One of the simplest yet most neglected maintenance tasks in the home has to do with your clothes dryer. Failing to do this simple task can sometimes have deadly results.
Dangerous dryer fires are extremely common. In fact, in my job as a Certified Dryer Exhaust Technician, I speak to two or three people a month who have called me because their dryer caught on fire. In most cases, these fires were totally preventable.
Cleaning and washing the lint screen in your clothes dryer can help avoid dangerous dryer fires!
What is a lint screen?
Every dryer has a lint screen. Some are located at the top of the dryer. Some are located just inside the door of the dryer. Here are examples of each.
If you still don’t know where your lint screen is, check your dryer’s instruction manual.
Don’t ever use your clothes dryer with a damaged or missing lint screen.
Cleaning your lint screen
Before each load of laundry, pull out the lint screen and remove any lint. Simply use your fingers to remove the lint from the screen and throw away the lint.
Some of the more sophisticated clothes dryers have an alert if the dryer senses that the screen is full. Don’t depend on the alert. It’s best to get in the habit of removing the lint before every load of laundry.
Not cleaning your screen before each load creates extra wear and tear on your dryer, resulting in expensive appliance repairs. In addition, your clothes won’t dry as quickly, creating more expensive utility bills.
Washing your lint screen
In addition to cleaning your screen before each load of laundry, washing your screen is extremely important. Residue from laundry detergent, fabric softener, and dryer pads collects on the screening material. This residue can plug up the screen which makes your dryer harder to “breathe.” Screens should be washed every few months, depending on your family’s laundry habits.
Washing a lint screen is very simple:
1) Remove the screen and clean off any lint as you normally do before each load. Never use water to wash off the lint.
2) Run hot water over each side of the screen.
3) Wet a soft bristle brush or old toothbrush and scrub both sides of the screen.
4) Rinse both sides of the screen with hot water to remove the soap.
5) Repeat as needed until the screen is clean and there’s no more soap residue.
6) Inspect the screen to make sure no soap residue remains as well as the condition of the screen.
7) Dry the screen with a clean towel or allow to air dry.
8) Re-install the clean screen before using the dryer.
CAUTION: Don’t apply too much pressure to the screen. Damaging or tearing the somewhat fragile screening material will result in having to buy a new lint screen.
Of course, cleaning your screen is only one way to avoid dryer fires. Having an appliance technician clean out the lint from inside the dryer under the drum should be done once or twice a year. In addition, having a Certified Dryer Technician clean out your dryer vent system once a year is also extremely important. Here are some important tips on how to avoid a dangerous dryer fire.
Dryer fires are easily avoidable with just these simple tasks.
As one of the few women Certified Dryer Exhaust Technicians in California, I speak to many people about their dryers. On average, I receive 2-3 calls a month from people who have experienced a terrifying dryer fire.
Simple, easy-to-do tips you can do to prevent a dryer fire
• Clean out the lint screen after every load of laundry.
• Never use your dryer without a lint screen.
• Always check pockets before doing your laundry. Paper products like Kleenex, cocktail napkins, shopping lists, and receipts get past the lint screen and land inside the dryer along with lint which creates the fuel for a dryer fire. These products also clog the dryer vent which makes the dryer run hotter, setting yourself up for a dangerous dryer fire.
• If you use fabric softener in your washer or dryer sheets in the dryer, we recommend washing the lint screen every few months, using water, liquid soap, and a toothbrush. Fabric softener and dryer sheets leave a chemical film that clogs the lint screen, causing your dryer to overheat.
• Don’t overload your dryer. This can also cause the dryer to overheat, potentially causing a dryer fire.
• If your dryer is located in a laundry room or laundry closet, the doors to the room or closet must be open when the dryer is on. A dryer needs 100 square inches of oxygen, the equivalent of a 10″ x 10″ window. If the dryer doesn’t have this make-up air, it can overheat.
• If you have an exhaust fan in your laundry room, keep it off while the dryer is running, especially if the laundry room or laundry closet doors are closed. The exhaust fan removes air from the room. The dryer needs that oxygen in order to ventilate properly.
