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A mint in lint? He hopes so

Hidden inside your house is some highly flammable fuzz. It can clog and cling and burn your house down.

When towels take about a day to dry and the utility bill is a shocker, chances are the dryer vent is clogged. And it may take more than emptying the lint tray to fix the problem.

That's when Tampa-based Delintz Dryer Cleaning Service says it can come to the rescue.

This isn't a joke. No, Dan Welhouse, president of Delintz Inc., takes his job seriously. His pitch: Only you can prevent dryer fires.

Welhouse's 3-year-old company has as many as 100 customers a month, he says, paying between $45 to $50 for him to extract lingering lint from dryers throughout Pinellas, Hillsborough and Pasco counties.

Indeed, there does seem to be a market for this service. A number of other area companies _ like air-conditioning duct-cleaning companies and even chimney sweeps _ have started including dryer-vent cleaning among their offerings.

But Delintz is apparently the only area company specializing in it. The company has built its customer base on residential customers, but also gets half its business from motels and apartment complexes.

And Welhouse wants to keep growing. He is getting the word out with 10 new billboards around Pinellas County, as well as in TV and radio spots.

To some homeowners, it may seem that cleaning a dryer is one of those chores we should do ourselves. But guess again, Welhouse says: Sticking a vacuum hose in the dryer vent may not work. "People are going to spend more time trying to fix and solve this problem than it would take for them to pick up the phone and give us a call," he says.

Without yearly maintenance, dryer vents fill up with combustible lint. In many houses, dryers blow their hot air directly through an outside wall. But these days, about 60 to 65 percent of all new houses have washer/dryer areas in the middle of the house and the vent system is a maze, Welhouse says.

After he's called, Welhouse will use his cleaning system on almost any kind of dryer vent. His process, which takes about 30 minutes, uses a vacuum system and specially designed tools manufactured by Welhouse and one of his brothers.

Lint is the root of all dryer evils. According to the state fire marshal's office, Florida had 420 dryer fires last year, 285 of them in homes. Improper maintenance of the dryer is the leading cause of dryer fires.

To head off the problem, one answer is to get hired help. Ductbusters, a Clearwater duct-cleaning service that advertises that "We ain't 'fraid a no ducts!" charges $79.95 for dryer vent cleaning, which makes up 5 to 10 percent of its business.

Chimney cleaners do dryers, too. Swept Away Inc. in Seminole, for example, charges $45 to clean a dryer vent the low-tech way, with a flexible wire and a machine similar to a leaf blower.

But Welhouse thinks Delintz has a better vent cleaner. Before going into the dryer-cleaning business, he was a mortgage broker and a retailer. He started Delintz three years ago after one of his brothers bought a business that cleaned air-conditioning vents.

After creating lighter and more portable equipment, Dan and his three brothers started Delintz. The brothers run locations in Green Bay, Wis., Denver and Orlando, and a non-relative runs a division that covers Brandon and Polk County.

"All we want to do is clean a vent to allow the dryer to work like it is supposed to, because lint is combustible," Welhouse says.

"Reduce fire hazard. Reduce dryer damage. Save time. Save energy."