It began as a relatively simple home project: Clear the lint from the dryer so we can dry a load in fewer than three cycles. So I pulled the sucker out, removed the front panel and cleared a fine sheet of lint about an inch deep from underneath the works.

But in moving things around I discovered a tragically clogged duct running to the outside vent, the true culprit of this throttling of our laundry cycle.

Unwilling to call in a professional, I made my first trip to the store and procured a kit designed for the very purpose of cleaning wet lint from clogged dryer ducts, and so I threaded this device through about 30 feet of duct line, chucked it to my drill and cleared out a monstrous wad of wet lint, pale blue and gray in the early afternoon light, with flecks of color and held together by thick tendrils of human hair. It was so wet and dense that if I gathered a chunk of it in my hand and threw it against the wall, it would have made a very satisfying thwack and stayed up there long after it hardened and dried.

I resisted that impulse, largely because of the smell of the stuff, and instead dispersed it on my lawn with my feet, gagging the whole time. I cleared the rest with my leaf-blower, in all taking about a pillowcase full of the stuff out of my life.

Like most dryer lint, ours is comprised of tiny pieces of our clothes — which, every time they are dried, leave bit of themselves behind. But most of it, I think, is more elemental stuff: our hair, for sure, and coarse bits of fur from the cats, but also gross, gray bits of our dead skin, salt from our sweat absorbed by our clothes and then extracted by the heat.

Over the course of seven years, a human body will replace almost every single cell in its structure. Our bodies have ways of eliminating these dead cells — some of which, as it turns out, ends up in our dryer vents, which are not quite as self-regulating.

It had been too long, and these old pieces of ourselves were jamming up the works. Over years they had turned into a toxic sluice that served no purpose except to inconvenience me and my family and stink up our house.

It took longer than I thought — half a day, and two trips to the hardware store, which is really nothing in the grand scheme of things. And now the lines are clear.

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