• Never have a screen where the dryer vent exhausts out. The screen will prevent animals from entering the dryer vent but the screen plugs up easily with lint. Instead, use a dryer damper or flapper.
• The dryer needs at least 18″ of clearance in front of it. The dryer pulls air from underneath the dryer. If a laundry basket or other objects are in front of the dryer, it makes it harder for the dryer to pull the air in, causing the dryer to overheat.
• The flexible connector hose between the back of the dryer and the wall must be shiny aluminum, not white plastic or vinyl. Some dryer manufacturers require rigid venting behind the dryer. Check the dryer’s manufacturer’s instructions for the proper transition between the back of the dryer and the wall.
• Don’t push the dryer too close to the wall behind it. This may kink, crush or collapse the flexible connector hose which may prevent the dryer from exhausting properly. This connector hose must be as short as possible and never longer than eight feet. It should only be long enough to go from the back of the dryer to the wall with just a little slack so that it still stays connected if you pull the dryer out. Here’s a link to several options for dryer vent hoses for tight spaces.
• Building code requires that the dryer vent to the outside of the house. Indoor dryer vent kits do not meet that requirement and could create a potentially dangerous situation, especially for venting a gas dryer.
• Dryer vents cannot vent into garages, attics, basements or crawl spaces. For every load of clothes you dry, the dryer vents a half of a gallon in condensation, creating a sauna in the room. This moisture can create mold in enclosed areas.
• The dryer vent going into or through any enclosed area (garages, attics, basements or crawl spaces) must be the rigid dryer vent pipe. The flexible connector hose can only be used for the short distance between the back of the dryer and the wall, never inside an enclosed area.
• Always have an ABC-type of fire extinguisher close to or inside the laundry room in case of a dryer fire.
• Have your dryer vent cleaned once a year by a professional Certified Dryer Exhaust Technician. Most people don’t realize that it’s typically chimney sweeps who do dryer vent cleaning. This is because the chimney industry has developed the proper tools and equipment specifically for dryer vents. If the dryer vent is not cleaned correctly, the dryer vent can get disconnected inside the walls or completely plugged up, making for a very expensive repair.
• Make sure to ask how the dryer vent cleaning professional cleans the dryer vent. Professional dryer exhaust technicians will use a brushing method to scrub the dryer vent clean from beginning to end. These brushes have rods that go through the multiple 90 degree bends that most dryer vent systems have. Many companies who are not professional will only use vacuums or air pressure that just remove the loose lint accumulation and not the caked-on, paper-mache’ buildup inside a dryer vent.
• Professional dryer exhaust technicians also have special tools, either a Magnehelic Gage or Vane Anemometer, to measure the airflow of the dryer. After a thorough dryer vent cleaning is done, we test the pressure at the termination. If the system doesn’t have air pressure, then we know that either the dryer needs a repair or there’s a disconnected vent inside the wall. Here’s how to find a professional Certified Dryer Exhaust Technician.
• Cleaning out your dryer vent is only one side of the issue. A dryer fire can also be caused by the clothes dryer itself. The paper and lint accumulation inside the dryer under the drum is typically where the dryer fire occurs. For that reason, hire a professional appliance technician to clean out the inside of the dryer once or twice a year, depending on your laundry habits. Simply cleaning the lint screen isn’t enough because the paper and lint can get past the lint screen and land inside the dryer. The only way to remove that lint is to open up the dryer.
• The most important piece of advice I have: Never go to bed with the dryer on and don’t leave the house either!! You want to be home and you want to be awake in case of a dryer fire. This is especially true when your dryer is located in an attached garage. Building code requires a one-hour fire-rated door between the garage and the house. Your garage would be completely gone before you would even know you had a fire. In this case, it’s especially dangerous if you have a bedroom above the garage.
Cleaning out your dryer vent as well as inside the dryer itself will save you money on utility bills, create less wear and tear on the dryer, reduce expensive appliance repairs and will reduce the chance of a dryer fire.
Proper maintenance of your dryer vent, as well as your dryer, can give you peace of mind from a potential dryer fire.
