NJ AIR QUALITY BLOG

Only You Can Prevent Dryer Fires

ByMarc Silberberg

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Many folks who choose to call in a professional dryer vent cleaning technician do so for reasons such as their dryer taking longer for the clothes to dry, the dryer getting very hot after a cycle, or they may notice lint sticking out of their outside vent.

A professional dryer vent technician will not only remove access lint buildup but will also sanitize your vent to remove viruses, bacteria and even fungi which can be harmful to the residents’ health especially in the winter. As the drum of your dryer turns, there is lint buildup in hard to get to areas and when the vent is clogged it becomes difficult for the moisture from wet clothing and towels to be eliminated causing the dryer to overheat. This in turn will make your monthly electric bill go up substantially and it is usually not practical for an amateur to get the job done because not only can you miss the debris and dust in hard-to-reach areas you may make it worse by compacting the lint. More serious than these is the danger of dryer fires.

Just a few months ago firefighters were mobilized in Graham County, Arizona to check on a fire caused by a clothes dryer. The residents of the home told the firefighters that they were in the midst of doing laundry when they noticed smoke and saw the dryer on fire. Luckily, they were near the laundry room and were able to put out the fire with a nearby fire extinguisher and outside water hoses. Dryer lint is the leading cause of clothes dryer fires in the home. Imagine how frightening it was for these lucky residents to see the dryer catch on fire while they were watching.

The above scenario strengthens the warning to never put on a clothes dryer before going to sleep. The reason the people in Graham County survived was because they noticed the fire immediately. Children, babies, and pets could be sleeping innocently at night and their poor parents may not have time to get them out before the fire spreads to their rooms.

The when or why folks decide to call a dryer vent cleaning company is not necessarily because their clothes dryer is not working efficiently. My friend just told me that she called in a dryer vent cleaning professional, and I assumed that her dryer was not working properly, and she needed her vent cleaned out. However, when I mentioned my presumption of a problem with her dryer, she responded in the negative claiming her dryer was actually working normally. “Was your dryer making funny noises?”, I inquired curiously. “No, the dryer was working as efficiently as ever and no, it was not making any strange noises.” Pretty impressive for a dryer that is at least twenty years old, longer than most dryers are expected to survive.

After getting over my surprise that her dryer was working and she had still taken advantage of a recommended professional, my friend shared with me the reason why she called the vent cleaner. It was just plain unadulterated fear! She had been reading and hearing horror stories about fires that started because of clogged vents and ducts of clothes dryers. Thankfully, she didn’t know of anyone personally whose house had caught fire due to this danger, but her daughter had recently had her dryer ducts and vents cleaned and was quite satisfied with the professional who came. Neither my friend or her daughter had any trouble with their dryer per say but were not taking any chances of any clogged lint or wet globs of lint mixed with water causing a fire in their homes.

My friend is of the age where she leaves the technical stuff to her husband. We are both aware that for the millennials and Gen Xers, the woman of the house often takes care of the appliances and their subsequent repairs when necessary. At the same time, their husbands take care of the kids, shop and even cook when required. But for seniors the division of labor is more traditional, and my friend’s husband is fortunate that she at least cleans out the lint trap after every load. That is the limit of her knowledge of a clothes dryer’s mechanics.

I was curious as to how much my friend actually knew about the goings on in her dryer vent system, so I asked her if she knew where the lint was venting to before the air quality specialist arrived. It is hard to believe but she did not have a clue where the actual vent was blowing out the air and lint. After the specialist left, she was able to tell me that there is a hole in her basement wall for the venting. She also mentioned that she had noticed several months ago that there was a hole in the tubing going to the vent. I asked her if that affected the quality of her dryer service and she answered that it did not. She did tell me that the professional not only cleaned out the tubing going to the outside, but he vacuumed any place he could get to in, outside of and near the dryer including the lint trap. I would bet that in a couple of weeks she will get back to me admitting that her dryer is drying quicker than before.

Some folks are reluctant to spend money on cleaning out their dryer and venting system if the dryer is working efficiently, that is until they hear a horror story about a tragic fire caused by clogged vents and tubing. People mistakenly believe that as long as you clean your lint trap, you’re safe, but the truth is there is great danger in any type of clogs going on in the piping that leads to the outside for proper venting of the clothes dryer. I’m certain that it is not only my friend who would ignore a hole in the piping of the venting system of their dryer, just as people fail to change their central air filters monthly and fail to clean out their vacuum cleaners thoroughly.

I have even heard a story of a robot vacuum causing a home fire because it attached itself to a tablecloth or carpet and the motor just kept going and going until it became so hot that it caught fire. Robot vacuums are great because they can be preprogrammed and turned on even when the occupants are not at home. These apps should be used with caution because as good as a robot vacuum is, it still cannot be prevented from catching on to some stray piece of fabric such as area rug fringes or telephone chargers that are plugged in.

Major appliances should not be left on when no one is at home. For example, for those of us who own a self-cleaning oven we know that there is never a convenient time to turn on the self-cleaning mechanism. This is because it takes several hours to go through a whole clean cycle and since most of the owners of these ovens clean them only occasionally, they want the full cycle to be on. Never leave a self-cleaning oven on if no one is home. These appliances generate such high heat temperatures that they are too dangerous to be left on independently. It’s possible that something was left inadvertently in the oven and that could cause a fire.

Portable heaters are another appliance that should be supervised seriously. Today’s new heaters are much safer than their predecessors but even if you have the newest model something can go wrong. Better to be a little colder but a lot safer by turning them off at night and when you step out of your home.

Your dryer vent hose may need to be replaced sooner than you realize, and some homeowners cannot see the details of the hose from close up since the hose is situated behind the dryer. My friend’s plastic hose was noticeable to her, but she was clueless about the damage therein. Her air quality specialist replaced the hose with a new one eliminating the need to clean it out. The entire job from beginning to end included replacing the hose, cleaning in and around the dryer itself, and checking on the dryer’s efficiency cost $225 for about one and a half hours of labor and including new plastic tubing. This was approximately the price that she was quoted as an estimate before the specialist started when he said it would be about $200.

By cleaning your dryer vent regularly by a professional you will save money on electricity, get your laundry dried faster and above all prevent the buildup of lint and compacted debris from causing an unexpected, dangerous, and life-threatening fire in your home. My friend concluded that she is so happy that she had her dryer vent cleaned, “So I can have peace of mind and sleep at night.” I’m sure you would agree it’s a fair price to pay for safely.

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