The Statistics on Dryer Fires
Did you know that firefighters across the US respond to about 15,970 home fires caused by clothes dryers or washing machines each year? Of those, the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), reports that dryer fires are to blame for 13 fatalities, 444 injuries, and more than $238 million dollars in property damage annually.
What’s sad about these facts is that one in four of these fires was caused by an easily preventable problem – the accumulation of lint. By merely cleaning your dryer, you’ll give yourself and your family the best chance of avoiding a devastating and potentially deadly fire in your home.
If you think you’re safe because your dryer has a vent check indicator, think again. Consumer Reports tested this feature on several clothes dryers and found that dryers with the Samsung Vent Sensor, LG FlowSense, and the vent-check feature on Maytag and Whirlpool pick up blocked vents well. However, none of were are as good at giving advanced notice that a build up was happening.
Replace Accordion-Style Ducts
The first step in making your dryer safer is to check to see if it’s installed and vented correctly. While nearly every dryer states explicitly that only a metal duct be used, many are wrongly installed with a 4-inch plastic or foil accordion-style duct; unfortunately, there are many problems associated with these type of ducts. The first is that they can sag which allows the lint to build up in the low points. Additionally, those accordion pleats give the lint fibers a place to hide. Over time, the inside diameter of the hose can shrink from the buildup which reduces the airflow and causes the dryer to overheat. Once overheated, it’s likely to smolder until it flames, and with all of that fuel in the duct, it can be out of control in just a few minutes.
Additionally, plastic and foil ducts can become brittle over time and can crack. If the crack happens in an area that’s not visible, lint could collect outside the conduit. Dryer lint is very combustible so keeping it contained is a must. Plus, neither plastic nor foil is fireproof, so they don’t provide any fire suppression.
The Home Safety Council Explains Why It’s Important to Use Metal Ducts
A family shares how their life changed after a dryer fire and what the cause was. Plus the Home Safety Council expert explains why you should replace plastic or foil dryer vents with metal.
Instead, your dryer should be vented with a 4-inch diameter sheet metal exhaust duct from the dryer to the outside. Choose one with smooth sides and use duct tape to secure the hose sections rather than screws because those screws can provide a spot for lint to catch and build up. The metal dryer conduit shouldn’t be any longer than 14 feet (check your local building codes for variances); although the shortest length and most direct path possible is best.
Also, avoid too many angles when venting your dryer – a maximum of two 90-degrees turns are optimal. If you must put in additional turns to get the vent to the proper place, then subtract 2-feet from the permissible 14-feet for each extra turn. The NFP states that if you need more length that this formula allows, you’ll need to install a booster blower to assure airflow is sufficient.
Inspect Your Dryer Vent and Exhaust Duct Yearly – More Often if Necessary
Now that you’ve confirmed you have the right exhaust duct in place, you need to know how to take care of it. Scheduling a periodic cleaning is best, but how often you clean the duct depends on your dryer usage. If you have a large family, wash a lot of lint-inducing fabrics, or have dogs that shed heavily, you may need to clean it twice a year. Other families do well with a yearly cleaning.
Scheduling your cleaning is an excellent safety move, but you need to know the warning signs of a blocked dryer vent because lint doesn’t collect on a schedule. These can include your drying time increasing or a lack of exhaust from the outside vent. If you suspect a vent hose blockage, take time to inspect the duct as soon as possible.
How to Clean Your Dryer Vent
According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), there are just a few simple steps to cleaning your dryer vent safely. First, disconnect the duct from the dryer. Next, clean out any debris from the vent making sure before you reinstall it’s clean from end to end. You can use a dryer vent cleaning system to make the project quick and easy. Next, reconnect the duct to the dryer and the outside vent.
To complete the job, clean the area behind and under the dryer while you have it pulled away from the wall. Lint collects there as well and can become a fire hazard. Also, keep tabs on the outside vent year round to make sure it’s not blocked by snow, fallen leaves, etc.
While cleaning the vent hose may seem daunting, it’s essential. If you’re not able to do it yourself, ask a friend, hire a handyman or check out one of the businesses who specialize in duct cleaning.
Clean Your Lint Filter Before Every Load
The single most important thing you can do to avoid dryer fires is to clean your dryer’s lint screen after every load (or before – it doesn’t matter which, just that it’s clean before you start the dryer). Not only does it help prevent a dryer fire, but cleaning your dryer’s lint screen helps dry quicker, so it’s a win/win! But don’t toss that lint; we have some ideas on how to reuse it.
Additional Tips for Preventing a Dryer Fire
Be careful when drying towels, rags, clothes and other items used in the garage, garden, or elsewhere in the house, that have come in contact with flammable liquids. These his includes paint thinners, gas, cleaning agents, cooking oils, and the like. The CPSC recommends that any fabric that has become contaminated with one of these flammable liquids be washed more than once to minimize the volatile chemicals and then hung to dry. If you insist on using the dryer, set it on the lowest heat setting possible and use the permanent press cycle (or any similar cycle) that provides a cool-down period.
Also, most newer dryers have moisture sensors which detect moisture and end the drying cycle at the dryness level you’ve selected. However, according to Consumer Reports, these sensors can become dirty from fabric softener sheets which makes the sensors unable to work correctly. That can result in the dryer overdrying them and opens up the possibility of the dryer overheating. To correct this, they recommend cleaning the dryer sensors every few months or when you notice your clothes are finishing either too dry or still damp. To clean a dryer sensor, soak a cotton ball in rubbing alcohol and wipe it gently across the sensors.
Dryer sensors can often be found just inside the dryer and underneath the door. Most are approximately 6″ long metal bars that curve slightly with the contour of the door. If you don’t find your sensors there, consult your machine’s operating manual or search the manufacturer’s site for more information.
So now you’ve done everything you can to prevent a dryer fire, but what if it isn’t enough? Next, we’ll share what to do if you discover a dryer fire.
Are you ready?