By Fire Chief Chris Martin
Spring has sprung and with it comes spring-cleaning. As you are washing and putting away the winter clothes and bedding, the Sterling Heights Fire Department suggests that you also add cleaning the dryer and venting system to your to-do list.
The buildup of lint in a dryer or the venting system is a common cause of fire in homes. According to FEMA:
- An estimated 2,900 clothes dryer fires in residential buildings are reported to U.S. fire departments each year and cause an estimated 5 deaths, 100 injuries, and $35 million in property loss.
- Failure to clean (34 percent) was the leading factor contributing to the ignition of clothes dryer fires in residential buildings.
- Dust, fiber, and lint (28 percent) and clothing not on a person (27 percent) were, by far, the leading items first ignited in clothes dryer fires in residential buildings.
- Fifty-four percent of clothes dryer fires in residential buildings were confined to the object of origin.
Are you ready to start cleaning now?
Right off the bat, make sure to remove the lint from your dryer filter after every load. Please drive this point home with anyone else in your family who does laundry. There's a reason why dryer lint is so popular with campers as a fire starter, it's incredibly flammable! Cleaning off the filter is especially important when drying something that produces excessive lint like blankets or towels.
A lint-free filter allows the airflow to pass through it and dry your clothes more quickly. Not only will this reduce the fire hazard, it can save you time and money.
While you have the filter out, try this quick test. Take the filter and run hot water through it. If the water does not pass through the mesh, it may be due to waxy residue from dryer sheets. A dirty lint filter clogged with residue can restrict airflow through the dryer, causing the dryer to work harder and possibly overheat.
To fix this, wash the filter with hot, soapy water and scrub gently with an old toothbrush. Allow the filter to dry completely and then put it back in the dryer.
With the filter out, use a narrow brush to scrape along the sides of where the filter slides in. You’d be surprised what can end up there. This may stir up a lot of dust, wearing a dusk mask will help.
With the lint filter clean, next move on to inspecting the dryer vent. By using a flashlight, inspect the area behind your dryer. You should be able to identify if you have an excessive buildup of lint on the back grate of the dryer, the surrounding floor or along the vent hose. If you can easily get to the end of your dryer vent outside your home, inspect the inside of the vent with a flashlight to identify any obvious buildup of lint.
Cleaning out the dryer or vents is another story. It is always best to hire a professional, but if you feel that you are up to the challenge and have the time and tools, it is certainly something that many can handle on their own.
Start by moving the dryer away from the wall to access it. Unplug the machine from the wall. Most of the time, the back grate of the dryer can be cleaned off with a shop-vac, however if you have a significant buildup of lint in the dryer, you may want to consult a professional to dismantle and clean the unit.
Next move to where the vent hose attaches to the dryer.
The vent hose may be attached to the back of the dryer with a dryer hose clamp or duct tape, you will need to disconnect the hose from the dryer.
Once the dryer is disconnected from the vent hose, a shop-vac or dryer cleaning brushes (available at hardware stores in different sizes and lengths) can be used to remove lint from the hose. This part can get messy, clean slowly as to not stir up the dust.
If you have the ability to access the vent from outside the house and can easily dismantle the vent cover, a shop-vac or brush can be used to clean it out from that end.
THIS PART IS IMPORTANT, READ IT TWICE.
When you are finished cleaning out the vent hose, proper reassembly of the venting system is very important. Remember, the purpose of the venting system is to remove the exhaust from the dryer safely to the outside. This exhaust contains carbon monoxide, which is a deadly gas that has no odor or color. The venting system has to be tightly fitted to the back of the dryer properly to be safe.
All other connections between the vent, hose and dryer must also be properly sealed together and secure. Never use screws to put the venting system together because the screws act as a hook collecting lint inside the vent. Duct tape works well for holding the venting system together.
Make sure that there are no crimps in the vent hose, (crimps can collect lint buildup and hinder exhaust flow) and that all connections stayed together after you plugged the dryer back in and pushed it back along the wall. Test the system by turning on the dryer and making sure you can’t identify any leaks from the back of the dryer and that you have a steady flow of air coming out of the vent outside.
- Make sure your home has working smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors.
- Smoke detectors need to be on every level of the home and in every sleeping area.
- Smoke detectors need to be replaced after 10 years, but the batteries need to be replaced twice a year, even if they are hard-wired detectors.
- Carbon monoxide detectors should be on each level of your home as well.
- Please, please, please do not run your dryer unless someone is home. Do not run your dryer and then go to bed. Yes, it saves time on chores but no one whose house has burned down from a dryer fire is grateful that they saved that time.
- Dryer vents should be UL (Underwriters Laboratories) (an organization focused on product safety testing and certification) Listed and be made of a metal material, NOT plastic.
Besides mounds of lint, below are items fished out of a dryer: 17 cents, 24 bobby pins, three collar stays, a zipper pull, a safety pin, allergy medicine, 12 alcohol wipes, a pen and two hair ties.