section. Happy Laundering 🙂 

Manish Singh is an expert in electrical engineering with a Diploma in the field. With over 12 years of experience, he specializes in repairing music systems, washing machines, dryers, and other laundry-related appliances. His in-depth knowledge in electrical repairs and decent knowledge about garment care makes him a trusted authority in the field of appliance repair and laundry related topics. If you have any questions or need assistance with your appliances, you can reach out to Manish through email: manish.singh (at) portablelaundry.com