Clothes dryers don't look scary or dangerous but unfortunately, they cause an estimated 2,900 house fires every year totaling millions of dollars in damage. Regular cleaning and maintenance can protect your family and your home investment.
Get Rid of Dangerous Lint in the Dryer
Whether you use an electric or gas clothes dryer, you will have lint. Lint builds up in the lint trap, as well as inside the dryer vent and duct work, reducing airflow and drying efficiency. Lint can cause humidity levels to rise around vents, causing mildew and mold to develop in walls and insulation. But most importantly, lint is combustible. Lint causes fires.
The first area to clean after every load is the dryer lint trap by removing the lint from the screen and wiping clean the edges. If the screen seems clogged, that is dryer sheet residue. Submerge the lint screen in a sink of hot water and scrub with a soft-bristled brush to remove all the built-up fabric softener.
Use a long-handled flexible brush to help you reach areas that you cannot get to by hand. Remove the dryer lint filter and use the brush in the opening to gently loosen the built-up lint. Don't force the brush if you meet resistance, but be sure to clean every surface as much as possible.
Remove the big chunks of lint that come out with the brush. Don't worry about the smaller pieces. Replace the cleaned lint filter. Turn the dryer setting to air only and run for a cycle. This will pull any remaining lint into the filter or blow the loose particles out the outside vent.
How to Clean Dryer Vents
At least once per year, unplug the dryer and check the area where the exhaust vent connects to the dryer. The hose or pipe is held in place by a clip or a steel clamp that can be loosened with pliers or a screwdriver. After removing the pipe, reach inside the dryer opening or use a vent brush to remove as much lint as possible. Use a damp cloth to wipe away remaining lint around the connection. Then look inside the hose or pipe and clean it as well.
If you still have a white or silver vinyl duct hose, it should be replaced immediately. The material is flammable and if lint is ignited by the dryer the hose will burn and cause a house fire. All national and local building codes now require metal ductwork for clothes dryers.
Ideally, you should use rigid aluminum tubing pieces between the dryer and the outside vent. This type of tubing resists the collection of lint in the duct and cannot be easily crushed. Flexible aluminum ducting is available; however, it is more prone to collecting lint inside.
One last step is to clean the exterior vent. Again remove as much lint as possible using your hand or a brush. You may need a screwdriver or another tool to hold the vent flap open for easier cleaning. If you live in a high humidity area or use your dryer more than twice weekly, you should clean this vent several times per year.
How to Clean Your Dryer Vent
Reduce Fire Hazards by Installing the Dryer Correctly
A clothes dryer should not vent inside your home or attic. The exhaust contains too much humid air and can cause problems with mold and mildew. A ventless dryer should be used if outside venting is not possible.
The maximum length of a clothes dryer exhaust duct should not exceed 25 feet from the dryer location to the wall or roof termination. The maximum length of the duct should be reduced two and one-half feet for each 45-degree bend, and five feet for each 90-degree bend. The maximum length of the exhaust duct does not include the transition duct.
Be certain that you have a 220v grounded electrical outlet available for an electric dryer. A professional should always be hired to connect or install gas lines for gas dryers.
- Clothing that has been soiled by volatile chemicals like gasoline, cleaning agents or even large amounts of cooking oil should not be dried in a clothes dryer. If they must be dried in the machine, wash the clothing more than once to minimize the risk of fire. Use the lowest heat setting and shortest drying cycle possible. Use a cycle with a cool-down period at the end of the cycle to prevent ignition.
- Never leave a dryer running when no one is at home.
- Never store volatile chemicals or rags near a dryer. Some liquids emit vapors that ignite. The area around the dryer should be kept free of lint, papers, and stacks of clothing.
- If you suspect a fire, get everyone outside and call 911. Disconnect the power immediately or turn off the breakers if you can do so safely. Keep a fully-charged fire extinguisher in the laundry room.
Topical Fire Report Series: Clothes Dryer Fires in Residential Buildings (2008-2010). U.S. Department of Homeland Security: U.S. Fire Administration National Fire Data Center, August 2012.