Avoiding Dryer Fires through Routine Service and Repair

A clothes dryer that is not properly maintained can be the most dangerous of household appliances.  There are over fifteen thousand dryer fires in the United States annually.  If you took off the panels that conceal the inner workings of your gas dryer, you might be surprised to see a large fireball heating it up.  Electric dryers are heated with a coiled element reminiscent of a kitchen stovetop.  The reason the dryer seldom bursts into flames is because none of the parts in the appliance will burn.  However, lint is produced by the abrasion of fabrics and builds up in the dryer.  Not only is lint very flammable, but it also restricts the flow of hot air to the outside, heating up the appliance.  Lint is the cause of most dryer fires.

The most fundamental tool in the prevention of dryer fires is the lint filter.  Always make sure that this filter is slid fully into the dryer whenever it runs, and wipe off all of the lint built up on it after each and every load.  This will remove most, but not all of the lint.

How do you know if there is a buildup of lint inside your dryer?  If the airflow is restricted, your laundry might still be damp after the cycle or your clothes might take a long time to dry.  Alternately, the laundry room might become damp.  Another indicator is if your clothes or the area around the machine become extremely hot.


Inspect the machine to make sure it is vented correctly.  Examine the venting, a four inch thick tube that connects the back of the appliance with the outside.  It should be rigid and metal, as the plastic, accordion types are not approved and can contribute to house fires.  These flexible ducts kink up and collect lint and can burn through.  Metal ventilation ducts, on the other hand, keep their proper shape and can contain fires to some degree.  So replace flexible venting with the rigid type.  Check the outdoor vent to see if air is blowing out and make sure it is not obstructed.

In the end, there are important tasks that are too technical for the average home owner and require professional assistance.  All of the lint should be cleaned from the ventilation tubes about once every two years for shorter vents or annually for longer vents.    You can do this yourself, but it would require taking apart the venting and then putting it back together again.  Moving the dryer around can cause breakages in the gas lines or venting if you make a mistake.  Fortunately there are specialized servicers that can clean your venting for you.  At Dave Smith Appliance Services, we clean out the lint that accumulates on the inside of the dryer’s workings.  This is a job that should be done within five years of buying new dryer and once every two to three years for an older dryer.  We recommend that only an appliance repair professional should clean lint out of your dryer because there are delicate parts inside that can be damaged.  Extensive disassembly is sometimes required.

Lint is not the only cause of dryer fires.  Many start when clothes with flammable liquids on them are put into the dryer.  Among these dangerous liquids are not only obvious substances like gasoline and kerosene, but also things like paint and cooking grease.  Wash potentially flammable clothes twice.  Instead of putting them into the dryer, hang them out to air dry.

The area around the dryer should be free of clothes, boxes, or clutter.  You certainly do not want anything flammable and volatile nearby.

Other basic dryer safety tips include not overloading the machine and making sure that your dryer is electrically grounded.  Do not leave the house or go to sleep while your dryer is running.  And of course follow the precautions that come with your owner’s manual.