Up Close and Personal with My Dryer

Clothes Dryer SafetyBy Trish Holder

I don’t leave the house when my laundry dryer is running. At least not anymore, I don’t. And I clean out the lint trap religiously – something I’m ashamed to admit I didn’t always do.

Why my sudden hyper-vigilance with my clothes dryer? I learned recently that the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) issued a report in 2012 that concluded an estimated 16,800 home fires involving clothes dryers or washing machines occurred in 2010. Clothes dryers accounted for 92% of those fires.

It’s not like I sit around reading NFPA reports all day. If I’ve tried to convince my homeowner readers of anything, it’s that I’m just like you. I work. I have kids. Obviously I do laundry. But because I am a writer for the HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) industry, I get exposed to a lot of information that the average homeowner doesn’t. Recently, while doing some research for an article I was writing about dryer exhaust ventilation (sexy, huh?), I learned a few things about clothes dryer safety.

How To Make Your Laundry Room Safer
First, not taking the time to clean out the lint trap each and every time you put in a load of laundry is really, really stupid. Lint build-up in the dryer cabinet is, overwhelmingly, the primary cause of dryer related fires – and this is usually due to homeowners neglecting to clean out the lint trap. Guilty.

Second, I learned how important it is that the dryer exhaust be vented with rigid or flexible METAL venting material – none of that plastic crap. Fortunately, my dryer has the correct venting material. But it’s still not ideal because it has to make a few turns before it reaches the exit vent on the exterior wall of my house. The more bends, kinks, crimps, etc., the more obstructed the airflow is and when airflow is obstructed, hot moist air can’t efficiently exit the unit. Hence, clothes remain damp after a dryer cycle. Furthermore, good airflow helps carry away suspended lint particles that can become a fire hazard if they accumulate in the dryer or the duct.

What The International Building Code (IRC) Has To Say
I’m fortunate in that my dryer is located close to an exterior wall. The exhaust vent makes a fairly short trip out the laundry room wall, into the crawlspace, and out the exterior wall, which is about four feet away from the laundry room. The International Residential Code (IRC) dictates that maximum length for dryer exhaust duct/vent cannot exceed 35 feet from the dryer location to the wall or roof termination. Each elbow reduces this maximum length by 5 feet since bends create more airflow restriction than straight duct. By keeping the exhaust path short and straight, you not only reduce your risk for dryer related fires, but clothes dry faster and more efficiently. Makes you think twice about having that centrally located laundry room, doesn’t it?

In my opinion, safety trumps convenience, so my preference would always be to have the laundry room located on an exterior wall for short, straight dryer venting. However, if you find yourself in a house in which there is absolutely no way to vent your dryer with 35 feet or less of vent (not counting bends – remember they equal 5 feet!) there are ventilation fans specifically designed to boost the airflow from the dryer. These devices are a suitable solution under the IRC.

Clean Your Lint Trap!
So, take a peek behind that dryer and do a little easy math in your head, especially if you’ve been frustrated with the lengthy dry times and damp clothes. Obstructed airflow is not only the likely cause; it’s also a fire hazard. Also, if you can possibly avoid it, don’t dry clothes when there are no adults in the home—just in case. And clean that pesky lint trap!

Remember, there’s nothing green about a house fire, or taking 3 hours to dry a single load of clothes!


6 Responses »

  1. I agree cleaning the lint trap is a good thing to do. Do you know the internal duct and fan need to be cleaned as well as scrubbing the lint screen. Do you know anyone that does this?

    Quote from a dryer manual

    “As needed cleaning
    Laundry detergent and fabric softener residue can build up on the lint screen. This buildup can cause longer drying times for your clothes, or cause the dryer to stop before your load is completely dry. The screen is probably clogged if lint falls off while the screen is in the dryer.
    Clean the lint screen with a nylon brush every 6 months, or more frequently, if it becomes clogged due to a residue buildup.
    To wash
    1. Roll lint off the screen with your fingers.
    2. Wet both sides of lint screen with hot water.
    3. Wet a nylon brush with hot water and liquid detergent. Scrub lint screen with the brush to remove residue buildup.
    4. Rinse screen with hot water.
    5. Thoroughly dry lint screen with a clean towel. Replace screen in dryer.

    From Inside the Dryer Cabinet
    Lint should be removed every 2 years, or more often, depending on dryer usage, Cleaning should be done by a qualified person.
    From the Exhaust Vent
    Lint should be removed every 2 years, or more often, depending on dryer usage.”

  2. Great reminder Trish. I have been touting this for about 4 years now to every client. I have some great photos I have taken of dryers disassembled showing the hazard you refer to. Not only does it reduce the fire hazard, but it truly saves the dry time for people who take advantage of the advice. I have had clients contact me thanking me for the recommendation suggesting I actually “saved” them from having to buy a new dryer. I’ll take whatever credit I can. lol. Cheers……….LW

  3. Excellent advice, Trish. I have been a fanatic over dryer venting for decades because I have seen first hand the amount of damage that can be caused because of poor (restrictive) dryer venting and not keeping that lint screen cleaned…each and every time the dryer is used.

    I have seen fire damage, mostly confined to the dryer but still pretty scary stuff, but also that caused building damage. Mostly though, I see dryer failures due to heat buildup causing dryer component failures. Gas dryers can be even more lethal if the venting is not proper.

    This article needs to be viewed by everyone who uses a dryer as a public safety announcement.

    • Glad you liked it, Robin. Please share the link as often as you can. I’ve personally become a bit fanatical about it myself. Having my dryer vent cleaned is next on my to-do list!

  4. Trish, very nicely written. The latest wrinkle (no pun intended:)) is that some of the fabric softeners leave an invisible film on the filters that prevent air flow just like the lint would. If you use that stuff, try running water through the filter to make sure it is allowing air through. There should be virtually no disruption of the stream of water.

  5. Great article….and if you don’t use a dryer than that is even better. We ‘sun dry’ our clothes. Smell nice, use no electricity, and no risk of fire!

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