Laundry is one of those every day chores on the “To Do List” that most people begrudgingly do out of necessity without ever giving much thought to safety issues. According to the National Fire Protection Agency (NFPA), roughly 15,500 fires are caused annually by clothes dryers, resulting in nearly 30 deaths, more than 400 injuries, and over $190 million in property damage. The good news is that there are ways to help protect your family and your home.
Over time, dryer vents can become clogged with lint. Although lint traps are designed to catch most of it, they are not foolproof. Lint is highly flammable and can make its way past the trap. This reduces the air flow and can cause exhaust gases to back up and lead to fire. Here are a few tips to help prevent potential fire hazards:
Follow the manufacturer’s operating instructions. Always read and follow the manufacturer’s operating instructions. Be mindful to not overload the clothes dryer. If you’re leaving the house or heading to bed, be sure to turn the dryer off.
Clean the lint trap. Remove lint from the lint screen every time you use the dryer. It only takes a minute or two to do this and can reduce the risk of fire in the heating element or exhaust vent. An added bonus of removing lint is that your dryer will work more efficiently because clothes will dry faster. It is also a good idea to check the drum for any stray fuzz that may have collected there, too.
Sweep or vacuum the surrounding area. Lint can also build up behind and underneath the dryer itself. Make it a regular habit to clean the area around the dryer as well. It is also a good idea to keep the area near the dryer free from flammable materials, such as cardboard boxes and cleaning supplies.
Use metal dryer vents. Whether rigid or flexible, metal venting material should be used to help prevent dryer fires. Foil or plastic dryer exhaust vents can sag and twist, allowing lint to build up, which can lead to fires. Lint is less likely to accumulate in metal vents because they do not sag.
Clean vents regularly. Regardless of what type of vent you have, it is important to clean it regularly to prevent lint build up. It is recommended that dryer vents be cleaned twice a year. However, if you notice that your clothes are taking longer to dry than usual, your dryer vent may need to be cleaned more often. If numerous people are using the same dryer, the appliance is more than 10 years old, or if the dryer vent is more than 10 feet long, it may also require attention more regularly.
There are two options for cleaning dryer vents: You can purchase a dryer vent cleaning kit online or at your local home improvement store, or you can hire a certified professional to do it for you. In addition to removing excessive lint, a professional can also check that birds or other critters have not nested in the exhaust vent.
Check the outdoor vent flap. Make sure that the exhaust vent has no restrictions and that the outdoor flap opens when the dryer is on. If you live in an area with wintery weather, be particularly careful that the flap does not become covered by snow, which can lead to carbon monoxide poisoning.
A little preventive maintenance can make a big difference when it comes to preventing clothes dryer fires. To help protect you and your home, as well as to extend the life of your dryer, be sure to put cleaning your dryer vent on your “To-Do List.”
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