As homes are remodeled and laundry rooms are created where there wasn’t one before, contractors have had to get very creative with how to vent the dryer from the laundry room to the exterior of the home as required by building code. Sometimes it’s not possible to vent to the outside. In this case, contractors may recommend an “Indoor Dryer Vent Kit.” These kits can be easily found in hardware stores, big box stores and online.
The manufacturers of these products claim to solve the problem of venting a dryer to the exterior of the home. They also claim that Indoor Dryer Vent Kits are ideal for apartments, condominiums and RV’s.
However there are some down sides. Here are some things you may want to take into consideration if you use this product.
How do these Indoor Dryer Vent Kits work?
The flexible dryer exhaust hose is simply routed from the back of the dryer into the reservoir of these Indoor Dryer Vent Kits. Water is placed inside the reservoir. The theory to this product is that the water acts as a filter and catches the lint. The homeowner is supposed to change out the water after every load.
Eight problem with Indoor Dryer Vent Kits
1) Just because a product is sold in a big box store doesn’t mean that it meets building code. In fact, the 2016 California Mechanical code 504.4 specifically says: “Clothes dryer exhaust ducts shall (meaning required to) terminate to the outside of the building.” Many states have this same code. This means that Indoor Dryer Vent Kits are against code in California and in fact, in most other states. Before purchasing, check your state and local mechanical codes to determine if these products are legal to use in your area.
2) For every load of laundry you dry, you are venting up to a gallon of water in condensation from your dryer. This will create a sauna in your laundry room. The water reservoir for an Indoor Dryer Vent Kit doesn’t prevent that moisture from exhausting into that room. In fact, the humidity in that room can get so bad that your walls and ceiling will be dripping with moisture. Eventually the paint will bubble and peel. The extra moisture will also ruin wood cabinets in the room. Opening up a door or window in the laundry room may not be enough to solve the excessive moisture issue.
3) This extra humidity and moisture will create mold problems in your home since the moisture is getting into the drywall and wood cabinets.
4) Lint can pass through the Indoor Dryer Vent Kit’s reservoir without going into the reservoir water which means the lint will coat your laundry room and house with a fine layer of lint. The lint doesn’t necessarily get trapped inside that water reservoir. When lint accumulates inside a room, the buildup can create a fire hazard. And of course, it creates a mess too.
5) There have been documented complaints that the fine particulates of lint that escape from the reservoir can cause the smoke detector to go off.
6) Even more dangerous, the manufacturers of these Indoor Dryer Vent Lint Kits warn homeowners not to use this device with gas dryers. Many homeowners either don’t realize this hazard or may not even know if they have an electric dryer or gas dryer. Venting your gas dryer inside a home is like running your car in the garage with the garage door closed. This could prove deadly.
7) The hassle factor is huge. The manufacturers of the Indoor Dryer Vent Kits recommend to change the water inside the reservoir after every load. In reality, when we go to a house that has been using this set-up, the water hasn’t been changed for weeks or months since it’s such a nuisance to deal with.
8) Since most of us now live in airtight homes, the lint particulates migrate into the entire living area. It is then in the air you breathe. For people who have asthma or allergies, this can be a major health hazard. Why take the risk?
Solutions to dryer vent problems
If the system is routed properly, many times the very simple fix is to clean the existing dryer vent system that may have become plugged with use. Most people don’t realize that chimney sweeps do dryer vent cleaning. They have the proper specialized dryer vent cleaning equipment that will scrub through the multiple 90 degree bends that most dryer vent systems have.
There’s nothing more annoying for a homeowner than when the clothes dryer stops working. Laundry comes to a complete standstill and there’s no place to put the basket full of sopping wet clothes. In this case, most homeowners automatically think there’s a problem with the dryer itself and so they call the appliance repair company. After several days waiting for the repairman to show up, he takes five minutes to determine that there’s nothing wrong with the dryer at all. The dryer vent is clogged. So now the homeowner has paid for a totally unnecessary expense for an appliance repair. As a Certified Dryer Exhaust Technician, I hear this story almost daily from frustrated homeowners who just want to get their laundry done.
