Dryer, Dryer, House on Fire!

Real Estate Agent with DL Jones & Associates


I’m not going to pretend that I spend a lot of time in the laundry room. After countless pink t-shirts and shrinking my roomy boxers down to “tighty-whiteys” (OUCH!), the Boss has permanently revoked my laundry privileges! But, I do know a thing or two about dryer safety.

Each year, fire departments respond to over 15,000 fires associated with clothes dryers or their vents. These fires result about $100 million in home damage, and 30 deaths annually!

Clothes dryers must vent hot air from the dryer to the outside of the house. Lint becomes detached from the clothes and is carried out through the exhaust. The problems occur when lint builds up in the exhaust pipe or inside the dryer. This slows the air movement through the dryer and out the exhaust. Thus begins the dangerous cycle. The slower air movement causes more lint to collect on the backside of the dryer drum, on the dryer motor, or on the electrical connections inside the dryer, placing the highly combustible lint on top of and adjacent to heat sources inside the dryer.

The trick is to maintain a clear and unobstructed airflow by keeping the exhaust pipe and associated parts clean, open, and free of lint. This will greatly reduce the chance of fire!

Let’s start at the dryer- Here’s a tip from my wife Dianne: WASH YOUR LINT FILTER REGULARLY! It seems that those lovely dryer sheets, as well as liquid fabric softeners, leave a film on the lint filter. While it may look clean when you pull it out and remove the lint “quilt”, it could still be clogged! Simply clean it with detergent and an old toothbrush, rinse and shake it dry, and you’re all set. This will not only reduce lint build-up, but help the dryer last longer and run more efficiently.

Making the right selection in the ducting that connects your dryer to the wall is the best defense in reducing lint buildup. Some vents are made of plastic-coated flexible wire. The 4" diameter white-plastic or aluminum-foil exhaust duct typically used to exhaust the heated air from clothes dryers can create a dangerous fire hazard. The ribbed surface inside can slow the air movement and catch lint. If it’s plastic, get rid of it! The foil flex is slightly better, but I’d just as soon toss that as well.  A better choice is smooth walled sheet metal vent connectors. They are more fire resistant and can help contain a fire should one start. Another advantage of sheet metal vent pipes is the rigid metal cannot be smashed in between the wall and the dryer as easily as flexible vents.

At least once a year, disconnect the dryer and vacuum out the back of the dryer, as well as the exhaust pipe. If your dryer exhaust pipe backs up to an exterior wall, this is a simple task. It’s a little trickier when you have a longer length of rigid exhaust pipe that goes “up and over” to the exterior, or vents through the roof. I take a shop-vac and CAREFULLY snake the hose (no attachments!) up into the vent. Push it until you meet any resistance, then stop. Stuff a rag around the opening to make a seal, and then run the vacuum for 5-10 minutes. You’ll be surprised what comes out! Is that where all the socks go???? If your dryer exhausts on an exterior wall, inspect that end for any accumulated lint. Check the vent flap and make sure it opens freely.

Well, that’s all for now. Why do I have this bad feeling that the “tighty whitey” comment will haunt me for years to come?


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