Preventing Dryer Fires: 12 Safety Precautions That Will Prevent Clothes Dryer Fires
Fire Damage

Preventing Dryer Fires: 12 Safety Precautions That Will Prevent Clothes Dryer Fires

While most of us use our clothes dryers at least once a week, we rarely think about their potential to start a fire. According to a recent U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission Residential Fire Loss Report, there are more than 5,100 clothes dryer fires annually. While faulty appliances are sometimes to blame, improper venting is the number one cause of dryer fires. Dryer lint often acts as an accelerant, increasing the fire damage and smoke damage caused by a dryer fire.

How Your Dryer Dries Clothes

Most standard clothes dryer are tumble dryers that use warm air to dry wet clothes. Either an electric element or a gas burner warms the air in the dryer. That warm air is then blown across the clothes as they tumble around. The warm air causes the moisture in your clothes to evaporate and the moist air is then vented through the exhaust ductwork.

Your dryer exhaust ductwork then needs to be vented to an exterior space, typically through a window or wall in your laundry room. If your dryer is not vented properly, it will cause moisture to build up in your home. This could allow mold to grow or even cause water damage to flooring, walls, or ceilings.

What Causes a Clothes Dryer Fire

Most clothes dryer fires are caused by improper ventilation ductwork mixed with the accumulation of lint inside the unit. Not only is lint flammable, but a lint build-up reduces airflow. Due to the reduced airflow, your dryer doesn’t cool naturally. As the mechanism warms up, it increases the potential for shorts and sparks.

12 Safety Precautions That Will Prevent Dryer Fires

1. Clean the Lint Trap After Evey Use

You should clean the lint trap after every load and check that it is empty before drying another load. Every few months, you should thoroughly vacuum out the lint trap with a hose attachment. If the lint trap becomes clogged, it may cause your dryer to overheat and can even start a fire.

2. Check the Filter on Rear Every Few Months

Most dryers also have a lint filter on the rear of the unit, where the dryer vent connects. While this doesn’t need to be cleaned as much as the lint trap, you should check it every few months. Like the lint trap, a clogged filter can cause the unit to overheat and start a dryer fire. Use a vacuum with a hose attachment

3. Clean the Dryer Ductwork Every Year

The dryer ductwork allows moisture and exhaust to ventilate. Over time, the ductwork can get clogged with lint and other debris, especially if you are lackadaisical about cleaning your lint trap. Use a vacuum with a hose attachment to remove build up at least once a year.

4. Clean the Exterior Vent Exhaust Hood

The vent exhaust hood on the outside of your home can also build up lint and other debris, preventing exhaust from flowing properly. You should clean the exterior dryer vent at least once a year. Exterior vents may also have a filter as well. Clean both with a vacuum with a hose attachment.

5. Avoid Overloading Your Dryer

While you may be tempted to fill your dryer completely, overloading it can cause it to work harder and build up heat. This is likely to start a clothes dryer fire if the lint trap, filter, or ductwork are clogged.

6. Avoid Using Your Dryer When You Are Not Home or Sleeping

Most of us take our dryers for granted, assuming they are completely safe. While they are generally safe, you should never start your dryer before leaving your home or going to bed. You should also install and regularly test both a smoke alarm and a carbon monoxide detector near your dryer.

7. Replace Accordion Style Ductwork

While accordion style ducts made of foil, vinyl, or plastic are extremely common and inexpensive, they actually pose a greater risk of fire. Because of the ridges in the ductwork, they are more likely to allow lint and other debris to build up. Rigid metal ductwork is safer because there are fewer places for lint to collect.

8. Use the Right Materials

Ideally, you should use 4-inch diameter rigid metal vent pipe for your dryer ductwork. Avoid using screws when installing your ductwork, as screws will collect lint and reduce airflow over time. The exterior exhaust hood should be at least a 4-inch by 4-inch opening with 16-square-inch of surface area. This ensures the least resistance and promotes airflow.

9. Minimize the Length of the Exhaust Ductwork

You should always use the shortest possible ductwork length and limit the number of bends when venting your dryer. This promotes airflow and reduces the likelihood of lint buildup. The maximum recommended length for exhaust ductwork varies depending on the material of the ductwork, the number of bends, and the specifications of your dryer model. Review your operation manual for the optimum length of dryer ductwork. If necessary, install a dryer duct booster to improve the airflow and ventilation of your dryer.

10. Avoid Kinking the Ductwork

Leave enough room behind your dryer for the ductwork and avoid kinking or crushing it. This will restrict airflow, reducing the efficiency of your dryer and may lead to the unit overheating. If you want the dryer flush against the wall to save a few inches, consider installing a recessed dryerbox in your wall.

