How to Prevent Deadly Laundry Room Fires

a view into the laundry room

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Every day, on average, 42 families in the United States deal with a fire in the laundry room. Some fires are small. Some are devastating. All of them placed human life and pets in potentially grave danger.

While cooking remains the leading cause of house fires, laundry room fires account for an average of 15,000 fires each year in the United States according to the National Fire Protection Association.

This number may not seem very high until you consider that laundry room fires account for 16 civilian deaths, 433 civilian injuries, and $201 million in structural damage every year in one- and two-family homes. This statistic does not include figures from commercial laundries, dry cleaners, or multi-housing units.

How can the laundry room be such a potential fire hazard? The combination of electricity, natural gas, heat, water, and combustible materials can lead to disaster if not handled correctly.

What Causes a Laundry Room Fire to Ignite?

  • Clothing is left in a dryer: 30 percent
  • Frayed appliance cords or improper insulation: 29 percent
  • Dust, fiber, or lint: 27 percent
  • Appliance housing: 21 percent
  • Appliance drive or belt: 18 percent
  • Soft goods left in the laundry room: 10 percent

Clothes dryers are involved in 92 percent of all laundry room fires with the leading cause of the fires being a failure to clean away the lint from the dryer screens, vents, and behind the appliance. The risk of fire is slightly higher for natural or propane gas-fueled dryers than for electric clothes dryers due to the pilot ignition light.

Cotton and other natural fiber clothes and linens that are stained heavily with grease or cooking oils can actually self-ignite if dried on high heat and stored while still warm. To prevent this from happening, wash oily stained items appropriately using a heavy-duty detergent and hot water to remove the oily stains. Never leave extremely hot to the touch dried laundry piled or stacked in a laundry basket without good air circulation.

Folded laundry should be completely cooled before packing it away in a closet or drawer that is not well ventilated.

Laundry Room Fire Prevention Tips

  • Clean washer and dryer lint filters after every use. If you use dryer sheets or a dryer bar, the residue can accumulate on your dryer lint screen. Monthly remove the screen and clean it with hot, soapy water. Allow it to dry completely before returning to the dryer.
  • Dispose of the dryer lint properly. Do not leave an accumulation of lint stored in the laundry room. Never store any combustible liquids near the washer or dryer.
  • If you have a flexible plastic accordion-style dryer vent hose, replace it immediately. Whether white plastic or shiny foil material, it is a lint trap just waiting for an accidental spark. 
  • Install the proper rigid metal or rigid plastic dryer hose vent and outdoor vent. Rigid dryer vents are now required in new home construction. These still need to be cleaned regularly.
  • Be sure that the washer and dryer are plugged into grounded and appropriate wattage electric outlets. Almost all dryers require a 240v outlet.
  • Never use an extension cord to run a washer or dryer and don't overload outlets.
  • Every type of gas-powered dryer must be installed by a certified technician.
  • Do not place clothes or towels that have been soaked with cleaning solvents, paint, pesticides, gasoline, or fuel oil in the dryer. Even after washing, it is safer to air dry these items.
  • Do not leave a dryer running if you leave home or go to bed. If it malfunctions no one will be there or awake to avert possible disaster.
  • Do not leave dried clothes in the dryer or in a large pile. If the pile is large enough, and if the goods have certain physical properties, then it is possible that heat will build up inside the pile faster than heat is lost to the surrounding air causing spontaneous combustion and a fire.
  • Keep a charged UL rated fire extinguisher in the laundry room for quick access to prevent small fires from becoming large ones.
  • Add a smoke detector in the laundry room or in the area leading to the laundry room. If the detector is inside the room, clean frequently to prevent lint build-up which can cause the sensors to malfunction.

For the sake of your family and your home, keep your clothes dryer well-maintained. Take time to regularly clean your laundry appliances and laundry room. If you have a natural or propane-gas clothes dryer, consider adding a carbon monoxide detector to the laundry room. This will provide a warning if the pilot light is malfunctioning.