If are a homeowner, your dryer ducts should be as much a part of your safety inspection as your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors.

In other words - add them to your annual or biannual routine.

We just bought a house and within the first week, we had discovered a pretty significant lint build up in not only the back of our dryer itself but all the way through the entire duct. So knew that it had to be a top priority and was the first thing we addressed in our first weekend of owning our home - more on that later.

Our dryer vent is different than most as it goes out to the roof and not the side of the house. So there is a lot of piping it has to go through to get out.

I decided that this would be a good opportunity to reach out to the Fire Marshall’s office in St. Cloud and ask some questions about fires caused by dryers.

Within less than 12 hours, Assistant Fire Marshall, Greg Adamietz, responded.

Over the past 10 years, we have had 26 dryer fires.  So averaging a couple per year.  Most are found in the drum of the dryer but I have been at a couple that were in the duct work as well.  The causes can be many.  Some are from clothes with oil stains that didn’t come out in the wash and when heated in the dryer they overheated and started the rest of the contents on fire.  Some are caused by inappropriate clearance around the dryer to allow enough air flow.  And some caused by overheated lint in the lint trap and ductwork. - Greg Adamietz, Assistant Fire Marshall, St Cloud Fire Department

So check your dryer. Make sure the actual dryer vent is clear of lint (should be done after every load). Then pull your dryer out and inspect both the vent running outside and the back of the dryer itself. If it’s not clear of lint, it might be a good idea to give it a good cleaning.

Ideally the ductwork should be visually checked annually and if needed cleaned out.  Every couple years is a good baseline for cleaning, depends on what the inspection reveals. - Greg Adamietz, Assistant Fire Marshall, St Cloud Fire Department

Here are some tips from Greg to keep lint from building up:

  1. Use solid ductwork where possible.
  2. Use the corrugated flexible ductwork sparingly and only where needed such as the connection to the appliance.  To keep the corrugated as smooth as possible stretch it completely out and cut it off to the correct length.  Do not use the plastic corrugated duct for a dryer, only use the aluminized ductwork made for the high temperatures of a dryer
  3. If remodeling or building new.  Keep the length of the duct as short as possible.
  4. Keep the bends and corners to a minimum.  All these things enhance the airflow through the duct keeping any lint from building up and helping the dryer working more efficiently and cooler.
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Here’s what you’ll need to clean based on my experience:

  1. Flashlight
  2. Mask (should be plenty of those around these days).
  3. Safety goggles (prevent fine lint dust from getting in your eyes)
  4. Drill
  5. Dryer duct cleaning kit (extendable rod attachments to get through your entire vent)
  6. Ladder (if you need to get on roof)
  7. Shop-Vac or vacuum cleaner with detachable hose.
  8. Lint catching bag (depending on the situation)
Now it’s just a matter of working your way through the length of the vent. We found that you maybe have to go front be bottom and then the top. Do the best you can and understand that it could take some time depending on your situation. Good luck