From an early age, I have tried to learn something new almost every day. No matter what your profession, it is impossible to know everything. Today was no exception and what I learned needs to be shared. It could help lower your energy bills or prolong the life of one of your appliances. More importantly, it may save someone’s life.

I came across an email that is circulating on the internet. The email detailed the story of  a visit by a dryer repairman. Apparently, the heating element had failed and the repairman was looking for possible causes. He removed the lint filter, noting that the lint had been removed. He asked the homeowner if she used dryer sheets and she replied that she did. He then took the filter to the sink and ran water over it. The water just puddled up on the screen and did not go through.

He explained that dryer sheets leave a film on the filter that can accumulate so much that it can severely restrict or completely block airflow, much like if you never cleaned the filter and it was completely full of lint. This can cause the heating element to overheat and possibly catch fire. He then washed the filter in warm soapy water. When he ran water over it again, it went through.

To better understand the importance of this, we need to know how dryers work. A fan pulls fresh air into the dryer and forces it over the heating element  (or gas burner). From there it is channeled into the drum where the wet clothes are tumbling. Heat, airflow and tumbling action all contribute to removing the moisture that is in the clothing. This moist air is passed over the filter and then vented to the outside.

If the filter is blocked by lint or build up from dryer sheets, your dryer must work harder, using more electricity. If there is insufficient airflow, a fire or equipment failure can result. Lint is extremely flammable. It can accumulate in and around your dryer. Your dryer and the surrounding area should be cleaned periodically.

Safety tips

  • Do not operate the dryer without a lint filter. Clean lint filters before or after each use and remove accumulated lint from around the drum.
  • Make sure that the dryer is plugged into an outlet suitable for its electrical needs as overloaded electrical outlets can result in blown fuses or tripped circuit breakers.
  • Turn the dryer off when leaving the home.
  • Keep the dryer area clear of combustibles (i.e., boxes or clothing).
  • Dryers should be installed and serviced by a professional.
  • Have gas-powered dryers inspected by a professional regularly to ensure that the gas line and connection are intact.

Facts and figures

  • Dryers and washing machines were involved in an average of 13,300 home structure fires per year between 1999 and 2002. These fires causedan average of10 deaths, 280 injuries and $97 million in direct property damage per year.
  • Clothes dryers and washing machines were involved in 4% of the home structure firesreportedbetween 1999 and 2002.
  • Clothes dryers accounted for 93% of the fires; washing machines 4%, and washer and dryer combinations accounted for 3%.
  • The leading cause of home clothes dryer and washer fires was failure to clean (30%), followed by unclassified mechanical failure or malfunction (19%). Sixteen percent were caused by some type of electrical failure or short circuit.
  • Almost one third (31%) of these fires started with the ignition of clothing. In one quarter (24%), dust, fiber, or lint was the first item ignited.

Source: NFPA’s U.S.Home Product Report: Appliances and Equipment Involved in Fires, November, 2005.