The day after Christmas, Auburn's historic Heritage Building, which stood witness to the 1929 stock market collapse, World War II, and countless global calamities, succumbed to a seemingly unworthy foe: a fire, perhaps sparked by a clothes dryer.
While investigation into the fire's cause is ongoing, residents using the building's laundry room reported seeing flames and smoke coming from a dryer before the structure was engulfed.
Nationwide, dryers start about 3,000 house fires a year. The culprit is often a buildup of flammable lint (check out this video to see how "Alaska Granny" uses it as a fire starter!). That's because for every scrap of fuzz you pull from your dryer's lint trap, there's another 25% you don't see! Some ends up on the ground below your dryer vent, while the rest gets stuck in the hose or trapped around the drum and motor. Without regular professional cleaning, that accumulated lint can impede airflow, cause overheating, and perhaps start a fire.
Fire isn't the only danger posed by improperly maintained dryer vent hoses. A loose hose can spew warm, humid air into wall cavities or your attic or crawlspace. Left unfixed, it's a recipe for mold and eventually rot – none of which your insurance can help you repair, since the cause is neglected maintenance.
The experts at Angie's List recommend you clean the entire system roughly once a year, depending on how much laundry you do.
- Clean the lint screen after every use.
- Make sure the vent hose isn't crushed behind the dryer.
- Replace plastic accordion-type vent hose with aluminum or, better yet, smooth sheet metal.
- Check outside vents for blockage from snow, leaves, or even rodents or bird nests.
- Never put cleaning rags in the dryer if you still can smell the cleaner's scent. They may be combustible. Rewash or line dry. Also, hang foam-backed rugs and athletic shoes from a line to dry.
- Never leave the dryer running when you're not at home.
Five warning signs you're overdue for vent-hose maintenance
- Longer than normal drying times or clothes that feel extremely hot when they come out.
- A moldy smell on the clothes.
- An empty lint trap (showing that it's no longer collecting lint).
- The dryer shuts off in mid-cycle (perhaps due to overheating).
- Excess lint built up behind the dryer.