My name is Laura, and I have a fear of appliances large and small. I am sure I will die by electrocution while vacuuming, or (pertinent to today’s topic) start a fire by mishandling the exhaust duct of a dryer. True, many people run their households less fearfully than I do and are still alive to continue scaring me with their relative recklessness, but my paranoia persists.

After a neighbor had a dryer fire last year (two doors down; we had just started to smell the smoke and wonder what was up when the fire trucks started coming in), I have been on the lookout for any signs of lint blockages in our own machine. I’ve been seeing less lint on the pull-out lint screen, and thought that possibly things were taking longer to dry, so I was forced to confront my fears of the dryer in general, solely to settle the much larger fear of an actual fire starting in our house.

First, I had to consult several “how-to” guides online. Unfortunately none of their exhaust ducts looked like our set-up, which turns out to be flexible foil prone to breakage and not recommended by one website. It is also way too long for the space and so it snakes around itself behind the machine, which I also read was not recommended. Okay then. The how-to’s all talked about unscrewing the duct from the machine, which seemed straightforward. Also I was to unplug the machine from its huge outlet. This scared me for some reason. It actually scared me to pull the plug out of the wall and see how huge the prongs were. Imagine what the amount of electricity running through that thing would do if it came into contact with a living person…!

At least now I could not possibly be electrocuted. I stared down at what looked a shiny, oversized colon and took a deep breath. Oh yes. Not only was my mission to clear out any lint stuck in the duct, but I had to vacuum the horrendous mess of dust that had accumulated under and around the washer and dryer. My airway already felt scratchy and irritated, so I ran for the OSHA-approved respirator mask I got back when the swine flu hype was everywhere. It helped.

Yes, I was in fact nervous. About cleaning the dryer.

I went to remove the flexible duct and was surprised to find that it was not attached to the appliance by screws, or by anything. Just tenuously perched over the hole. I briefly wondered what I would do when I was done cleaning it. But in looking down the duct with a flashlight, I was happy to discover a sizable ball of lint, as well as what was causing the rattling noise in back of the dryer: sunflower seeds. Maybe a small handful of them. These would be about 4 years old minimum. Cleaning all that out was very satisfying, but trying to push the dryer back into place without the duct falling out of the hole it was never attached to…not satisfying.

With a load of clean laundry sitting in the washer and not getting any fresher, I hastily consulted the collective expertise of the Puritanboard (did you know Puritans were appliance experts?) and received a prompt answer from our own Lauren’s husband, who, on the Handy Around the House spectrum, is as far as possible from yours truly. I was enlightened and emboldened by Vic’s succinct explanation of what needed to be done; I went to Home Depot and procured a 4-4 1/2-inch dryer duct clamp. Within 15 minutes (and only that long because I have two left hands even with a screwdriver) the problem was solved and the dryer has been happily humming away all afternoon. I have to say I am quite relieved to have that chore out of the way. Next up, and far more intimidating: cleaning the refrigerator coils…