Technical Thursday – Preventing Dryer Fires

Many of us use a clothes dryer – the appliance has become indispensable to modern living. In fact, clothes dryers are found in 80% of US homes. Of course, we could do without it. And some of us do ~ drying clothes on the line saves money and energy. I love drying clothes on a line during the warm late summer months – except when one of my dogs decides that the flapping clothes are worthy of attack!

But I often don’t have the time to dry on the line and use a clothes dryer.  And, if if you use a clothes dryer, some easy preventative maintenance can prevent a dryer fire.  More than 15,000 fires every year are caused by dryers.  The National Fire Protection Association states that in 2006, an estimated 17,700 home fires involved clothes dryers or washing machines and resulted in 15 deaths, 360 injuries and $194 million in direct propety damage.  92% of those fires were due to clothes dryers and washer dryer combinations accounted for 3%.

The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) reports that “failure to clean” was the leading cause of clothes dryer fires, and the first material ignited in almost 28% of the fires was “dust, lint and fibers.”  To keep your clothes dryer in good working order and reduce the risk of a lint fire:

  • Clean the lint trap before and after drying each load of clothes. Not only will this reduce the risk of a fire, it will save you money too because your clothes wlil dry faster and your dryer will consume less energy.
  • Use metal dryer ducts to help prevent dryer fires. Consumer Reports says that flexible dryer ducts made of foil or plastic are the most problematic because they can sag and let lint build up at low points. Ridges can also trap lint. Metal ducts, either flexible or solid, are far safer because they don’t sag, so lint is less likely to build up. In addition, if a fire does start, a metal duct is more likely to contain it. If you have plastic or vinyl exhaust hoses,  you can replace them relatively easily.
  • Clean inside, behind, and underneath the dryer, where lint can also build up.
  • Don’t use the dryer for clothing or textiles with volatile chemicals such as gasoline, cleaning agents, or finishing oils and stains. Wash the clothing more than once to minimize the amount of these chemicals on the clothing, and line dry instead of using a dryer.
  • Occasionally wipe the sensor with a soft cloth or cotton ball and rubbing alcohol to keep it functioning accurately or follow the manufacturer’s recommendation. The sensor is usually located on the inside of the dryer, just below the door opening.  The sensor is usually two curved metallic strips, shaped somewhat like the letter “C”.
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