July 25, 2017

Dryer Legends

wash clothes dryer lint filterClaim: Washing the lint filter in your clothes dryer can help extend the lifespan of that appliance.

Status: According to Snopes, this is True.

Ask the average person, for example, how a clothes dryer works, and you’ll probably get an “Are you kidding me?” look in return, along with a terse explanation that a dryer makes stuff “hot,” and everybody knows stuff dries faster when it’s hot.

That explanation isn’t technically wrong (as far as it goes), but it’s rather simplistic. Knowing a bit more about the process involved is the key to understanding why the advice to keep your dryer’s lint filter clean can help improve the performance and lifespan of your clothes dryer.

In a standard (gas) dryer, a fan pulls fresh air into the dryer and sends it flowing over a gas burner. The burner heats the air, which is then channeled into a tumbling drum where the wet clothes are held. The heat, air flow, and tumbling motion all contribute to evaporating the moisture held in the fabrics, and that moisture is absorbed by the gas-warmed air. (Warm air is capable of holding more moisture than cold air.) The warm air — and the moisture it now holds — passes through a filter to trap lint and other particulate matter stirred up by its movement and is vented to the outside so that it can be replaced with new, less-moist air. This process repeats until enough moisture has been evaporated and carried away for the clothes to be considered sufficiently “dry.”

Of course, if you neglect to clean the lint filter between dryings, or something else occludes the filter, moist air cannot be vented from the dryer as easily. The result will be that your dryer will work less efficiently — you will have to run your dryer longer to dry a load of clothes, which means higher electricity and gas charges for you and a shorter lifespan for your dryer.

So, keeping the lint filter clean is one simple way to increase the efficiency and lifespan (and decrease the operating costs) of your dryer. Just removing the lint from the filter isn’t always enough — the fine mesh of most dryer filters can be clogged in ways that aren’t obvious at a casual glance. As suggested by the piece quoted above, softener sheets can cause waxy build-ups on lint screens that require a little extra effort — usually no more than a quick scrub and rinse in warm, soapy water — to remove.

Many modern dryers also use moisture sensors rather than ordinary timed cycles, and residue from dryer sheets can coat the sensors and interfere with their ability to function properly. Cleaning the sensor screen with a little detergent and a soft brush, and wiping off the sensor itself with a cotton ball and some rubbing alcohol can rectify this problem.


  1. Ron Anthony says:

    Can you tell me if there is any truth to the urban legend that a full clothes dryer dries the clothes faster than a dryer that is only patrially full?


  2. a moderately full dryer will dry clothes faster than either an empty dryer or an extremely full drier. If the dryer is packed solid then there is minimal space to be occupied by dry air. There is also relatively less surface area of the clothes in contact with dry air and more in contact with other wet clothes.

    If the dryer is totally empty then there is very little material to hold the heat in the dryer chamber. A moderate amount of clothing will heat up, allow lots of space for tumbling and allow easy air flow of low humidity air through the dryer. As the low humidity air passes over the surface area of the heated clothes, the vapor pressure of the heated water in the clothing drives water molecules into the air which is then blown out of the chamber. The vapor pressure of the water in the clothes is a factor of their temperature. The counter pressure of the air in the dryer is a factor of its humidity and temperature. The reaction/evaporation happens only on a surface where wet clothing is in contact with relatively dry air.

    So the ideal is to get maximum contact between heated wet clothes surface and hot dry passing air.

    So don’t throw in a single sock, and don’t pack the dryer to the gills.

    Moderation in all things.