Last year I wrote a column warning of the dangers of a buildup of clothes dryer lint and the potential for a lint fire inside your home. We always clean the dryer lint screen with every use and never ever leave the clothes dryer running if we are leaving home. Recently, while walking past the laundry area for an evening out, I noticed the distinct odor of smoke and knew right away it was lint. Removing two quarter-inch screws, I found a large buildup of scorched lint under the drum of the clothes dryer. The evening's activities were put on an immediate hold until I was sure there was no lingering or smoldering lint. Incidents like this are preventable. The U.S. Fire Administration estimates that there are 2,900 clothes dryer fires in residential buildings each year, resulting in five deaths and $35 million in property damage. The majority of dryer fires are the result of lint buildup inside the dryer or inside the pipe that vents to the outside. What should you do to prevent a possible dryer lint fire?
1. Clean the lint trap before each drying cycle. This is a simplest of maintenance that should be practiced with each load of clothes.
2. Make sure the pipe from the dryer vents to the outside of the house through a smooth-walled metal pipe. The pipe cannot be connected with screws that would protrude through the pipe and hold lint. Each section of pipe needs to be fastened with metallic tape and connect each pipe male to female so there are no exposed edges inside the pipe. Never use plastic pipes of any kind, because they will burn.
3. Clean the dryer at least once every six months or at a minimum once a year by removing the front access panel below the dryer's door and vacuuming the lint buildup that is accessible. In my case I pulled the dryer away from the wall and used an air compressor with a blower attachment to free the lint that was not accessible from the front panel. There are two or more small openings on the lower backside of a clothes dryer, in addition to the built-in vent pipe, where a blower can be used to loosen the trapped lint.
4. Make sure the built-in vent pipe on the dryer is securely attached to the smooth-walled metal vent pipe that extends to the exterior. A short section of a flexible metal pipe is used for the connection. Most vent pipes have a hose clamp that can be tightened with a screwdriver or quarter-inch nut driver. If the seal is loose, reseal it with metallic tape to improve the seal between the two pipes. When the dryer is pushed up against the wall, make sure the flexible metal pipe is not crushed or bent to restrict airflow.
5. Check the entire length of the vent pipe for gaps at joints and seams and repair or replace the pipe as needed. Check the pipes for excessive bending or sagging and try to reduce the number of bends. Each bend in a pipe is a restriction to the flow of air, and lint can build up at a bend or where the pipe hangs low.
C. Dwight Barnett is a certified master inspector with the American Society of Home Inspectors. Write to him with home improvement questions at C. Dwight Barnett, Evansville Courier & Press, P.O. Box 268, Evansville, Ind. 47702 or e-mail him at d.Barnett@insightbb.com.