The Anatomy of a Dryer Fire

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Washing machine dryer

Dryer fires are more common than you think. According to the United States Fire Administration, 2,900 clothes dryer fires are reported each year, causing an average of 5 deaths, 100 injuries, and $35 million worth of property damage across 20,000 homes. This statistic fails to mention hundreds of dryer repair visits each year in Salt Lake City alone, which can amount to thousands of dollars spent that could have been avoided.

The leading cause of dryer fires is non-maintenance of the dryer, especially when you neglect to clean the unit after months of heavy use. But what exactly causes it?

Lint Buildup

The biggest culprit is lint buildup, which usually happens in tumble dryers due to how they work. Tumble dryers are so-called because of the rotating drum or the “tumbler” wherein you load clothes to be dried. When you turn the dryer on, the rotating motion of the drum and tumbling paddles whisk the water away from the clothes, where heated air, blown through holes at the bottom of the drum, vaporize the water vapor removed this way.

This hot air passes upward and through a lint filter. Lint is mostly a byproduct of the drying process, which are fine fibers from clothing (such as from cotton) that loosen because of the heat and the centrifugal force of the tumbler. And when you leave the lint filter unmaintained, lint will clog the filter. And this is where it gets nasty.

The Danger of Lint

Lint is highly flammable. Some people gather lint, not just from a dryer but using other means, as an alternative tinder or fuel for fireplaces. This presents another problem, however, as burning human-made cotton (and, by extension, lint) produces toxic fumes, mainly the lethal hydrogen cyanide.

Lint also causes moisture levels to rise, especially in the area in and around the dryer and the dryer vent. High levels of moisture can attract mold and mildew growth, which, apart from being unsightly, also makes the drying process inefficient.

Which leads to the actual cause of dryer fire: a blocked lint filter. As already mentioned, a tumble dryer uses hot air from a heating element, which rises to a lint filter. When a flammable substance blocks it and the system doesn’t think the clothes are drying properly, it supplies more heat, which will become trapped in the dryer. This heat can build up and ignite the lint, causing a runaway chain reaction.

row of washing machines

Exercising Fire Safety

Fortunately, you can ward off the danger of dryer fires by using common sense. For example, The Sun reported that a household in the UK suffered a dryer fire by leaving the machine operating overnight. This will not do, as is neglecting to clean the lint filter and vents regularly, ideally every use. Also, never dry clothes that have been soaked in volatile compounds like oil or gasoline, which can catch fire when exposed to high heat and pressure.

Dryer maintenance can be done on your own. That said, if you suspect that your dryer is in danger of fire, disconnect it immediately from a power source and call your dryer repair technician in Salt Lake City.


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