Every year, hundreds of Americans suffer injuries in clothes dryer fires. According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), approximately 16,800 fires began in a household clothes washing machine or dryer in 2010 alone. These house fires led to almost 400 injuries and more than 50 deaths and caused about $236 million in property damage.

While these are some scary statistics, the good news is that most clothes dryer fires are entirely preventable if all families take the proper precautions to prevent these fires.

What causes clothes dryer fires?

According to the NFPA, failing to clean your dryer is the most common cause of fires. The drying process creates a great deal of lint. While the lint filter in your dryer catches much of this lint, some may still build up in the dryer, in the exhaust vent, and in other areas in and around the dryer chassis.

This lint build up partially blocks the venting of air, decreasing performance of the dryer, and forcing it to work harder to dry your clothes. The operating temperature goes up, which can cause overheating. The combination of increasing temperature and lint buildup is a dangerous one, since lint is one of the most highly combustible household materials. If the dryer overheats or creates a spark, the lint can ignite and lead to a fire.

Outdated venting systems that use vent pipes made from plastic, foil, or other flexible materials also have a tendency to sag, making the problem of lint build up exponentially worse. As these vent pipes sag, they further restrict airflow, which increases the chances of overheating and fire. When a fire does occur, they do not contain the fire as readily as a metal vent pipe, either.

How can I prevent a dryer fire?

Since a lack of proper cleaning and maintenance are the most common cause of dryer fires, keeping your washing machine and dryer regularly maintained is key in reducing the risk of a fire. Some ways to do this include:

    • Having a certified professional properly install your dryer
    • Having your dryer serviced regularly by professional technician
    • Always using the included lint filter when drying laundry
    • Cleaning the lint filter between each load
    • Removing any excess lint in the dryer drum between each load
    • Ensuring all vent tubes are metal
    • Checking that the outdoor vent flap opens during operation
    • Cleaning the vent pipe often, at least annually (If you do laundry often, consider cleaning it more frequently. Also, be sure to clean it if your clothes take longer to dry, your dryer gets excessively hot, or you detect a burning smell.)
    • Having a licensed professional conduct an inspection yearly
    • Cleaning inside, under, and behind the dryer regularly to prevent lint buildup
    • Using only the appropriate plug and outlet for your dryer
    • Not overloading the dryer, as this can cause it to run longer than necessary
    • Not leaving a running dryer unattended
    • Avoiding drying clothes soiled with gas, oil, or cleaners when possible (line dry instead)
    • Always checking the tag on a garment (For example, you cannot expose some garments containing rubber or other “volatile materials” to high heat or they may combust.)

Dryers equipped with moisture sensors are less likely to overheat than those that rely on a traditional thermostat and timed drying. These sensors check the amount of moisture left in the clothes, and stop the auto-dry cycle as soon as the garments are dry, preventing the dryer from continuing to heat dry laundry.

In most dryers, the moisture sensors are located just below the door, and are small curved metal shapes. Be sure to check for one the next time you do laundry.

In order to keep these sensors working properly and prevent overheating, you should clean them regularly with a soft cloth and rubbing alcohol, or follow the instructions provided by your dryer manufacturer.

Check Out Our Blog for Other Ways to Prevent Fires

While a clothes dryer is a big fire hazard, it certainly is not the only one. For more information about keeping yourself and your family safe around other common fire and burn hazards, check out our blog.