Angie's List: Preventing dryer fires

If your clothes dryer takes more than one cycle to dry clothes, or gets hot to the touch, you may want to get your dryer vents cleaned. Angie's List has tips for avoiding a clogged dryer vent fire.

"Clothes dryers are an appliance that make our lives easier but we often take them for granted, but we shouldn't. We need to maintain them and most importantly have their vents cleaned because if we don't the dryer won't run as efficiently and it's a fire hazard," says Angie Hicks. "Dryer vent cleaning should be left to the experts. They have the proper tools and additionally they know whether your dryer vent meets code and they can fix it if it doesn't."

A dryer vent technician, like Glen Mayfield, knows how it should work.

"The dryer is designed to exhaust the heat and the moisture while it's drying. If that heat and moisture cannot get out of the dryer, then the dryer just sits there and keeps working itself but it can't accomplish the drying, which then means the dryer works harder and heat builds up and that is what can lead to a dryer vent fire."

If your dryer is clogged, you'll notice weak airflow coming out the exhaust.

Homeowner Brian Pinkins was shocked at what the technician found inside his home's dryer exhaust.

"He got out his tools and started to snake through our vent. As he was doing that nothing was happening. He said he could feel a large jam. Well about five minutes later a whole lot of dust and debris and dryer lint started coming out along with a bird's nest."

Even the design of your home can have an effect on your dryer's exhaust.

"In the newer architecture today many times the laundry area is placed where it's convenient for the homeowner, which means in the center part of the home," says Mayfield. "Then as a result the vent can run quite a long distance. We see 15, 20, 25 vents all the time. The longer the vent, the harder it is for the dryer to get the lint out, but it is accomplished by the dryer if the vent is clean. But those homes with longer vents are more susceptible to fire."

It's also not a good idea to leave your dryer running when you leave the house.

"We asked consumers whether they left their dryers running unattended and many people said they hadn't even thought about that being an issue," points out Hicks. "One consumer in particular who has a family of seven said if she didn't leave it running while she was away from home she'd never get her laundry done. While it may be convenient, you should never leave a dryer running while you're not at home. According to experts, more than 15,000 fires a year are a result of dryers being left unattended."

A cleaning typically costs between $100 and $150, depending on the length and location of the vent. In addition to the reduced threat of fire, a cleaning can actually pay for itself in less than a year through the improved efficiency with less drying time required.

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