I am no stranger to the want of convenience. I am also all for solutions and alternatives that don’t involve punching holes into my house or where there isn’t room for ductwork. As such, dryer condenser boxes came onto my radar.
However, there are other ways to circumvent duct runs, like condenser/ventless dryers that are designed to function without a vent. As it turns out, using a condenser box will only save you some trouble at the start, but not in the long run.
Dryer condenser boxes funnel hot, humid air and lint from the appliance through a hose to a plastic container. Air cools, and the container collects lint and condensation. While promoted as a solution to ductwork, these are illegal, ineffective, and can cause several issues.
Components of a Condenser Box
Condenser boxes are a very simple system intended as an “alternative” to dryer ductwork.
A condenser box kit consists of roughly four parts:
- A plastic container (either a whole unit or with a lid).
- A plastic flexible duct hose.
- A few connectors for the dryer-to-hose join (so that it will fit your appliance).
- (Sometimes) A large zip tie to secure the other end (or both) of the hose.
These boxes are designed to catch the water that is exhausted from the dryer and the lint that accompanies it.
The idea of a condenser box is that you do not need to install ductwork for the dryer by allowing the appliance to vent into the plastic box instead of outside.
People have even been known to make their own condenser boxes using a length and diameter of hose that matches their dryer and a plastic tub with a lid.
It’s constructed by cutting out a hole in the lid and sealing (with glue and caulk) in a hose connector. Not forgetting a couple of vent holes.
Dryer Exhaust Enters Box
A dryer works with a cycle of airflow as part of its drying function.
First, air is pulled in over a heat source, where it gets hot. Next, that heated air is blown into the tumbler and through the clothes, where it can evaporate moisture.
Air is then pushed out the drum, through a lint filter, and into a vent where a fan sends it through another vent that leads outside the machine.
This vent terminal is normally connected to the exhaust duct at the back of the appliance, which leads outside.
When you have a condenser box, the dryer is, instead, connected to a hose that leads to the box. So, the dryer exhaust is deposited into the condenser box.
Air Cools in Box
Once in the condenser box, the air begins to cool. As it cools down, it loses its ability to retain as much evaporated moisture as it does when it is hot. This results in water droplets being deposited on the interior surfaces, and condensation collects in the box.
As the air slows (it slows when no longer agitated by additional exhaust entering the box) and its moisture is lost, the air also deposits lint. So, along with water, you will find lint in the condenser box.
Unfortunately, whatever seals may or may not be present on such boxes, they are not sealed tight against air or water, and the hose connections aren’t typically sealed.
As mentioned earlier, to make your own box, you must add ventilation holes to prevent the lid from popping off from the pressure. There are also ventilation points on the kit containers.
This allows air and water to escape the box, resulting in water damage and increased humidity in the room.
This is also why condenser boxes should never be used for gas dryers that vent harmful gas by-products.
Box Is Emptied
Once the exhaust has settled in the condenser box, you need to empty the water after each dryer cycle. You can do this by removing the hose/lid of the box, taking the base, and pouring the water and lint out at a drain.
The loss of steam through the ventilation holes, however, may mean that emptying the box is not actually required after every dryer cycle.
By comparison, when a dryer is connected to an exhaust duct that terminates outside, all the lint, moisture, and heat are removed to the outdoors. Therefore, a duct doesn’t require emptying after each use.
While clearing out any lint from the ducting is recommended to maintain efficiency and safety, this only needs to be done every few months compared to the constant need to empty a condenser box.
You will also need to clean up the mess of spilled water, clear out the flexible hose that isn’t smooth to prevent lint from gathering, and keep the box on a surface that the water and heat won’t damage.
Do They Actually Work?
Dryers are not intended to be used with condenser boxes. They are designed to be vented or to be self-contained ventless (condenser) dryers.
A condenser box will not prevent air from the dryer from being released into your home; that is not a feature despite sounding like a convenient solution. Condenser boxes don’t work well enough to be a viable alternative.
Air can be compressed into small spaces but with a box that small (compared to the size of the dryer drum), the amount of air the dryer exhausts would create pressure in the container.
This would strain any weak spots, and since there is no valve, a backflow of air is possible (due to increased pressure in the box), which can cause overheating troubles.
Problems With Condenser Boxes
According to the International Residential Code (IRC), using condenser boxes for your dryer is illegal. Section M1502.2 clearly states that dryer exhaust systems must vent moisture to outside.
Section M1502.3 adds to that, saying that a dryer duct must terminate outside, and must be installed according to the instructions given by the manufacturer.
Not only is it against the building code to use a condenser box for your dryer, but there are several other problems to consider if you are still tempted to risk the fines.
Dryers produce a lot of exhausted air, which will likely overwhelm the capacity of the box. Meaning that exhaust from the dryer isn’t being effectively removed, which can result in heat building up in the dryer. This can cause your dryer to overheat and trigger the safety components of dryers.
These thermostats trip the power to the appliance when the air in the dryer is too hot and can cause a fire.
Since dryers exhaust heat and water, you can encounter the problem of the plastic box warping over time (it can be exposed to temperatures greater than 135 °F). The warping will compromise the seals on the apparatus, meaning that moisture, heat, and lint can escape into the room even more easily.
The moisture and heat can result in damage to the house structure, furnishings, finishes, and fixtures. They will also impact the air quality in the room and potentially the rest of the floor or home.
Since there is ample heat from the dryer, the chances of the dangerously flammable lint igniting are high. Your home is then immediately at risk of fire.
Keep in mind that not following the building code regulations can also invalidate any insurance claims for damages.