11. Vent the Dryer Outside

The dryer ductwork should always vent outside. Never vent your dryer to the basement, crawlspace, attic, or any other interior space. Not only can moisture vapor lead to mold, but the exhaust may contain carbon monoxide. Heat recovery diverter valves and termination boxes no longer comply with current standards and should be replaced as soon as possible.

12. Have the Unit Professionally Serviced

Whether you have a gas or electric dryer, you should have your dryer professionally serviced every few years. A professional inspection will ensure it’s working properly and prevent dryer fires.

Example of a lint blockage in dryer exhaust ductwork

Signs Your Dryer Could Start a Fire

The biggest sign that your dryer could start a fire is slower than usual drying time. If you find yourself having to dry loads more than once to get them completely dry, check your lint trap, filter, ductwork, and vent for a build up or clog.

Another cause for concern is if clothes feel hotter than normal or have a smokey smell when they come out of your dryer. This could indicate that the unit is overheating or creating sparks that may cause a clothes dryer fire.

In addition to smokey odors and excessive heat, other signs of a potential dryer fire are unusual noises, sparks, and smoke. If you notice any of these signs, discontinue using your dryer immediately and contact a professional for a complete inspection.

How the Location of Your Laundry Room May Increase the Chance of Dryer Fires

For many years, dryers were almost exclusively located in the basement near an exterior wall. This typically allowed for dryers to vent out of a nearby basement window, limiting the length of the ductwork to around 10 feet.

Unfortunately, the laundry rooms in many new homes are located in interior rooms. This leads to having extremely long ductwork runs with more bends and turns. This can reduce dryer efficiency, leading to longer drying times as well as lint build up. Lint is likely to collect at each turn, which could eventually pose a risk of fire.

If your dryer is not located near an external wall, we recommend that you have dryer serviced every year or two. A professional dryer cleaner will be able to vacuum out the ductwork and as well make recommendations to improve efficiency, prevent lint build up, and limit the risk of a dryer fire.

Alternatives to Conventional Tumble Dryers

While the majority of dryers on the market are heat-based tumble dryers, there are a number of alternatives that use other methods to dry your clothes. Most of these alternative dryers do not require venting, which significantly reduces their risk of starting a dryer fire. Here are a few of the most popular alternatives to conventional tumble dryers:

Spin Dryers

A spin dryer uses a centrifuge to extract water from clothing and fabrics. While they can save time and energy over traditional tumble dryers, they don’t always completely dry your clothes.

Condenser Dryers

Like tumble dryers, a condenser dryer used warm air to dry clothes. However, the moisture is then removed from the air by a condenser, which then allows water to drain from the unit. While condenser dryers use less energy than conventional tumble dryers, they take longer to dry clothes.

Heat Pump Dryers

Work similarly to condenser dryers, but they use a heat pump to dehumidify the air. While they use as low as half the energy as a condenser dryer, they require specific temperature and relative humidity levels to properly dry clothes.

Mechanical Steam Compression Dryers

Mechanical steam compression dryers are an advancement on heat pump dryers, using high temperatures and pressure generated by steam to actually force water from your clothes. They are often twice as energy efficient as traditional tumble dryers.

Convectant or Static Clothes Dryer

Clothes are hung vertically in convectant dryers and a heating element at the bottom of the unit allows air to slowly warm and dry the clothes. While relatively energy efficient, they are only marginally faster than line-drying clothes.

Solar Clothes Dryer

Solar clothes dryers use the sun’s energy to dry clothes without directing sunlight to the clothes. In some cases, the solar heating box is used to heat air for a conventional tumble dryer.

What to do if a Clothes Dryer Fire Causes Fire Damage

A clothes dryer fire can significant fire damage to your home, weakening the structure of your home or leaving permanent smoke and soot stains. The smoke and fire restoration professionals in the Restoration Local network are trained in the proper procedures to clean and restore your home or business after a fire.

We always provide an initial assessment and free estimate and are prepared to board-up windows and doors and tarp roofs to secure your property and prevent further damage. If necessary, we can extract water and dry out areas damaged by firefighting efforts.

Then we clean and deodorize affected areas to remove smoke and soot stains. We can restore and refinish woodwork and cabinets. If necessary, we will hang new drywall and install new cabinets in order to restore your home or business to its original condition.

We accept all insurance companies and can even bill your insurance company directly. Call 1-888-443-3110 now to schedule a free, no-obligation estimate for fire damage or smoke and soot restoration. We don’t just restore your home or business, we restore your life.

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