How to Clean Your Dryer

Medically Reviewed by Poonam Sachdev on April 09, 2022
4 min read

Learning how to care for your dryer can lead to quicker drying times, well-kept clothes, more efficient utility bills, and a safer living environment. Fortunately, it’s simple to get the best performance and peak safety out of this everyday appliance.

To begin, find your lint screen. This small piece of your appliance catches stray clothing fibers and lint and should be cleaned every time you use your dryer. If too much lint builds up on the screen, hot air from your dryer won’t be able to move about the machine. You could experience longer drying times, and it’s a fire hazard.

Simply pull the lint off of the screen to clean it. Every once in a while, perform a deeper clean by using warm soapy water and a nylon brush after you initially clear the screen.

Even though lint screens are efficient at keeping small fibers from moving deeper into your appliance, it’s common for them to make it past the lint trap into the dryer vent. If you don’t clean it regularly, a clogged dryer vent is an even greater fire hazard than a clogged lint trap. A tiny spark somewhere in your appliance could quickly turn into a serious flame, so knowing how to clean a dryer vent is extremely valuable.

Depending on how often you do laundry and what kind of fabrics you put in your dryer, you should clean the vent every few months. How often you have to clean the dryer vent varies, but it's better to do it more often than not. Many dryer vents can be cleaned by pulling the appliance from the wall, pulling the plug, and disconnecting the vent. Use a thin attachment on a vacuum to clean the entire vent.

Certain machines have moisture sensors to regulate automatic drying cycles that end when laundry is no longer damp. If left uncleaned, though, these moisture sensors become covered in a film of small fibers, especially if you regularly use dryer sheets. If there’s buildup on the sensor, your dryer can run for too long or not long enough, resulting in damp or damaged clothes.

Cleaning the moisture sensors is very straightforward. Every few months, wipe them down with a cotton ball or rag dipped in rubbing alcohol. Do this more often if your automatic drying function isn’t working like it should. 

The sensors typically look like thin, slightly curved metal bars inside your dryer. They should be relatively small.

Dryer fires are a serious threat. Almost 2,900 home fires are reported each year, causing around five deaths, 100 injuries, and upwards of $35 million in property damages. To avoid these threats, you should be especially wary of dryer fires in the fall and winter. The solution to this serious issue is oftentimes to simply keep your dryer clean.

In addition to having a clean dryer vent and lint screen, use these tips to keep your home safe:

  • Ask a professional to install and service your appliance.
  • Never use your dryer without a lint trap.
  • Check the back of your dryer for fiber buildup.
  • Regularly inspect the venting on your dryer to make sure it isn’t restricted, crushed, or otherwise damaged.
  • Make sure the outdoor vent opens when your dryer is in use.
  • Use the correct outlet and electrical plug and ensure that the dryer is properly hooked up.
  • Read the instruction manual that comes with your dryer and become familiar with care instructions and warnings.
  • Pay attention to how much material you dry at a time; don’t overload your appliance.
  • Ensure that your dryer is turned off before you go to sleep or leave the house.

There are certain materials or items that shouldn’t go through a drying cycle. For example, you should avoid putting these and similar items in the dryer:

  • Foam, rubber, or plastic, like a bathroom rug that has rubber backing
  • Items that have manufacturers’ warnings to dry without heat
  • Fabrics that have glass fiber materials in them
  • Materials that have been in contact with or could’ve absorbed flammable solutions like oils, gas, or alcohol

If you need to wash and dry such “dangerous” items, wash them at least once and let them air dry away from your appliances. If you absolutely need to use a dryer, set it at the lowest heat setting and utilize a cool-down cycle. If a fire begins in your dryer, don’t open the dryer door. This limits influx of oxygen into the small space, which fire needs to continue burning.

You will need to know more than how to clean your dryer: First, you'll need to have it installed. The best thing you can do when installing your dryer is to outsource the job to a professional. If that’s not possible, though, here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Make your interior vent as short and straight as possible.
  • Use sheet metal for venting instead of plastic to improve airflow, decrease drying time, and avoid safety hazards.
  • Make sure you can feel air leaving the vent while your dryer is running.

Taking good care of your dryer keeps you safe and extends the life of your appliance:

  • Cover the outdoor vent to keep rain, snow, dirt, and other materials out.
  • Regularly check the outdoor vent to make sure no nests or similar objects are blocking the airway.
  • Order an inspection every year for gas dryers to check that your gas line and connection are leak-free.
  • Unplug your dryer if you plan on leaving your home for a long period of time.

There are plenty of ways to improve dryer safety in your home. When in doubt, contact a professional to learn what you can be doing to better avoid dryer fires and other hazards.