Cliff Notes: A DIY project at House Kirkland results in a new washer/dryer.
In one of my failed entrepreneurial efforts early in my career, I invested in a laundromat in the San Fernando Valley. I’d spend my day in a finance job, hop on my Harley after work, weave through traffic from the Westside of LA to the Valley with a backpack filled with 1s, 5s and change and service the location. At the time, the economics benefited the equipment supplier and landlord considerably more than me, but I learned a lot about the industry and became a decent judge of laundry equipment for the experience.
Three decades later I found myself in an East Fresno laundromat trying to clear our monstrous backload of laundry when our overworked Samsung dryer tapped out. Commercial machines and payment technology have evolved since the ‘90s—”Quarters? There’s an app for that!”—and although it was an opportunity to power-clean oversized cat bedding, there was a real risk Mama Su and the crew would get used to the convenience of OCD me loading the truck with five bags of soiled cat bedding, commandeering a bank of 9 lb washers and returning with everything neatly folded. Daily.
Back home, I called our dryer guy (yeah, we have one), he confessed he couldn’t come out for a few days. Ugh. With laundry piling up non-stop, I was on the clock. I left a message for another repair guy, but in my fantasy world, I’m a self-sufficient survivalist, so after a couple ounces of bourbon and reflection on my laundromat roots, I convinced myself I was at least as clever as the worst Samsung repair guy and resolved to take a run at the problem myself. Besides, if I got stuck, I could YouTube it.
I shooed our curious residents out of the laundry room and off-loaded Bella, pillows and cat beds from the top of the washer/dryer. I wrestled the Samsung forward, shimmied into the space behind and loosened the hose connected to the wall. What the?! As soon as I disconnected the hose, a wad of lint and cat hair the size of an old tomcat tumbled out and the heft of the hose suggested he had a pal in there with him. I called for Mama Su—“You’re gonna LOVE this!”—presented my handiwork, and as I held the hose aloft, she shrieked “No, no…Not on the FLOOR!” Too late. I shoved my hand through the tube like a plunger and huge wad of crud plopped on the floor in a mushroom cloud of dust and dander.
With Mama Su scrambling for the floor vac, I waved through the noxious fog, knelt down at the wall, reached into the dryer vent like I was helping a cow give birth and slopped several mucky handfuls of dirt, lint and cat hair onto the floor. After a few “Ewww! Stop it!”s from Su, I had reached as far as I could—my arm black to the shoulder—and I headed outside, disconnected the dryer vent cover and repeated the process from the outside/in.
Again clearing as far as I could reach, I couldn’t see the last 8-10 feet of duct so I retrieved a leaf blower from the garage to see if that might help validate my progress. The Dewalt 20v is a beast—I’m not saying you should, but if you were looking for a giggle, you could blast a 20 lb raccoon down the driveway like a furry tumbleweed and have plenty left to clear the Kitten Room for the season. In any event, I aimed the blower into the dryer vent from the inside, directed Mama Su outside to film the results and fired it up. After letting the blower howl and whine for 15-20 seconds, I turned it off and peaked outside expecting to see Su covered with a blast of soggy cat hair like a Wile E. Coyote trap gone bad. To my disappointment she wasn’t, and worse, reported that there was no air coming from the wall vent. Not good.
YouTubing “clogged dryer vent”, it was clear that Home Depot had everything I needed to solve the problem save skills and experience, so I headed over and picked up an auger, vent brush and assorted power drill attachments. Back home, I assembled my set-up, fed it into the wall and pulled the trigger only to be rewarded with grinding noises that said at best I was making the problem worse. I backtracked the auger and tried from the outside with similar results and headed back to the computer to search for something I may have missed. “Soggy cat fur + inaccessible dryer vent” yielded nothing but breezy success videos of more trivial projects, so I headed back to the laundry room to rethink my options.
As I shoved the dryer back into place to block the residents from exploring the rabbit hole I had created, Su asked, “Does it work now?” and when I admitted it didn’t, she concluded that since she and the Samsung were both Korean, she had the better DNA for the job. Waving me aside, she climbed on top of the dryer, announced “I may be fat but I’m flexible” and dropped out of sight.
For once, agreeing with Mama Su seemed like it had significant downside, and although my lack of success was unrelated to the rigidity of my hips and hamstrings, I figured it best to hold my comments, let her thrash around for a bit and reach her own conclusion. After a few minutes, she conceded she couldn’t solve my shortcomings as a handyman and spent a comical five minutes trying to climb back out from behind the dryer. Resisting the urge to point out that gravity doesn’t care if you’re flexible or not, I photo’d the extraction effort and suggested that calling a repair guy was our best option.
That evening, I recounted the effort to my 84-year-old mom, who was not surprised by my lack of progress—“Your brother was better with tools…”—and asked if I’d like the number of her “Dryer Vent Guy”. Well, yeah, I would… The following morning, I called her guy, but with his Yelp rating we weren’t seeing him for weeks, so I worked my way through the cottage industry until I found a DVG willing to respond later that day. Upon his arrival, I apologized for the awkward number of four-legged greeters, “Don’t mind them…we do rescue…” and steered him through the furry apprentices to problem. DVG was impressed by my initiative but, like my mom, not surprised that I stalled out, and upon reviewing my gear, scoffed that “Half my calls are to get this sh&t out from the wall when it gets stuck.”
After a quick assessment, DVG tweaked my ego—“It’s not the worst I’ve seen”—assembled his own set-up and went to work, alternating between running an auger through the line and sucking out wads of soggy crud from with a huge Shop Vac. In between pulls, DVG opined, “You were looking at more of a mold than a fire risk…” and after 30 minutes of dragging foul muck from the line, he deemed it clear, blew out the remaining condensation with the Dewalt and reattached the dryer to the wall. He ran the dryer for a few minutes, noted the air flow through the outside vent and presented me with an invoice roughly $20 less than what I’d spent on gear I’ll never use again. As I settled up, DVG said, “I really like what you guys do” and offered that he had command of a Boy Scout troop, and if we ever needed a few dozen hours of child labor working toward community service merit badges we should give him a call. Noted.
Bah, even with better airflow, our tired Samsung still took 60+ minutes to dry even simple items so the project graduated, as all my DIY projects do, from repair to replacement. Mama Su insisted our LG washer was fine—“You just overfill it…”—but I opted to replace both units and have a matched set under warranty. Considering price, features and repair history, I decided on a spiffy GE set-up which was installed last week and is so far working great. Mama Su is loathe to admit that an American product might outperform Korean-made regardless of age, status or gender, but she conceded the color was better than it looked online, and I’m confident she appreciates the automatic detergent dispensing, quiet operation and ability to dry a load of cat beds in under 30 minutes. And Bella, seems fine with her new, albeit lower perch.
There are doubters, of course—when Su’s mom arrived to rehome our old LG/Samsung units, she and Su chattered in Korean over the new units punctuated with a skeptical “Jee Yee?”, a raised eyebrow from the Supreme Korean Ruler and a resigned shrug from Su. In any event, we’ve cleared the backlog of bedding on the laundry room stoop, I’ve got assortment of gently-used vent clearing tools available cheap and an army of uniformed, pre-teen boys standing ready to clean litter boxes. I also had a chuckle when Su’s mom called and reported she’d just removed a layer of caked cat hair from the drum of the otherwise “fine” LG. “You wash your clothes with the cat stuff?” What? Of course not. Who would do that? The Jee Yees.