Clothes dryers are a great convenience and they've made our lives a lot easier. But they don't come without hazards of their own. According to the National Fire Protection Association, in 2006, an estimated 17,700 fires involving clothes dryers and washing machines were reported in the United States. That includes 15 deaths and about $194 million in property damage. While washers are part of that number, the large majority (92%) were from clothes dryers.
By far, the leading cause of fires in home fires involving clothes dryers was a failure to keep the machine clean (29%). The second cause was mechanical failure or malfunction (24%), and 13 percent were caused by electrical failure or a short circuit.
While reality is that disaster can strike at any time without warning, there's no need to invite it in just by being careless. Here are some things you can do to lesson that possibility as well as extend the life of your appliance.
Clean the lint screen/filter: Make a habit of this every time you dry a load of clothes. Don't wait until the next load because you'll probably forget. If you find that the clothing is still wet or that it takes too long for the clothing to dry, the lint screen or the exhaust duct may be blocked.
Be sure to clean the exhaust duct work and the vent in the dryer. Check where your dryer is vented outside to make sure that the air from the exhaust is being released. If it isn't, then either the exhaust duct or the vent may be blocked and you will need to remove the blockage. That may mean that you'll have to disconnect the exhaust duct from the dryer. Before you use the dryer again, don't forget to reconnect the duct to the dryer and the outside vent.
Clean behind the dryer. Lint can also build up behind your dryer. For this you want to have a professional, or someone with experience to clean the interior of the dryer chassis. Have this done periodically to reduce the accumulation of lint. The area around the dryer should be kept clean and clutter free.
Ducting material. The flexible plastic or foil types of ducting are more prone to trap lint as well as to become crushed or kinked which inhibits the airflow. Check your manufacturer specifications. Most specify the use of a rigid or corrugated semi-rigid metal duct. This will provide maximum airflow for your exhaust.
Be careful about what you put into the dryer. If you have clothing that has been soiled with volatile chemicals such as cleaning agents, cooking oil, finishing oils and stains or gasoline, you may want to consider hanging these clothes to dry. If you can, wash these items more than once to minimize the chemicals actually on the cloth. If you must use the dryer for these items, do it on the lowest setting and with a dryer that has a cool down period. Don't leave these clothes in the dryer or piled in a laundry basket.
Don't leave your dryer running unattended. Sure, there are those times when you have to dry tomorrow's clothes. Don't go to bed while clothes are still drying. Likewise, don't start the dryer and leave the house. Plan head, as it is a requirement. But saving your life and your home will be worth the effort.
These tips will not only increase the safety of your dryer, but proper care and maintenance will increase the life span of the appliance.