Why Dryer Vent Fires Occur
Lint accumulation and reduced airflow create conditions leading to fire. Lint is a highly combustible material — so much so that it is one of the ingredients in a recipe for home-made fire starters.
For many years, clothes dryers were often installed in basements. Many newer homes are designed to locate dryers away from outside walls in bedrooms, bathrooms, kitchens and hall closets. These locations result in dryers that are vented for longer distances and often with sharp turns and bends to accommodate the home’s structure. Some dryer vents are harder to reach, which also creates more places for lint to gather. Dryer venting systems that are too long create fire hazards and can reduce the dryer’s efficiency.
The ideal solution is to have short, straight dryer duct venting. Plan ahead and consider how and where your dryer venting should ideally be placed.
Inside the Dryer
Lint accumulates over time. Dryers produce very large quantities of lint — even after just one load of laundry is dried. Cleaning the lint filter each time the dryer is used is a good habit, but it is not enough. Most people assume their lint filters will catch all the lint, but over time significant amounts of lint is not caught by the lint filter. This lint builds up inside the dryer — and the heating element!
If you are skeptical, try this experiment: pull out the lint trap and look underneath it – you may find large amounts of lint. When lint builds up on the dryer heating element and in other places inside the dryer, it becomes a fire hazard.
As a rule, a fire starts from a spark in the dryer. However, improper clothes dryer venting practices can also contribute to the problem.
Let’s Review the Biggest Dryer Venting Mistakes
There are many improper dryer vent practices that restrict airflow and lead to lint buildup, which are the two main preventable causes of dryer fires.
Some of the most common and important dryer vent mistakes are:
- Using dryer vents that are too long and/or have too many bends, but don’t use a dryer duct booster, resulting in lint buildup. When it comes to dryer vents, shorter and straighter is better.
- Using improper dryer venting materials made of flammable, flimsy plastic or foil. Only metal dryer venting should be used, which is what most manufacturers specify. Metal vents also resist crushing better than plastic and foil, which allows the air and lint to be carried out of the dryer vent system. Reduced airflow from buildup or crushing can cause overheating. Many state and local municipalities have placed requirements on new and remodeling projects to include all-metal dryer venting to reduce safety hazards from poor dryer venting.
- Inadequate clearance space between dryer and wall. Many people create problems by putting their dryer right against the wall, crushing the venting material in the process. The cumulative effect of reduced airflow and the resulting lint build-up reduces the dryer’s efficiency. This causes the high-temperature limit safety switch to cycle on and off to control the heating element. Most high temperature limit safety switches were not designed to continuously cycle on and off, so they fail over time.
Two Ways to Prevent a Dryer Fire
Keep the Dryer Duct in Good Condition
Disconnect, clean and inspect the dryer duct on a regular basis, or hire a professional company to clean the dryer duct. This will reduce the fire hazard, increase the dryer’s efficiency and lifespan.
Keep Your Dryer as Lint-free as Possible
Clean the lint filter after each dryer use. When the dryer is working at maximum efficiency, it uses less energy saving you money.
To keep your dryer clean:
- Clean the lint filter after each dryer use.
- Use a lint brush or vacuum attachment to remove accumulated lint from under the lint filter and other accessible places inside the dryer regularly.
- Every 1-3 years, depending upon usage, have the dryer taken apart and thoroughly cleaned by a qualified service technician.