Another even worse scenario that we see too often: When your dryer takes too long to dry, you automatically think that the problem is with the dryer. Since the dryer is a few years old, you spend the big bucks to buy a new dryer. The new dryer is installed and, once again, takes too long to dry. You come to the frustrating realization that you just spent unnecessary money on a new dryer while throwing away a perfectly functional dryer. The dryer vent was the problem, not the dryer.
So how do you tell if your dryer vent is clogged?
1) Your clothing takes too long to dry. It should not take any longer than 45 minutes to dry an average load of laundry.
2) The Exhaust Termination (also referred to as a “Flapper,” “Wall Cap Termination” or “Roof Termination”) where the dryer exhausts to the outside doesn’t open when the dryer is on.
3) The dryer seems to be overly hot to the touch when the dryer is on. Also, the laundry room feels like a sauna when the dryer is on.
4) In the case of a gas dryer, the carbon monoxide detector in the laundry room sounds its obnoxious alarm. Blocked or plugged up dryer vents may allow the carbon monoxide to back up into the home since the gases cannot exhaust properly. It is highly recommended to install a carbon monoxide detector in the laundry room when you have a gas dryer.
5) More lint than normal appears around the dryer and in the laundry room.
6) On more sophisticated dryers, the electronic read-out will indicate that there’s an issue with the dryer vent or lint screen.
8) The screen that surrounds the dryer exhaust termination is plugged up. Although the screens are useful for keeping out rodents, the screens are actually against code because they tend to plug up with lint.
9) Your clothes develop a musty or moldy smell.
10) Your dryer stops working. If the dryer doesn’t vent properly, the dryer overheats and will damage expensive parts in the dryer in which case you will need an appliance repairman to fix the dryer after the dryer vent cleaning.
What NOT To Do With A Dryer Vent
Some DIY’ers choose to purchase a Dryer Vent Cleaning Kit from one of the big box home improvement stores. However, because these kits are intended for dryer vent systems less than ten feet long and most homes have dryer vents far longer, using these kits actually creates a blockage, making it more difficult for a professional to remove the blockage.
Who do you call to clean a dryer vent?
Most appliance repair companies don’t touch dryer vents and most dryer vent professionals don’t fix dryers. To find a qualified Certified Dryer Exhaust Technician in your area, go to Chimney Safety Institute of America and look for a C-Det Certified Dryer Technician. Make sure that the technician uses a brushing method to scrub the vent clean and not just air pressure or vacuums which just removes the loose lint.
After the dryer vent is cleaned, you’ll be happy to get back to doing your laundry in no time!
Many homeowners don’t realize just how potentially dangerous it is to do laundry. According to the National Fire Protection Association, between 2010 to 2014, there were an estimated 15,970 fires due to washers and dryers in the United States each year. Interestingly, the innocent-looking clothes dryer accounted for 92% of those fires.
These fires resulted in 13 civilian deaths, 440 civilian injuries and $238 million in property damage.
With over 20 years of experience as only one of two women Certified Dryer Exhaust Technicians in California, I know the importance of safety as it relates to dryer vents. Here are important safety-related “Do’s” and “Don’ts” to reduce the chance of dryer fires
Nine Important “Do’s” for Dryer Vents
1) When installing a new dryer, always install a new connector hose between the dryer and the wall. This hose should be a metal connector hose, either rigid or flexible. If your connector hose is white plastic or vinyl, replace it immediately since those are potential fire hazards. In the case of a flexible hose, the hose should only be long enough to go between the dryer and the wall with a little slack so that if you pull out the dryer, the hose still stays connected to the wall. The Chimney Safety Institute of America (CSIA) recommends that this connector hose never be longer than eight feet. For tight spaces behind the dryer, here is a link for options for dryer vent hoses.
2) Always clean out the lint screen before each load. Never use your dryer without the lint screen installed.
3) Using dryer sheets or dryer pads may leave a chemical film on your lint screen, which makes your dryer harder to “breathe.” If you use these products, clean your lint screen using water, liquid soap and a toothbrush every few months.
