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Did you know that:
- There is a brand of fireplace starters on the market elsewhere in the world that uses fabric lint as a main ingredient, due to its ease of ignition and high burning temperature?
- The cleanable filter inside your dryer only catches a portion of the lint that is generated during the drying of a load of clothes?
- Much of the lint that is not captured by the dryer filter will end up stuck to the walls of the dryer duct or gathered inside the chassis of your dryer?
- The waxy component in fabric softener acts like a glue to stick lint to the inside of the dryer vent?

- Do you recall when your dryer vent was cleaned the last time, if ever?
- Have you ever inspected the inside of the dryer's sheetmetal body for accumulated lint and debris?

I ask these questions as one of the guilty... and the recently redeemed! I've lived in my Trees townhome for some 14 years and never bothered to consider what might have accumulated in the vent pipe that runs some 12 vertical feet from the back of my dryer to the roof of my one-story townhome. Well, a couple of days ago I was surfing the Internet and came across a web site that had graphic photos of the kinds of damage that can be caused by clothes dryers. I was awestruck by how bad it can be. The most typical loss is the dryer itself and the ducting run that goes to the outside of the house. Even then, you're looking at a repair/replacement bill of $1,500-2,000+ following a dryer fire. And, in some instances, the entire home burned down!

There are firms that will do this work for you at a reasonable charge (reasonable, considering the roof climbing work involved and the travel time to and from your place). You can find them in the Yellow Pages or ask for a recommendation from a neighbor who has had this work done in the past.

Being a home handyman who has to keep a tight rein on my finances, I opted for a do-it-yourself approach. I figured it couldn't be rocket science, after all. With brief research, I discovered that I could buy a good quality vent cleaning brush at Dale Hardware for $14.95 and use it to clean my dryer duct, so I set about the project.

Once you're up on the roof, it's easy to spot which vent is the one for the dryer, as you'll see bits of lint snagged on the shingles surrounding it, in testimonial to how much lint actually does make it past the dryer filter. Once you locate the vent, you have to unscrew a retainer nut to remove the metal cover that shields the vent from rain. Given that the fastener on mine had a nice thick coat of brown paint on it, I had to take my cordless drill and a rotary wire brush and strip away the paint. Then,  a bit of oil was added to the exposed threads before using a pair of pliers to unstick the nut. It took quite a while to loosen the nut and remove it... mostly due to rust, paint, and years of never being moved at all.

The sight that greeted my eyes when I lifted the cover off was sobering. There was a thick multicolored blanket of lint gathered everywhere that my eye and flashlight could see! So, I climbed back down, put the dryer on a 30-minute setting for "air fluff," grabbed the vent brush, and climbed back up onto the roof to begin cleaning. I had to insert and move the brush short distances to clean limited areas at a time, moving 6-12 inches downward at each pass. Each new forward movement would liberate so much lint debris that it was like sitting in a blizzard (it might be safest to wear a breathing mask during this operation, as I have NO idea just what you might be breathing in when this powdery/linty junk breaks loose and flies out). I kept the process up until the 10-foot length of "snake" attached to the brush had run out and I wasn't getting any new lint bursts coming from the vent pipe exit. It was at about the same time that the timer on the dryer shut off automatically, so I know it took me about 25 minutes of total cleaning time to clear the entire duct.

What accumulated on the surrounding roof (and all over ME) was enough lint to mostly fill a large brown paper grocery bag! Now THAT is a lot of lint from 12 feet of vent pipe that is only 4 inches in diameter! Some of the lint was so packed and compressed that it looked like felt. Some of it was badly heat scorched as well. How close to ignition it came in the process of turning that scorched yellow-brown color I don't even want to think about!

I pass this information along as "a word to the wise." This is one of those niggling details that is all too easy to overlook in the hectic pace of everyday living, until it comes back to bite you. I also recommend vacuuming out the inside of the dryer enclosure itself, as you'll be amazed at how much flammable junk accumulates there, some of it even coating the heating element itself! All it takes to ignite most of it is a spark. The possibility of a spark inside an electrical appliance, particularly an older one, is an unpredictable variable. So, why wait and gamble?

Del at The Trees

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