Dryer fires are most common during the fall and winter months, but the Target 12 Investigators have identified important steps homeowners can take to reduce the risk of danger in the laundry room.
Heidi Bernier of Bridgewater recalls smelling smoke in her home, and tracing it back to her dryer.
“It was clear that it was coming from the dryer. I could see flames,” Bernier told Target 12.
Fortunately for Bernier, her husband managed to pull the dryer away from the wall before the flames spread. But others are not so lucky.
According to the U.S. Fire Administration, there are about 2,900 dryer fires across the U.S. each year which result in an estimated five deaths, 100 injuries, and $35 million in property loss.
The number one culprit is highly-flammable lint. Cumberland Fire Chief Kenneth Finlay tells Target 12 there are two main problem places in the dryer: the exhaust pipe, and the lint screen. Finlay explains that an excess build-up of lint in either area can cause heat to build up to the point where the lint ignites.
“Cotton seems to shed more than polyester, so if you have a lot of children in the house with a lot of cotton for clothing, it will shed. We all like the luxurious, thick towels when we’re done with our showers or baths, those shed dramatically.”
Chief Finlay conducted a controlled demonstration for the Target 12 Investigators, lighting actual lint from a dryer exhaust hose on fire to show how quickly it can go up in flames. He recommends cleaning out your lint screen after every load, and cleaning out your dryer exhaust four times a year.
“You can go to a local hardware store and get a brush and a Shopvac and brush and Shopvac it out,” says Finlay.
But sometimes cleaning the lint trap and the exhaust are not enough. Heidi Bernier says she had just had her vent cleaned before her dryer ignited.
“There was a compartment underneath the drum that the lint had been leaking into,” recalls Bernier, “and that’s what caught fire.”
Target 12 found brushes available at a local hardware store for as little as $6 to brush out that extra lint. A larger brush with a drill attachment was also available for about $20 to help remove lint from the exhaust hose.
If you want to hire a professional, prepare to pay a little bit more. Target 12 contacted several local companies that specialize in dryer vent cleaning and received quotes ranging from $109 to $250.
Experts also suggest never running your dryer while you are sleeping or out of the house, and they recommend keeping the area around your dryer clean to prevent other items from catching fire.