4) Keep combustible and volatile materials away from your dryer. Paper products like toilet paper and paper towels should not be stored too close to the dryer. In addition, flammable or volatile chemicals such as alcohol, gasoline, motor oil, finishing oils and stains, spot removers, solvents, cleaning agents and cooking oils should not be stored in the laundry room. These chemicals are not only flammable but they can also give off toxic vapors and odors.
5) Always check pockets before you do your laundry. Paper products such as receipts, note paper, or cocktail napkins will get past the lint screen and land inside the dryer under the drum where the paper becomes a fire hazard. Dryer sheets or dryer pads can also get into the vent. Sometimes this paper, along with lint which you have no control over, will get passed from the dryer into the dryer vent where it mixes with moisture from drying your clothes and becomes paper mache inside the vent pipe. This will clog up the vent, creating a potential fire hazard for your dryer.
6) Just because the dryer venting system is clean, doesn’t mean you never have to worry about dryer fires. The lint and paper accumulation inside the dryer under the drum is the fuel that creates the dryer fires. Contact an appliance repair company to periodically have the lint and paper accumulation cleaned out from the body of the dryer, under the drum.
7) Due to the high incidence of dryer fires, an ABC-type fire extinguisher located close to the dryer is highly recommended in a visible and accessible location.
8) In addition to the fire hazard associated with dryer fires, there’s also the issue of carbon monoxide poisoning. Blocked or plugged up dryer vents for gas dryers may allow carbon monoxide to back up into the home. It is highly recommended to install a carbon monoxide detector close to the dryer when you have a gas dryer.
9) Have the dryer vents professionally brushed out on a regular basis. Professionals vary as to the frequency for cleaning out the dryer vents but the CSIA recommends that the dryer vent be checked on an annual basis. Of course, your laundry habits as well as how the dryer venting system is routed will be contributing factors in the frequency of the dryer vent cleaning. To find a qualified Certified Dryer Exhaust Technician in your area, go to www.csia.org. Make sure that the technician uses a brushing method to scrub the vent clean.
Many companies will only use vacuums or air pressure which will simply remove the loose accumulation from the dryer vent which is a waste of your time and money. A professional Dryer Exhaust Technician will also use a Magnehelic Gage or Vane Anemometer to measure the air flow of the dryer vent system after the dryer vent cleaning.
Nine Important “Don’ts” for Dryer Vents
1) Don’t push the dryer too close to the wall behind the clothes dryer. The connector hose should not be kinked or crushed which will reduce air flow. Not only will this create more lint in the dryer but your dryer will run hotter than it needs to, setting you up for a dangerous dryer fire.
2) Don’t close the door to the laundry room or laundry closet when your dryer is on. According to the Uniform Mechanical Code, a dryer needs 100 square inches of “make-up air,” the equivalent of a 10″x10″ window. Without this make-up air, the dryer will run harder and hotter than it needs to. This isn’t good for the dryer and it’s not safe for you.
3) Don’t use the exhaust fan in your laundry room if the dryer is on. The exhaust fan pulls air out of the room, which makes your dryer harder to bring in the make-up air that it needs.
4) Never dry clothes that have flammable or volatile chemicals on them. Instead, dry these clothes outside.
5) Don’t overload your dryer. It makes your dryer run harder and hotter than it needs to. This will create extra wear-and-tear on your dryer as well as expensive dryer repairs, and it will reduce the lifespan of your dryer.
6) Your dryer brings in make-up air from underneath and in front of your dryer. Don’t block this area with baskets of laundry. There should be a minimum of 18″ of open area in front of your dryer.
7) Never dry rubber-backed rugs or bathroom mats or other items with foam, plastic or vinyl materials. Not only does this potentially create a fire hazard, but it’ll ruin the items due to the high heat.
8) Dryers must always vent to the exterior of the house and never into enclosed areas like garages, attics, or crawl spaces. Never use the indoor dryer vent box kits purchased from the big box stores. These are not to code and can be especially dangerous if you’re venting a gas dryer.
9) Lastly and most importantly, NEVER run your dryer if you’re not at home or if you’re asleep. I receive several phone calls a month from people whose dryer caught on fire. You want to be home AND awake in case it does.
Following these tips will reduce the chance of dangerous dryer fires and will keep you worry-free while doing your laundry!