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Keep Your Clothes Dryer From Catching Fire

August 3, 2011

In my first year in the fire service, the majority of the structure fires I fought were started by clothes dryers.  There tended to be two culprits.  Either there was a large accumulation of lint that caught fire or laundry items had fallen down behind the dryer and gotten in contact with something hot.

The US Fire Administration’s National Fire Data Center has some interesting statistics regarding dryer fires.  Clothes dryers accounted for 12,700 fires, 300 injuries and 15 deaths in the U.S. between 2002 and 2004.

As my experience showed, the leading cause of dryer fires was operational deficiency including failure to clean the dryer (43.1% of dryer fires).  The second leading cause was mechanical failure (32.6%).

More dryer fires occur in January than any other month and most occur between noon and 5:00 pm.  The most often first item ignited is clothing (28.5% of the time) or lint (27.8% of the time).

The average cost of damage to a home from dryer fires in 2002-2004 was $9176.00.  I’m not sure how many of us can afford to lose $9176, but here are some tips from the Consumer Product Safety Commission to help keep you from losing that much money (as well as your house and perhaps some of the people you love).

  1. Clean the lint trap every time you use the dryer
  2. Don’t pile clothes on top of the dryer.  That helps ensure clothing does not fall down behind the dryer.
  3. Clean out behind and underneath your clothes dryer periodically.
  4. Use metal pipe for your dryer vent.  Plastic pipe will melt out.  Metal rigid or flexible vent pipe will stand up to a lint fire much better.
  5. Check your dryer vent periodically while the dryer is operating.  There should be as much air coming out the vent as your dryer is pushing in.  If that’s not the case, you’ve got a blocked vent pipe somewhere.
  6. Inspect and clean your dryer vent system regularly.
  7. Use extreme caution when laundering items that might have flammable liquids on them.  Wash clothes contaminated by gasoline, cooking oil or finishing stains at least twice and then line dry them.  Often, one wash won’t remove all of the flammable liquid.  The clothes dryer will elevate the temperature of the contaminated clothing and it may start an auto-ignition reaction that will end in a fire in your clothes dryer.

Watch a video from Consumer Reports on dryer fires by clicking on this link:  http://youtu.be/CXyokuMDQiE

Sources:

Consumer Product Safety Commission.  (2003).  Overheated clothes dryers can cause fires.  Retrieved August 2, 2011 from www.cpsc.gov/cpscpub/pubs/5022.html

Federal Emergency Management Agency. (2007).  Clothes dryer fires in residential buildings.  Retrieved August 2, 2011 from www.usfa.dhs.gov/downloads/pdf/tfrs/v7i1.pdf

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