Today's dryers are loaded with sophisticated features such as moisture sensors, wrinkle shields and steam cycles. But many consumers are making very basic mistakes that affect how they work.
So start by reading your appliance user manual. Don't just plug in your dryer and start using it, says Chris Granger, vice president of Sears Home Services. There are many features and settings to help you dry your pants and shirts without shrinking or fading them and to have them come out virtually wrinkle-free.
Check the fabric care labels on your clothes, says Corinne Gorenchan, Whirlpool's product development manager for fabric care. They will tell you whether the garment can be machine-dried and at what temperature.
Although you might see college students cramming as many clothes as they can into a dryer and slamming the door shut, the pros say you really shouldn't fill it more than halfway full. Otherwise, your clothes won't be able to move around, will take a really long time to dry and will come out wrinkled.
We spoke to Granger and Gorenchan about what other mistakes people might be making when it comes to dryers. Several of their suggestions address the need to monitor that pesky dryer byproduct: lint.
• Not preparing clothes for drying: Check pockets and remove everything. Pens, crayons and lip balms could melt or leak all over your clothes. Paper clips or other metal objects might cause damage to the inside of the dryer. Zip up any zippers. The teeth on an open zipper can snag clothes, Gorenchan says.
• Neglecting to sort: Don't just jam several wash loads together in the dryer. Sorting is as important in drying as it is in washing. Don't dry sweaters or lingerie with rough fabrics such as jeans, as the rubbing could cause pilling, Granger says. A black cotton T-shirt may shrink and fade if you choose high heat; it's better to dry things like that at cooler temperatures, so always check the label.
• Giving your dryer lint brush the brushoff: Don't know what a dryer lint brush is? Shame on you. Of course, you should all be cleaning your lint traps between each and every dryer use. (It's as important as brushing your teeth.) But periodically, it is recommended that you use a lint brush to dislodge and remove lint that the screen may not have captured. Remove the lint trap and use a long, thin flexible brush to dislodge stray lint, and follow up with a vacuuming, Granger says. You can find a dryer lint brush for less than $10 at Sears.
• Not paying attention to your dryer vent pipe: Monitor your dryer vent pipe for accumulation of lint. Buildup will affect airflow and prevent your dryer from operating at maximum efficiency and may create a risk for dryer fires. Granger recommends having pipes cleaned every six to 12 months, depending on how frequently you use the dryer. You can hire a professional or do it yourself using a vacuum. Ideally, your dryer vent tubing should be made of a solid material, such as sheet metal, with a short distance between the dryer and the exit wall. Flexible accordion piping can accumulate lint more rapidly and is more difficult to clean.
• Not cleaning your lint screen and moisture sensors: The frequent use of dryer sheets can cause a chemical coating to build up on your lint screen and on moisture sensors in the dryer drum. Wipe down the sensors, the two metal bar strips inside the dryer drum, with a towel and a bit of mild soap. Granger says it's important to regularly wash the lint screen under a faucet, scrubbing gently with a little mild dishwashing soap on a cloth or toothbrush. Wipe and then air-dry before you reinstall it.
• Ignoring the area under and around the dryer: Dryers pull air from the surrounding area. Keep the floor around a dryer clear and clean, Gorenchan says. Regular dusting or vacuuming can get rid of clumps of lint that have ended up behind the dryer and also turn up long-lost socks.