If your clothes dryer gets super hot and gives off a burnt smell in the laundry room, does that mean it's time to buy a new one? Not necessarily—it just may be time to clean your dryer vent. Lint balls are extremely flammable. Check out this Farmers Insurance commercial on dryer fires.
The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission estimates that lint-filled dryer vents cause over 15,000 fires per year. Clothes dryer fires also account for approximately 20 fatalities, 400 injuries, and over $100 million in property damage annually. The leading cause of these clothes dryer fires is a “failure to clean” them. If you have an electric clothes dryer, the chance of fire is 250% greater than if you have a gas dryer.
The good news is that these fires are preventable. The cause of these fires are most frequently from two places—the dryer vent and the lint trap. Too many people think the dryer’s lint trap catches all of the lint from the laundry, but the truth is that it doesn’t. Some lint makes its way past the trap and can build up around the dryer’s heating element and in the vent. When lint accumulates in your dryer vent, it prevents air from flowing through the vent. So, be sure to clean the lint trap before and after every load.
Pay attention to the warning signs that dangerous lint buildup is occurring in your dryer and venting system. Signs that something is awry include the following: clothes taking longer and longer to dry; clothes not drying fully; clothes are hotter than normal at the end of a normal drying cycle; the outside of the dryer gets very hot; laundry room becomes more humid than it is usually; and/or a burnt smell is evident in the laundry room. If you notice any of these things taking place, then a clogged dryer vent exhaust is likely the problem.
Proper cleaning and maintenance are key to prevention. Most, if not all, dryer fires can be avoided by proper maintenance whether you’re the homeowner, renter, or property manager. Clean the lint out of the exhaust pipe and rear of the dryer regularly to make sure nothing is blocking it on the outside of the house where it exhausts. The exhaust pipe should be as short as possible and have limited bends to allow for adequate airflow. Frequency of maintenance will depend on your use, but a general guideline is to clean and inspect the dryer duct and venting every couple of years (or hire a professional company to clean the dryer components). Routine maintenance to effectively clean your dryer and dryer vent hoses/venting system requires a special dryer brush kit (starting at around $15).
There are a number of resources listed below for more information:
• Consumer Product Safety Commission: “Overheated Clothes Dryers Can Cause Fires”
• U.S. Fire Administration: “Clothes Dryer Fires in Residential Buildings”
• About.com video: “Dryer Vent Cleaning – Dryer Repair” by Bob Formisano