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Dryer Fires: Common Causes And How To Prevent Them

Erin Gobler4-minute read
April 25, 2022

Fire is the worst nightmare for many homeowners. Not only can a fire result in you losing your home and all of your belongings, but they also pose a major safety risk to you and your family. And while most of us understand the danger of house fires, we don’t necessarily know what causes them or how we can prevent them.

Many house fires in the United States are caused by home appliances, including dryers. In this article, we’ll talk about the causes of dryer fires, what homeowners can do to prevent them, and what to do if a dryer fire breaks out in your home.

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How Common Are Dryer Vent Fires?

There’s a good chance that dryer fires are more common than you realize. According to the National Fire Protection Association, there were an average of 13,820 fires per year caused by clothes dryers between the years 2014 and 2018. From those fires, there was an annual average of seven civilian deaths, 344 civilian injuries, and more than $233 million in property damage. While these numbers seem high, they are actually down slightly from the previous four-year period.

Most of these dryer fires happen in the fall and winter months, with the highest number of fires happening in January. This is the case because people tend to use their dryers more often and dry larger, bulkier items in a dryer that hasn’t been properly cleaned.

How Do Dryer Fires Start?

There are several reasons why dryer fires are so common and knowing them can help you reduce your chances of a fire in your home. Below we’ll discuss some of the most common dryer fire causes, which generally fall into two categories: lint buildup and mechanical failure.

Dryer Lint

You probably already know you’re supposed to clean the lint out of the dryer when you use it. Lint is the leftover fibers that come from your clothing, and it happens to be extremely flammable. Lint buildup is responsible for about one-third of dryer fires in the United States. 27% of fires specifically resulted from lint igniting in flames.

Mechanical/Electrical Failure

A large number of dryer fires are caused by mechanical or electrical failures with the dryer. More specifically, 27% were caused by mechanical failures, while 16% were caused by electrical failures.

How To Prevent Dryer Fires

While dryer fires aren’t 100% preventable, there are some fire safety tips you can use to prevent such a disaster from happening in your home.

Ensure Proper Installation

It’s critical that your dryer be installed correctly to help avoid a fire. You should follow the manufacturer’s instructions exactly when installing your dryer and vent. If you aren’t comfortable properly installing the dryer yourself, you can hire a professional to ensure the job is done right.

Clean Lint Filters

We’ve already talked about how lint buildup is one of the major causes of dryer fires. The good news is there’s plenty you can do to prevent lint from starting a fire in your home. The most important step you can take is to empty the lint trap in your dryer after each use.

Clean Lint Vents And Ducts

Your lint trap will catch a lot of the lint that’s in your dryer, but it likely won’t catch all of it. For that reason, simply cleaning out your lint trap isn’t enough. You should also regularly clean your dryer vent and dryer duct to get any lint that’s caught in there. Doing so will help improve airflow to make sure the hot air from your dryer can properly escape. It’s recommended that you fully clean your dryer hose at least once per year and inspect it for blockages every 6 months or so.

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Don’t Leave Home With The Dryer Running

It can be tempting to throw a load of laundry into the dryer before you go to bed or before you head out to run an errand. Unfortunately, this can increase your risk of a dryer fire and increase the risk of a fire causing major damage to your home. To help prevent the worst from happening, be sure you’re always home and awake when you run a drying cycle — never leave it unattended. This will allow you to take quick action in case there is an emergency.

Be Smart With Clothes And Dryer Location

It’s important to pay attention to what items you’re putting into the dryer. If you spill a flammable chemical such as gasoline on your clothing, it seems natural to throw them in the washer and dryer. But it’s important to make sure they’re well cleaned before putting these flammable chemicals in the dryer. Run them through several wash cycles first. Additionally, be careful of drying clothing with aluminum or plastic that may be more likely to cause a fire. You may want to line dry those items.

In addition to being cautious about what you put in your dryer, you should also consider where you’ll put your dryer in the first place. Make sure there’s plenty of airflow in your laundry room or wherever your dryer is located. You should also work to keep the area around your dryer as clean as possible, especially of flammable materials. About 6% of dryer fires are caused because the dryer is too close to combustible material, and that’s something you can prevent.

Properly Maintain Your Dryer

You probably don’t think of your clothes dryer as an appliance that requires much maintenance, but it actually does. First, just as you might have your other appliances inspected regularly, you can also have your dryer inspected to check for safety hazards. Additionally, at some point, you may have to replace your dryer duct. You should replace it any time it’s ripped or is no longer doing its job correctly.

How To Put Out A Dryer Fire

Unfortunately, dryer fires aren’t 100% preventable. And if a dryer fire does break out in your home, it’s important to act quickly to mitigate the damage.

First, make sure your home is prepared for a fire. You can do this by ensuring you have a fire extinguisher that’s easily accessible. Additionally, you should immediately call the fire department in the case of a dryer fire. Even if the fire seems small and manageable, don’t try to put it out on your own. It can quickly get out of control, and it may be too late to save your home at that point.

The Bottom Line

House fires are a legitimate fear for homeowners, and many of them are caused by the unsuspecting dryer. The good news is by knowing what causes most dryer fires, you can also help to prevent them. Make sure you also learn about home warranties, which cover dryers and can be a good idea to look into to repair or replace faulty dryers and avoid dryer fires.

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Erin Gobler

Erin Gobler is a freelance personal finance expert and writer who has been publishing content online for nearly a decade. She specializes in financial topics like mortgages, investing, and credit cards. Erin's work has appeared in publications like Fox Business, NextAdvisor, Credit Karma, and more.