Lethal Lint: Your Lint Trap Could be a Death Trap

A house fire, even a small one, is a terrifying prospect.  A legal assistant here at Skinner Law Firm remembers a dryer fire at her home when she was a small girl.  She woke from sleep to the sound of the fire alarm going off.  They called 911.  She, her mother, and her sister evacuated the house, and her father investigated the source.  He found smoke pouring from the laundry room in the basement.  Fortunately, he was able to extinguish the fire before it spread, and the fire department made sure there weren’t any remaining hotspots.  However, each year, hundreds of other families aren’t so lucky.

Clothes dryers are a common source of residential fires.  From 2008 to 2010 there were an estimated 2,900 residential fires that started in clothes dryers.  The estimated property loss was around $35 million.  (FEMA).  This type of fire is generally covered by homeowners’ insurance.  In fact, Andrew Skinner has a former colleague whose entire legal practice involves claims from clothes dryer fires.

Although electrical defects are sometimes to blame for dryer fires, the most frequent cause of a dryer fire is lint trapped in the dryer’s venting duct.  Vents can also be clogged by birds’ nests or other debris from the outdoors.  When the vent is clogged, it can become heated to the point that the material clogging it ignites.

According to experts like the National Fire Protection Association and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, there are a number of ways to reduce the danger of a dryer fire.  Clean the lint trap of your dryer before each use.  Be careful about the items you put in the dryer; never dry things like athletic shoes or foam backed rugs because these synthetic materials are flammable.  Make sure your dryer is properly vented.  Use only metal ducts to vent and be sure the duct is no longer than thirty-five feet.  If your dryer is taking longer than usual to dry items, or if the cycle finishes, but the clothes are still damp, inspect the vent.  You should consider having a professional clean the vent at least every two to three years. (NFPA).

FEMA:  www.usfa.fema.gov/downloads/pdf/statistics/v13i7.pdf
NFPA:  http://www.nfpa.org/safety-information/for-consumers/causes/dryers-and-washing-machines/dryer-safety-tips
Photo Credit:  CPSC Fire Safety Week – http://www.cpsc.gov/onsafety/2009/10/fire-prevention-week/