What to do to prevent a dryer fire

Cleaning the lint trap isn't the only precaution to take, experts say

Nearly 3,000 home clothes dryer fires are reported each year, causing an estimated $35 million in property loss, according to the the U.S. Fire Administration. The leading cause of home clothes dryer fires is failure to clean them.

But while dryer fires are generally preventable, homeowners may not know that they should be doing more than cleaning their dryer’s lint trap.

Dave Lavalle, founder of Dryer Vent Wizard, says that although lint is extremely flammable and the most common cause of dryer fires, there are other sources of dryer fires.

In addition to cleaning the lint filter after every load, Lavalle recommends keeping the laundry area clear of loose lint, clothing, and flammable products. Additionally, consumers should hand wash and line dry rags used for gasoline, acetone, or other flammable liquids as these items are combustible when mixed with heat from the dryer.

Reducing the risk

What else should consumers be doing to reduce the chances of a dryer fire?

“Most manufacturers recommend annual dryer vent cleaning,” Lavalle told ConsumerAffairs. “If a dryer vent is long or if a homeowner does laundry more often than average, dryer vents should be cleaned more frequently.”

Moreover, consumers should install code-compliant venting materials like rigid metal and flexible metal venting.

“Foil or plastic accordion-type venting should be replaced immediately,” Lavalle says. “Improper venting is not only extremely flammable, but can trap lint and cause a blockage creating a fire hazard.”

Warning signs

Keeping an eye on warning signs is the key to preventing a dryer fire, he says. Signs that your dryer may be in need of professional service include:

  • Excess lint behind the dryer
  • Increased drying times to fully dry a load
  • The dryer and its contents are extremely hot
  • A lack of lint build-up on the lint filter screen
  • Moldy smell on clothes
  • Clothes that take more than one cycle to dry
  • Dryer shutting off halfway through the cycle

What to do

Here’s what homeowners can do to stay ahead of issues and prevent an accidental dryer fire from occurring:

  • Keep the laundry area free of lint, flammable materials, and loose clothing.
  • Clean the lint filter screen after every load.
  • Ensure the vent is clear of lint, leaves, snow, and debris.
  • Have a proper pest cover installed to keep critters and lint out of the vent.
  • Avoid overloading the dryer, as an overloaded dryer can cause friction on a dryer's inner mechanisms which could spark and create a dryer fire.
  • Do not run the dryer while asleep or away.

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