It's a potential danger that could cost you your home, or even your life.
Every year there are an estimated 25,000 fires started by clothes dryers, causing death, injuries and damage. It happened to the Doonan family of Cohasset about a year ago. The Doonans lost their house and their beloved dog.
"It was from lint that gathered in the hose, and it somehow caught fire," says Karin Doonan.
They're still rebuilding. "The house had to come down and all our belongings were destroyed," she says.
Kevin Wilson of Home Care Services in Plymouth knows the dangers of dryer fires. He cleans ducts and routinely finds dryer ducts congested with lint, which is usually the culprit. He showed us how flammable lint can be by putting a small amount in a typical flexible foil duct that many people use on their dryers.
"You can take a match and just touch it and it'll go poof!" he says.
That's what happened. The flames burned through the ductwork. You could see how easily a fire could spread that way.
How can you protect your family and your home? Cleaning the lint trap is only the start. You have to do a lot more to be sure the system doesn't clog up with lint, overheat and catch fire.
Start by checking the slot where the lint trap goes. Be sure to vacuum it. At least once a year pull your dryer out and vacuum the heat vents in the back. Then check the tube you'll find on the back at the bottom of the dryer which connects with the heating element, and clean that out, too.
"This is where a lot of the fires do happen," says Kevin Wilson.
Then the toughest part: cleaning the ductwork itself. You may need a professional if you don't have good access. When Kevin loosened up the insides of the ductwork on our test house and we turned the dryer on, a large amount of lint blew out.
You also need the right ducts. If you have the old style made of plastic or vinyl consider replacing them because they can catch fire. The accordion shape can also be a problem since it can trap lint. Even the foil material can burn through.
Buy metal ducts. The best are smooth and straight. Then use semi-rigid aluminum for any turns you need to make.
Karin Doonan will soon be in her rebuilt home, and is going to be extra cautious. "I probably will have somebody come in at least twice a year. I don't want to do this again," she says.
The website, http://www.dryerventwizard.com is a great source of information about dryer vent safety.
Dryer Vent Wizard services North Side Chicago and North Shore Suburbs, Cook and Lake Counties, Evanston, Wilmette, Lincolnwood, Skokie, Morton Grove, Kenilworth, Glenview, Northbrook, Northfield, Winnetka, Glencoe, Highland Park, Deerfield and neighboring cities and communities.