A new report issued by the U.S. Fire Administration (USFA) shows that 2,900 clothes dryer fires are reported to fire departments each year. In addition to causing $35 million in property damage, these fires are responsible for about five deaths and 100 injuries annually. The always-present danger in your home should not be casually dismissed as something that would never happen to you regardless of where you live – Charlotte, Colorado Springs, Columbus, Fort Worth, Fresno – they can happen anywhere. Luckily, there are some simple maintenance steps you can take to minimize the risk of a fire and its resulting harm, though it’s also a good idea to make sure your home insurance policy is current for your needs in the event of a fire.
The number one reason for clothes dryer fires is a failure to clean the appliance. The drying and tumbling process produces lint, which is highly flammable, and the heat generated by the dryer creates a combustible environment. Not regularly cleaning the lint out of the machines compounds the problem, increasing the likelihood of a fire in the dryer or the venting system. In fact, the lack of cleaning (and subsequent buildup of lint) is responsible for 34% of all clothes dryer fires.
Proper cleaning of the clothes dryer requires you to thoroughly remove the lint from the filter before and after each load. However, the cleaning process does not end with the filter, as it’s also important to remove accumulated lint from traps, vents, and areas surrounding the dryer. Venting is very important to the proper function of your clothes dryer. In addition to increasing its efficiency, proper exhausts dissipate the lint and moisture outdoors instead of remaining inside your home. Older homes that have been adapted to use modern clothes dryers sometimes do not have proper exterior vents, which is a significant fire hazard. Additionally, according to the USFA, all manufacturers of clothes dryers now advise consumers not to use plastic, flexible dryer ducts, as these can potentially become added fuel for a fire once it’s started.
However, even the best preventative measures may not always prevent a fire from occurring in your home. To that end, you need to ensure your smoke detectors are functioning properly as an early warning system. Most experts recommend testing your smoke detectors at least twice a year. In the USFA report, 16% of clothes dryer fires occurred in residential buildings without any smoke alarms. You should also consider not using a major appliance like a clothes dryer while it is unattended.
In a worst-case scenario, a clothes dryer fire spreads and causes damage to your home. To prepare for such a contingency, you would rely on your home insurance policy and the coverage it provides for property damage. If you are a renter, it’s equally important to maintain renter’s insurance. After all, when you live in a multi-family building, you cannot always control the actions of other residents around you, and a fire may displace you. In this scenario, your renter’s policy would provide you with the means to seek alternate living arrangements while your unit undergoes repairs.
Do not become a statistic. Use and maintain your clothes dryer wisely, and you can decrease your chances of becoming a victim of a clothes dryer fire.