A surprisingly high number of fires in the home are caused by something as simple as lint. In North America, more than 3,000 home clothes dryer fires are reported each year, causing millions of dollars in property loss, significant injuries, and even death. This is tragic, as fires caused by clothes dryers are mostly preventable if you make it a routine to inspect and clean them.
If your dryer is in need of cleaning or maintenance, it starts to give warning signs. The most obvious is that it starts to take longer than normal to dry your clothes, or doesn't dry them completely in a single cycle. Clothes can also be unusually hot at the end of the cycle, indicating that the heat is not escaping properly. If your laundry room gets very humid or starts to smell like smoke, your dryer could be in danger of causing a fire. And remember that while it’s tempting to do laundry overnight or while you’re out running errands, treat your dryer the same way you would treat an open flame; never leave it unattended.
The simplest place to start with dryer safety is the lint filter. It’s important to clean lint filters every time you do a load of clothes, since the filter traps only around 60% of lint to begin with. The more lint there is on the filter, the less effective it is. Lint is extremely flammable, so you don’t want an excess of it in the dryer. Next check the inside of the drum for any clumps of lint that have gotten trapped in the seams. These need to be removed before each load, so clear the drum at the same time you clear the lint trap.
For more extensive maintenance, the dryer piping should be thoroughly cleaned at least once a year and the vents inspected every season. Check that your dryer’s piping is made from a good-quality venting material. Plastic isn’t a safe choice here, particularly if it has a significant "accordion" quality, as lint can get trapped and collect in the folds. Next be sure that the exhaust vent pipe is properly open and not restricted by anything. Depending on where your exhaust is, bird nests can also be a hazard.
To clean out the piping yourself, just disconnect your dryer and use a vacuum cleaner without the brush head attachment to suction any loose lint or dust out of the pipes. Vacuum from both ends of the piping. For your annual clean, it’s best to hire a professional cleaner who can dismantle and clear the pipes completely.
Dryers are a great modern convenience, and with a little care and vigilance they can be made a great deal safer as well.