A Pipe Leak Made Me Realize I Really Should Be Cleaning My Dryer

There's nothing like an at-home mishap to make you realize how dirty your dryer might be.

My move to Birmingham went swimmingly until a few leaks led me and my roommate to start searching "how to clean your dryer" on the internet. In case they haven't told you yet, adult life is super glamorous.

First we dealt with a washing machine leak, but then the sink started leaking. The puddle started stealthily enough, but it quickly escalated, soaking the two towels we had reserved for the situation. As two girls living in an apartment, our linen closet wasn't exactly overflowing with extra towels. We resorted to quickly rinsing and drying the two we could spare.

After throwing towels soaked with dirty water into the dryer to help keep the situation contained the best we could, I knew I'd have to clean it before tossing my clothes in. The water from the leak was clear, but I wasn't going to be naïve. It could have been coming from anywhere, and I definitely did not want the residue hanging out in our dryer.

woman cleaning clothes dryer lint screen
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Why You Should Clean Your Dryer

If you're not sopping up questionable water with a limited number of towels or accidentally drying pockets full of crayons and gum, cleaning your dryer might not even cross your mind. It's okay—it didn't cross mine, either, until said leak. But, according to Shawn Ashby, Whirlpool Laundry Brand Manager, this is definitely an appliance you should have on your cleaning radar, even if it's just once in a while.

"Over time, daily use can fill your dryer with dust and lint, which can affect your dryer's performance and even pose a fire hazard," he shared. "By cleaning your dryer and its vent, you can keep optimal drying times shorter and your clothes in good shape."

How Often Should You Clean Your Dryer?

If you're pressed for time, don't fret. Ashby advises a schedule that leans more towards once-in-a-while than daily or weekly. The only thing you should vigilant about, as we all know, is the lint screen.

"It's a good idea to clean your lint screen more thoroughly once every six months, especially if you notice hard-to-remove lint," Ashby said. This is in addition to always cleaning the screen after each use. "As for your dryer drum, vents and duct system, you may only need to do these every couple of years."

How to Clean Your Dryer

When it comes to how to clean a clothes dryer, there a few components to consider. The lint screen, the dryer drum, the exterior, the vents, and the ducts.

"You should clean the dryer lint screen after every use, as lint can increase drying time," Ashby said. "Remove the screen by pulling it up, then gently remove the lint from the screen by hand and put the lint trap back. Wet lint is harder to remove, so don't scrub or use water."

For that deep clean that you'll inevitably need, Ashby counsels rolling excess lint off the screen before wetting both sides in hot water. Then, gently scrub the mesh with a nylon brush dipped in hot water and laundry detergent to remove buildup. Finish it up by rinsing with hot water and drying thoroughly.

As for cleaning the dryer drum, start with an empty slate.

"You'll need to clear or vacuum any debris before cleaning," Ashby said. "For an electric dryer, rub the drum with a soft cloth that has been dipped in a mild hand-wash dish soap diluted in very warm water. For a gas dryer, do the same with a liquid, nonflammable household cleaner."

Of course, if you have kids and pets in the mix, you might find yourself needing to somehow scrub away gum, crayons, dye, lipstick, and the like from your dryer drum. What do you do about those?

Ashby recommends washing machine cleaning wipes or a soft, damp cloth or sponge for those hard-to-clean residues. However, make sure that you're only using a mild soap or cleaner on the surfaces.

There will be times when the problem is not worth tackling on your own. Crayons? Sure. But anything you're less confident about warrants professional opinion.

"You should call an expert when you are experiencing an issue beyond your means," Ashby said. "Going to a professional will help you to understand the problem, troubleshoot, and resolve it."

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