How to Clean Out Long Dryer Vents

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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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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!

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37 Discussions

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MemphisS1

Question 3 months ago

Hello and excellent idea. My dilemma and a Question

My exhaust duct is about 25 feet long and actually is laid into the house foundation and to the outside. It is 4" PVC pipe (connection to dryer is metal). Anyway, I was cleaning it with one of those drill attachments you can buy at the hardware store- several flexible pieces you screw together with a small brush screwed on the end similar to the one made in this video.

Anyway, I was cleaning away with the drill and attachment snaked into the duct and decided to reverse the drill spin as I pulled it out.....BAD MOVE!!! You guessed it. Reversing the drill Spun the brush right off! GRRRR !! So now I have a circular brush stuck in the duct about 12 feet (I'm guessing) from the outside exit.

I have initially tried a plumber's snake to push it out-or push past it but can't seem to get the snake past the stuck brush.

Anybody have ANY Suggestions!!!????

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NorthWindMemphisS1

Answer 3 months ago

That's a heckuva dilemma, my friend. But, a good lesson learned. I have a couple of thoughts on this...
One would be to try blowing it out with a compressor. You may need to make sure that the vent pipe is sealed so the air can only get out in the one direction.
Another idea may be to take a shortish piece of large diameter spring and attach it to your plumber's snake. The idea being when you twist the snake, the coil will "grab" the brush head by intertwining with it, allowing you to pull it out. I don't need to tell you to keep twisting it in the same direction. :)
Let me know what works. I am interested, and love learning new tricks.
Wishing you the best of success.

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MemphisS1NorthWind

Reply 3 months ago

ISSUE SOLVED!!!
Hi Northwind,
I appreciate the response and suggestions.
I did not have a compressor to try but did try a sealed off leaf blower- no joy.
Plumbers Snake- do dice.
In the end I went to Home Depot and bought two more vent cleaning kits ($19 each) so that I could get enough of the flexible rods in there to make the full 25ft length. These things: https://www.amazon.com/Deflecto-Cleaning-Remover-E...
I screwed them together with brush at the end and pushed it through from inside the house toward the outside. However, once it hit the "clog" (cleaning brush left inside) it would go no further.
SO, I removed the long flexible rod, REMOVED the circular brush and then was able to push by/through the blockage and through the entire length of the pipe. I then tied and duct-taped some clothesline type cord to the end of the flexible rod and then pulled the cord/rope through the length of the pipe.

Now I had a cord/rope running the entire length and knew I was in business- or close....
I now had extra 4" diameter circular brushes from these kits so I took one of them, drilled out the center and put the cord/rope through it tying a big not on the other side. This was on the INSIDE of the house where vent pipe started. I then, went OUTSIDE, and pulled the rope through the length of the pipe (with circular brush at end) and it dislodged the brush stuck within plus a big additional lint plug!

SO, Moral of the Story: These dryer vent cleaner Kits you attach to drills actually work very well. However, NEVER REVERSE the drill direction while doing this if your vent pipe is very long as the brush head will spin right off, detach and boom! You have a big headache
Buying the two additional kits wasn't a bad thing really because I will need that extra length that can run the entire length for future cleanings!

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NorthWindMemphisS1

Reply 3 months ago

I am so glad to hear that you got your issue resolved, even if it ended up costing you a few more dollars that you anticipated. Look at it this way, you can rest easy knowing that your vent is clear, and you're not going to have a fire.

Great work, and thanks for letting me know your trick. I hope it helps others!

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PaulM729

4 months ago

Great idea. I'm going to try something just a little different, not sure it will work. I've done this many times when pulling wire through long conduit. Get some light string (I use thread for conduit, but that may not work here) and tie a piece of a plastic bag to the thread. With conduit, I use a vacuum cleaner on the opposite end and pull the plastic bag piece with attached thread through. I may try a leaf blower to blow it through. Once the thread is through, attach heavier string and pull that through. From there I use your brilliant method. I dont think the cup will work for me, too many bends in the vent.

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NorthWindPaulM729

Reply 4 months ago

Great idea! May it go well and easy!

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CutterSlade

2 years ago

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?

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warpspeedCutterSlade

Reply 9 months ago

Yes, they have the lint screen either in the door or in the top to intercept the majority of lint being produced. However, enough lint can still get past that the vent line should be cleaned at least once a year.

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Jvp248

Question 11 months ago on Step 8

I have two 90 degree bends in my pipe will the cup with the string make the turns? And do you put a hole in the cup and tape on the side of the cup for more strength? My concern is loosing the cup in the middle of the pipe. Mine is a 32 foot run. Thanks in advance. It's a great idea!!

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NorthWindJvp248

Answer 11 months ago

It should be OK. Mine had a couple of bends. Feel free to try it on a test section...as long as the cup is pretty loose in the vent, you should be all right. It's just kind of acting as a "sail". Good success to you!

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NorthWindJustjim2

Answer 11 months ago

Most home improvement stores will have them.

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NorthWindJustjim2

Answer 1 year ago

Any box store, like Home Depot or Lowe's or what have you.

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626Aussie

2 years ago

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.

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Ninzerbean

2 years ago

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!

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ProfessorTinker

2 years ago

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.

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NorthWindProfessorTinker

Reply 2 years ago

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.

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ruth11

2 years ago

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.

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NorthWindruth11

Reply 2 years ago

Your dryer vents to your roof?