Could your clothes dryer cause a fire?

Feb 21, 2012 2 minute read

Pulling warm towels straight from the clothes dryer feels great, but do you ever stop to think that it’s a dangerous appliance? Probably not. But each year, clothes dryers are responsible for causing fires in homes across the country.

What causes the fires?

As your clothes tumble in the dryer they produce highly flammable lint. Many people assume that by emptying their lint trap between loads they have gotten rid of all the lint. But that may not be the case. Your dryer’s lint trap captures most of the material but pieces can escape through the vent or can get stuck inside the machinery. This can lead to two problems: first, the lint can become trapped inside the dryer and may reach the heating element and could cause the dryer to overheat or start a fire. The second problem is that lint can build up inside the dryer’s external hose and prevent the hot air from escaping. Forgetting to empty the lint trap or drying heavy lint-producing clothes increases the risk. In some cases, faulty dryers are to blame, but most fires can be prevented with proper dryer cleaning and venting maintenance.

In the past, laundry areas were built in basements and the dryer was set against an outside wall to make it easier for the vent to reach the outside. Many new homes and condos offer main-floor or second-floor laundry facilities. While this makes it easier to move loads of laundry, it forces the dryer’s vents to travel a longer distance. Hoses may need to bend and turn to reach the wall making it easier for lint to collect and harder to clean.

How should I maintain my dryer?

Outside

  • Avoid flimsy plastic or foil duct extenders that kink easily and spiral-wound surfaces tend to catch more lint. Use only solid metal ducts and vents.

  • Keep the area around the dryer clear of flammable materials.
  • In the winter, make sure that dryer vent flaps are not frozen shut. Disconnect, clean and inspect your duct work at least once a year by adding it to your spring cleaning routine.

Inside

  • Never run your clothes dryer while you are away from your home or asleep in another room.
  • Clean your lint traps. It reduces the risk of fire and helps you save money because your dryer runs more efficiently and lasts longer.
  • Never put clothes or rags that contain wax, flammable solvents or oils in the dryer. Even after washing, they can carry trace amounts of chemicals and can easily catch fire.
  • If your clothes are taking longer to dry than normal, check for blocked pipes or lint buildup. If the unit is clean, the problem may be with the heater coil.
  • Do not put foam pillows or clothing with foam padding in the dryer. Leave them out to air dry.
  • Consider using a drying rack or clothes line as a safe and cost-effective alternative.