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Michelle Fern Michelle Fern
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edge staff writer


Looking beyond the lint screen

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If you're one who never thinks beyond cleaning out the dryer's lint trap after each load, you're not alone. Lint tends to lurk in the most unseen of places, and such buildups throughout your dryer reduce its energy efficiency and prevent it from working its best. Keeping such material from collecting will not only keep your dryer in top shape, but more importantly reduces the chance of putting your family's safety at risk.

In fact, dirty lint trays and clogged dryer vents cost consumers millions each year. According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, there are over 15,000 dryer fires each year causing on average 15 deaths and $99 million in property damage. The 'failure to clean' is the leading factor contributing to clothes dryer fires in residential buildings. Add to these losses the energy costs of running the dryer over and over for the same load, and a dirty dryer vent can add $10-$25 to your energy bill each month.

A few simple steps can make your dryer safer and more efficient saving you time and money.

Look beyond the obvious

Although we all know to clean and check the lint trap before and after every load, we tend not to go much beyond that. Deeper in is the venting system, which is best cleaned by vacuuming with a crevice tool or other attachment. And because lint builds up the trap and air shaft with tiny fibers and residue from fabric softeners, you should wash the trap screen with a small brush and some mild soap and water. Make sure the lint trap is dry before placing back in the dryer.

A few times a year pull your dryer away from the wall and vacuum behind it and around the venting tube as much as possible this is a hot spot where lint builds up.

Look beyond the walls

Another way to make sure your dryer is working efficiently is to turn it on and check the airflow at the exterior vent opening to ensure that warm air is exhausting fairly rapidly from the vent. The flap should open when the dryer is running and close freely and completely when it is off.

Sometimes you'll see lint built up around the outside vent; make sure you clean this as often as possible so that the flaps can move freely. If there is a build up keeping the vents open, this allows cold air to backflow through the venting tube into the dryer, which makes the dryer work harder to heat up and dry clothing.

Not only keep your dryer as clean and lint free as possible will save you money, but there are other tips as well.

Choose alternatives

While hanging laundry to dry is the most frugal of all methods and certainly best for the environment, it's not practical all year long in Maine unless you like your jeans frozen. However, not all laundry should be thrown in the dryer, especially if it can have an effect on clothes that tend to shrink, have stains that can set with heat, or plastics that can crack. Instead, try to hang all your nice unmentionables, work clothing, polar fleece garments or T-shirts with designs on them. You're not hanging a full load, so it only takes a few minutes if you use hangers and pick out which items will dry quickly. It also makes putting them away easier. Rugs and rags are obvious choices, which if tossed over the back of a chair or a dryer rack will dry in less then 24 hours.

Go longer between loads

Think about how often you wear your clothes before washing them and whether you really need to wash them right away. Not all clothes need to be washed sweaters come to mind and a garment that hasn't been washed will naturally not need to be dried. When you do put your wash in the dryer, the amount of time you set determines how much energy you'll use and sometimes 10 minutes less will still dry your clothes adequately.

New dryers often have a setting that allows you to choose your desired heat to approximate when the laundry should be dry, from damp and ready to iron to fully fluffed and dried. Try choosing less time and see what happens you can always add more time later if needed.

Another trick is to add an extra spin cycle to the end of your normal washing machine cycle; this will take any extra moisture out of your clothes and thus require a shorter amount of time to dry. My brother is famous for this: He doesn't use any dryer sheets or fabric softener and irons less because he takes his laundry out while they are slightly damp. If you put them on hangers or fold them neatly right away, they'll stay crisp and you won't need to worry about static or wrinkles.

Another tip to consume less energy is to do your laundry all at one time. You can toss another load into the dryer immediately after the first, using the benefit from the heat already trapped inside.


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