Lint. Harmless little thing, right? Not when it comes to your clothes dryer. Lint build-up causes about 15,000 dryer fires per year in the U.S..
Fortunately, you can easily protect yourself and your family by focusing on a few key areas.
Of course, make sure you clean the lint trap every single time you use the dryer. This not only lessens the risk of it overheating and causing a fire, but also reduces energy costs and ensures your clothes dry quicker.
The dryer duct, which is a length of tubing that connects your dryer to an exterior wall where hot air exhaust can be released, must have the air flowing through freely. If the dryer duct is made of foil or plastic, it can sag over time and trap lint. This prevents the hot air from escaping, causing your dryer to overheat and wear out prematurely, but even worse -- possibly causing a fire.
Telltale signs are a dryer that doesn’t dry clothes completely after a normal cycle, and heats up too much to the touch, on the outside. I’ve seen this issue first-hand, and it’s no joke. To help prevent this possibility, I strongly suggest you replace a plastic or foil dryer duct with a metal duct (either rigid or flexible). In fact, I know the City of Franklin TN began requiring metal dryer ducts in new construction several years ago. Another advantage to a metal duct: If built-up lint does catch on fire, it’s likely the metal duct will better contain the fire.
Regardless of what kind of dryer duct you have, it should be checked regularly, while the dryer is running, to make sure air is escaping freely. If it’s not, and you’re handy, unplug the dryer and detach the exhaust duct from the dryer. Use a long brush and vacuum to clean out the inside of the duct as far up as you can. Don’t forget to re-attach the duct to the dryer when done.
Every month, vacuum inside, behind, and under your dryer. Those “dust bunnies” are there, and are just waiting to multiply and eventually clog the dryer.
If there’s a serious blockage in your duct that can’t be remedied by these tips, stop using the dryer and call a reputable air-duct cleaning service asap. If the duct is clear, but the dryer is heating up too much and not properly drying clothes, call a qualified dryer service technician. But you can likely avoid some, or all, of this extra hassle and expense by performing simple, regular maintenance.
While we’re at it, here are some other tips that I had never thought of, until I started researching for today’s blog:
If you have clothes or rags stained with volatile chemicals (like gas, alcohol, cooking oils, cleaners, etc.), they might still give off vapors that could ignite in the dryer. Consider washing these items more than once and bypassing the dryer in favor of hanging them on a clothes line.
Make sure the items you place in the dryer won’t cause problems – things like rugs with foam backing, rubber items including athletic shoes, plastics, etc..
Never leave the house while a dryer is running. My wife has always told me this, and I never listened – but will now!
When you buy your next dryer, consider one with a moisture-sensor rather than a thermostat, which might let a dryer run longer than is needed.
Use dryer sheets? Several sources say dryer sheets could add a sticky, clogging coating to the lint trap over time, and keep air from getting through, which might cause lint build-up. If you use dryer sheets, just periodically clean your lint trap with soap, water and a brush.
The next “tip” sounds a bit extreme, but I’ll mention it, just FYI...
Some in Google-land suggest you should not use liquid fabric softener on all-cotton clothing made of fleece, terry cloth, or velour, for fear it might rev up the burning speed in these fabrics.
I’m not losing much sleep over this one, personally. Sounds more like an urban legend.
Speaking of urban legends, whatever happens to those socks that disappear in the laundry? Well, supposedly, there have been reports of socks sneaking past the dryer lint trap and getting caught inside. If you’re missing a lot of socks, that could solve the riddle once and for all.
Seriously, though, I hope we all keep a closer eye on our lowly but handy clothes dryers, and continue to keep our homes and families safe.