Doing laundry is part of our daily lives and weekly routines. It’s essential to ensure your clothes dryer is functional and well-maintained to protect your home and loved ones from fire.
Surprisingly, dryer fires are relatively popular causes of home fires. Data from the National Fire Protection Association shows that washing machines and dryers cause about 15,970 fires annually. About 92% of these fires directly result from dryers, causing millions in property damage and hundreds of injuries.
Although some dryer fires are purely accidental, most of these fires are preventable.
Let’s explore the various ways you can prevent dryer fires to ensure safety in your home.
What Causes Dryer Fires?
Electrical or Mechanical Failure
Dryers have electronic components and moving parts and are prone to damage or faulty wiring. Such issues can easily cause devastating home fires, so it’s essential to have a regular maintenance schedule.
Incorrect Dryer Usage
Incorrect usage can cause home fires in various ways. For instance, going against the manufacturer’s recommended guidelines by over-stuffing the dryer can be risky. Inserting items unfit for the dryer or those whose instructions prohibit drying with heat also carries a high risk.
Generally, clothes dryers are unsuitable for foam, rubber, and plastic materials. Everyday items such as a rubber back on your bathmat can be a fire hazard.
Dirty Dryer Vents and Lint Filters
Most dryer fires result from clogged and dirty filters, ducts, and vents. Accumulating lint, grass, dirt, or other substances left over from the washing process cause these fires. Even slight heat or a tiny spark can ignite and cause fire damage.
The lint filter on the exterior vent can also clog, preventing regular airflow, which can be a fire hazard. The clogging can be due to the link moving through the duct and accumulating on the screen. Rodent, insect, or bird nests are also potential causes of clogging in the vent.
How to Prevent Dryer Fires
Ensure Proper Installation
Improper dryer installation can cause various electrical issues, which can cause a home fire. It’s best to consult a professional before the installation or request home installation where you purchase your dryer.
The dryer should connect to a functional 240-volt electrical outlet. Using a 120-volt outlet can cause potential electrical issues. The ventilation duct should also remain secured to the external exhaust vent and the dryer. The location of your dryer also matters, so ensure there’s an adequate distance to any nearby shelves and appliances.
Clean Up the Lint Screen After Every Use
Dryers require proper airflow to function correctly. Obstruction during the drying process can cause heat to build up.
One of the most common areas where blockage happens is the lint filter. Pieces of cloth accumulate over time to form a tinder bundle which quickly starts a fire in the dryer.
You can prevent such occurrences by adopting a habit of clearing the lint filter every time you use your dryer. You’ll be surprised at the amount of lint one laundry load leaves.
It doesn’t matter whether you prefer cleaning the filter before or after use, as long as you remember.
Clean the Duct and Vent
Although the lint filter collects most of the dirt and lint, some get past the filter every so often. It accumulates in the duct between the external vent outside your house and the dryer over time.
One common sign of an obstructed venting system is that your clothes take a long time to dry or fail to dry completely. You may also notice the dryer’s exterior and your clothes overheat or a burning smell when the dryer is in use.
If you realize any of these signs, the best move is to switch off the dryer immediately and unplug it. Allow some time for it to cool off before checking the vent and duct for obstructions.
Most manufacturers recommend removing the duct for cleaning at least once every three months. Ensure you plan a maintenance schedule for your dryer since you can DIY the cleaning process.
Your home’s exterior vent can also clog, causing the dryer to overheat and potentially catch on fire. Remember to include this part in your inspection and cleaning routine. If your vent has automatic flaps that open when in use, ensure you confirm they are working well. If the vent has no cover, plan to install one to keep off small animals, dirt, and rain.
Replace Ducts as Necessary
Various manufacturers use different materials to make the ducts. Some ducts are plastic and, therefore, highly flammable, but most dryers have a ribbed foil duct. The folds on the duct often trap lint and dirt, so it’s best to replace the duct with a smooth type.
If your duct needs replacement, it’s essential to be careful when purchasing the new duct. Ensure the duct fulfills the particular requirements directed by Underwriters Laboratories. Clothes dryers can only use ducts identified as UL 2158A.
Schedule Routine Dryer Inspection
Although electric dryers have a higher likelihood of causing fire damage, gas dryers also carry a risk because they connect to gas lines.
If you have a gas dryer, it’s essential to regularly inspect the connections and lines to check for improper fittings and leaks. Schedule a professional inspection at least once a year.
In between the professional inspections, ensure you clean the external exhaust vent. When using the dryer, you can confirm whether the exhaust air is circulating well.
Lint may obstruct the vent outlet if you can’t feel the air movement. Removing the clog may require detaching the exhaust vent from the dryer.
Once you finish cleaning, ensure you reconnect the duct to the dryer and external vent before the subsequent use. You can hire an expert to assist you or consult the manufacturer if you’re unsure of the restoration process.
Ensure Correct Dryer Usage
Dryers make our lives easier but misusing yours can cause a home fire. Before running a load, check the product labels for washing and drying instructions. Avoid placing foam, rubber, and plastic items in your dryer.
If some clothes have significant flammable compounds like alcohol or oil, placing them in the dryer can cause heat, igniting a fire. It’s best to wash them several times to eliminate most of the flammable substance and dry them on a regular clothesline. Treat your dryer like a grill or oven, and avoid leaving it unattended for extended periods, like running errands or sleeping.
Keep the Nearby Area Free of Flammable Substances.
Dryer lint is flammable, but it’s not the only substance to look out for in the dryer unit. Any chemical or substance that is a potential fire hazard should not be near your dryer.
For instance, avoid storing clothes, baskets, boxes, and cleaning products near the dryer. The clutter may not cause the home fire, but it will catalyze the fire and cause it to spread.
It’s easier to sweep and vacuum lint and dust from the area regularly than deal with the devastating results of a dryer fire and restoration.
What to Do in Case of a Dryer Fire
Most fires start small but spread fast and burst into uncontrollable flames. In case of a fire in your home, the best move is to evacuate to safety and then call the fire department.
If you catch the dryer fire early, you can use an appropriate fire extinguisher. If you can’t contain the fire, try unplugging the dryer before exiting the building unless the wiring has fire damage.
However, if you suspect a fire inside your dryer or smell smoke, avoid opening the dryer door. The smoke may be toxic, and the handle is hot enough to cause severe burns.
If your home gets damaged from a dryer fire, Fire Damage Restoration experts from NYTDR can help. Our licensed team of experts will handle the designs, permits, and all electrical, plumbing, and installation processes.
Schedule a free consultation today and allows us to renovate your home to make it better than it was.