By Kevin Curtis
What do you have in your home or apartment that is annually responsible for around 15,000 fires, 20 deaths, over 300 injuries and more than $80 million in property damage?
According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, these fires are sparked every year by clothes dryers. Lint and other debris can build up in your dryer vent, reducing air flow to the dryer, backing up dryer exhaust gases, creating a fire hazard.
For many households and other establishments, the clothes dryer is an indispensable convenience and necessity. However, damaging fires can occur if clothes dryers are not properly installed and maintained.
Eighty-four percent of clothes dryer fires that occurred in buildings took place in residential buildings. While the majority of the lint is trapped by the dryer’s lint filter, a fair portion escapes past the filter and is suspended in the moist heated exhaust air. Lint buildup in the dryer vent reduces air flow and accelerates more lint buildup. Lint blow-back into the appliance is the result and the ultimate ignition concern.
Dryer fires can occur within the actual appliance or within the duct pipe. They can smolder for hours or be accelerated by the oxygen rich air that is provided by an operating dryer. Regular inspections and maintenance of the clothes dryer exhaust is recommended by all dryer manufacturers.
Beyond the inherent fire dangers of an improperly venting dryer, the reduction in efficiency that vent problems create should also be a concern. Over time, lint accumulates in every dryer’s exhaust system. The result is longer dryer times, which waste energy and wear out your clothes.
When you know how efficiently it’s exhausting, you can save money on clothes and energy. And — back to the safety issue — it’s good to know how your exhaust is performing and to always keep your exhaust ducts cleaned.
If you notice that it is taking two cycles to dry one load of clothes, this is a sign your clothes dryer venting system should be professionally cleaned. Call in an experienced technician to clean the dryer duct work and to check if something else is wrong with the dryer.
Call the Fort Leonard Wood Fire Department’s Fire Prevention Office at 573.596.0886 if you would like further information on dryer duct cleaning or other fire safety information.
(Editor’s note: Curtis is the Fort Leonard Wood Fire Department assistant fire chief.)