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Here's how to clean your dryer — and why it's important that you actually do it

If you're going on a new year's cleaning spree, don't overlook your dryer. You probably use it at least a few times a week, but when was the last time you gave it any TLC beyond emptying the lint filter? Cleaning your dryer not only ensures that your clothes stay clean but helps keep the appliance working properly and safely. According to the National Fire Protection Association, a lack of cleaning is the leading cause of dryer fires — yikes!

Unfortunately, I have a little personal experience with this. A few years ago, my family was running our dryer when we started to smell something burning. The culprit: Built-up lint in the dryer vent. Luckily, we figured out what was happening before it became an uncontrollable blaze. So take it from me: It's important to remove all the lint, dust and clothing fibers that can build up over time.

Another concern: If you use dryer sheets, they can leave residue on your dryer's drum and lint trap. A dirty lint trap won't allow air to flow through as freely, which means it will take longer to dry your clothes. And no one wants that.

Today, as a precaution, I never leave my dryer running when I'm not home. I've also done some serious research on how to clean it. For your own peace of mind, keep reading for step-by-step instructions and a few products that can help you get the job done.

(One quick note: If you feel like your dryer is getting exceptionally hot or making weird noises, hire a qualified technician to take a look. It may still only need a deep clean, but better safe than sorry.)

Person cleaning a dryer lint trap.
You should clean your lint trap before or after each use. Clean the rest of the dryer every few months to keep things running smoothly. (Getty Images)

5 areas to focus on when cleaning your dryer:

  • Lint trap/filter

  • Drying sensor

  • Dryer vent

  • Condenser, evaporator filter or vent hose

  • Drum

The cleaning products you'll need:

Here's how to clean your dryer:

Step 1: Unplug your dryer

Always start by unplugging your dryer. You don't want to risk accidentally turning it on while taking it apart for a deep clean.

Step 2: Clean the lint trap

Pull out the lint trap and use your fingers or a brush to remove any big clumps of lint. Next, use your vacuum's hose to remove any smaller remnants attached to the filter. Then, let it soak in hot soapy water for 10 minutes (you can use any gentle dish soap) and use a soft sponge or toothbrush to gently wipe it clean. Let it air dry completely before putting it back in the dryer.

While the lint trap dries, use your vacuum's hose to clean out any lint around the drum's opening that may have escaped the trap.

If your upright vacuum doesn't have a hose, snag this compact reviewer favorite on Amazon. It's useful not just for cleaning your dryer but for hard-to-reach spots such as stairs, couch cushions and even your mattress. "I recently had my old nasty carpet removed and now have laminate flooring," wrote one dazzled shopper. "Neither my very expensive Dyson Animal nor Shark stick vacuum were doing very well on the bare floors. I read many reviews and decided on the Eureka. It's fantastic. It is all plastic so very lightweight and it's easy to vacuum the stairs now. There is no bag (which makes me happy) and all the HEPA filters are cleanable and reusable."

$69 at Amazon

Step 3: Clean the drying sensor

Locate your machine's drying sensor — it's generally inside of the drum, just behind the lint trap. Gently wipe the metal sensor bars with a damp cloth. Avoid using any harsh cleaning products, but you can add a little vinegar if there is a lot of buildup.

You can use these gentle microfiber cleaning cloths on your dryer and just about everywhere else around your house. They're especially great at picking up dust and lint, and they leave a streak-free shine. "These cloths are dynamite to have around the house," wrote one happy customer. "Soft, absorbent (REALLY absorbent), super for picking up spills and wiping down counters."

$8 at Amazon

Step 4: Clean out the dryer vent

Cleaning out your dryer vent is probably the most intimidating part of the process, but trust me: You can do it. To help, Amazon sells a handy dryer vent cleaner kit with an extra-long vacuum hose attachment and lint brush that has become a popular pick.

More than 15,000 Amazon shoppers give this kit a five-star rating. "I clean out my lint trap religiously, so I was shocked to see how much excess lint had slipped past the trap," shared one impressed shopper. "My dryer had been taking longer than usual to dry a load, so I used this, and OMG!!! I am lucky my house didn’t burn down. This was easy to use and worked great."

$10 at Amazon

Use the brush and hose attached to your vacuum to clean out the vent where the lint trap rests. Next, locate the ductwork — it's generally the long silver tube that connects the dryer to the house and expels air outside. Use the brush to remove any trapped lint inside the ductwork, then use the vacuum to pull out any leftover debris. Use your vacuum to also clean the vent leading out of the dryer. Then, head outdoors and use your brush to clean the ductwork from the other end. (If there's an outlet nearby, you can use your vacuum out there, too.) Finally, put all of the pieces back together. Need to visualize it? This Home Depot YouTube video shows you how to clean a dryer vent and ductwork — super helpful.

If you want to take things even further, you can clean the back of the dryer. Vacuum or wipe down the outside, then remove the back panel and vacuum inside it as well.

Important note about ventless dryers: If you have a ventless dryer, which are most commonly found in apartment buildings, you will not have ductwork to clean. Instead, you probably have a condenser that turns the moisture-filled air back into water and collects it in a bin or sends it to your home's drainage system. If you have a condenser tank, you should empty it after each load of laundry. You can clean it with a warm water-and-vinegar mixture. If you have a heat exchanger, you can pull it out and run warm water through it vertically to gently remove dust and debris.

Step 5: Wipe down the drum

With the lint out of the way, use a soft cloth with a little warm water and dish soap to wipe down the inside of the dryer door and drum. Use another rag or sponge with plain water to wipe it clean.

Step 6: Put it back together and plug it back in

Make sure everything is put back together and plug your dryer back in. Turn it on and run a clean towel on a tumble-dry cycle to dry the inside of the drum before using it again.

The reviews quoted above reflect the most recent versions at the time of publication.

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