/ Home & Energy

Is life too short to empty the lint filter?

Tumble dryer lint

Modern appliances are designed to make our lives easier, but many come with little maintenance tasks we should carry out regularly to keep them running smoothly. Do they always make it on to your ‘to do’ list?

I like my home to be clean and tidy, but I don’t really put in enough effort to keep it spotless all of the time. I tell myself this is because I’m very busy, so terribly busy. In reality, I’m rather lazy. Even though I might write a long ‘to do’ list, my enthusiasm tends to wane about halfway through the cleaning tasks.

This means that some chores only get done very rarely, if at all. You know, those little jobs you mean to do more regularly, but only tend to tackle when you absolutely have to. For me, that means tasks like: emptying the crumb tray from my toaster; descaling my kettle; cleaning the gloop from my washing machine’s detergent drawer; emptying my vacuum cleaner…

Tumble dryer maintenance

I don’t have a tumble dryer, but if I did I’d probably be too lazy busy to empty the lint filter after every cycle. However, the potential fire hazard that comes from letting lint build up means I should empty it on a regular basis.

Our recent lab tests of tumble dryers with heat pump condensers uncovered the impact of not cleaning the so-called ‘heat exchanger’. These high-tech dryers are designed to be very energy efficient, but we found that letting fluff build up and clog the heat exchanger led to a big jump in drying time and energy usage. We’re now testing to see whether a build up of fluff in lint filters could have the same effect.

The cost of laziness

It would be sensible for me to deal with these little maintenance tasks more frequently.

After all, I might be shortening the life-span of some of my appliances by not giving them the TLC they deserve. My laziness is likely to cost me more in the long run if I have to keep replacing clogged up kettles and clapped out toasters.

And by not keeping my appliances running at maximum efficiency, I’m probably paying for it through my energy bills too.

Inspired by Which? Conversation commenters

Of course, lots of you do make an extra effort to keep your appliances running smoothly. In a recent Conversation about mending and recycling, many of you shared the lengths you go to keep your appliances running for longer. Steve Ellis even saved a TV from the scrapheap:

‘I once fixed a dead 40″ Samsung TV that my sister was going to dump for £1.78. It now has pride of place in her bedroom.’

I’m inspired by that commitment to reduce waste by keeping gadgets running. I need to start by putting the most fiddly, seldom-completed tasks at the top of my next ‘to do’ list. Then I should have a better chance of actually getting them done.


Apparently masses of vacuum cleaners are chucked away because they don’t work simply because the filter has not been changed/cleaned – and quite honestly I wouldn’t be surprised if someone said that the bag had not been emptied. Perhaps there should be a national campaign showing ways to get the information you need.

Many people may actually get as far as going to a shop where they sell the new items to ask about filters etc but nowadays are unlikely to get any help and advice with any maintenance. It is just pile them high and sell them cheap. Yet a new filter for a kettle can cost just £1.50. There are such a huge number of types of item on sale that stocking spare parts doesn’t happen and they don’t like ordering them for people in case they turn out to be the wrong bit. The sales people are often not very knowledgeable and the answer “on the internet” is not going to help a great number of people.

I couldn’t agree more about dishwashers and especially washing machines but apart from putting water softener in with the washing and cleaning out the drain (I don’t use the drawer) I’ve not done more. I feel that my condenser dryer could be designed better. The bit that got gummed up and needed to be replaced last time was not something that I had access to – either it needs a modification so that it can’t get gummed up like that or that part needs to be more accessible.

Tumble drier manufacturers could help by including an interlock that prevents use until the filter has been cleaned.

It is very easy to build in features that alert users to the need to change vacuum cleaner bags and filters and service other domestic appliances.

Labour Saver says:
29 October 2013

Excellent suggestions. Although it doesn’t lock, my condenser tumble dryer illuminates every time I turn it to on remind me to clean the filter and empty the water. This works for me but bizarrely the fluff doesn’t always make it to the bin, I just put it on the side and my husband does the same!?

(A friend of my mum’s had a huge house fire because she never cleaned the filter, so I guess that’s always in the back of my mind too. No-one was hurt.)

I broke my vacuum cleaner recently but was able to borrow one that ‘just doesn’t really suck up anymore’ whilst I waited for a replacement. You guessed it, I emptied it out and cleaned the filter – good as new!

I’m OK with changing the vacuum cleaner dirt bag but I have a blind spot with replacing the Hepa filter – I’ve got the spares in the cupboard but just never get around to it because it doesn’t appear to impair performance if I leave it.

I wholly agree with Wavechange on the need for interlocks and cut-outs for essential maintenance actions on appliances that could have serious safety implications if not carried out. Including reference to this in future Which? test reports would be a good idea.

When we buy a new kettle we always get some extra filters but the kettles always seem to pack up before the filter needs changing, hence we have a a collection of incompatible filters at the back of the utensils drawer.

I saw no reference to uncleaned ovens and cooker hood filters in Katie’s introduction . . . no inference there, of course! I don’t mind cleaning the cooker but I know a few people who obviously do mind, and the wall behind the hob must be outside their visual range! Perhaps the lack of a warning light makes them believe these tasks are not necessary.

Figgerty says:
20 October 2013

Katie, thanks for the reminder, I must check my dryer right now – no more prevarication. Perhaps if you programmed in these tasks on your smartphone or even your digital calendar you would remember to do them.

What about the very topical cleaning behind the fridge? I can’t reach mine because it is a fridge freezer fixed back to the wall to stop it tipping over. However I do know that the back should be hoovered to help it work better – and so save energy.

I’ve also had to deal with a built in fridge freezer which did not have the ventilation built in to the casing which it should have done. That too is something that is worth checking. We don’t need these appliances breaking down because they are overheating or catching fire as a result of being badly built in in the first place (by so-called professionals).

I’ve also had problems with a washing machine where the drain has been hidden by the skirting board built in by the builders putting in a new floor covering and kitchen cupboards. Apparently it is quite normal nowadays to put a seal along the bottom of the skirting (so that water cannot leak on to the kitchen floor). What happens of course is that when there is a leak you may not find out about it for ages. I had to get them to make this skirting board removable there so that I could drain the machine in order to clean the fluff out.

Bizarre building behaviour I think!

Pleb says:
29 October 2013

I do worry that we’ve become very complacent and reliant on technology. I feel we’re losing basic skills and expect everything from our appliances. I know cars aren’t the issue here but gone are the days when you can carry out your own maintenance. The lights come on without you having to think about it, people speed because they think they’re ‘safe’ and cars even park for you!

I definitely think we would benefit from taking the time to carry out routine maintenance of the appliances we have, if only for our own safety!

This Conversation has prompted me to de-gunge the fluff collector at the bottom of the washing machine. Not a difficult task but almost impossible to do without creating a water spillage that seems to go for miles because the floor is perfectly level in all directions. Maybe only a cup of water emerged but the resultant mopping-up exercise was quite extensive [although it got to parts other cleaning routines don’t reach which was no bad thing]. The manufacturer recommends that this be done five to six times a year. We usually do it about twice a year, and this seems to be adequate as there is rarely a significant amount of fluff trapped in the filter [there were two collar stiffeners and a safety pin in there this time though!]. For the first time ever I also took out the little filter from the water inlet [where the supply hose couples on the back]. This meant pulling the machine forward – taking care not to put strain on the hoses and cable – and led to much more spillage but for no purpose as the filter was completely clear. These jobs are so fiddly and possibly over-specified that it’s not surprising that many people defer them to another day.