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Clean your clothes dryer regularly to prevent fires

10-Jan-2012

Heavy woolen and fleece clothes may help Canadians survive the country's long and frosty winters. But many people don't realize that they also carry a hidden hazard: when tumbled in a dryer, they shed loads of lint that can pack into cavities and exhaust pipes and increase the risk of fire.

There are about 12,700 clothes-dryer fires in residential buildings annually in the United States, according to the U.S. Fire Administration. These preventable fires caused 15 deaths, 300 injuries and about $88 million US in property damage. There are no comparable statistics available for Canada.

The Saint John Fire Department’s Fire Prevention Division has investigated two serious fires involving clothes dryers just in the past several days. Canadians in particular must be vigilant about maintaining a lint-free clothes dryer because of our long, slushy winters.

"In Canada, we use our dryers probably excessively," says District Chief Gerald Green. “If you're anything like most families, you're doing two to three loads of laundry every day, so make sure to clean the lint trap every time with every usage."

Failure to clean out lint traps is the main cause of dryer fires. A blocked vent or exhaust pipe blocks hot air from venting outside, turning the highly combustible lint into a fire hazard.

Consumers must check both the lint trap and the pipe for lint.

Fire Prevention staff recommend people use their vacuum cleaner to clear out lint buildup in the dryer.

To ensure you don't have a dryer fire:

  • Never put mops or rags that have been used with a wax, flammable solvents or oils in the dryer. The Saint John Fire Department cautions that even if these objects have been cleaned, they can still catch fire in the dryer.
  • Never put any items lined with natural or synthetic rubber, such as rubber-soled running shoes, in the dryer. Foam pillows or clothing with foam padding should also be left out to air dry.
  • If your clothes are taking longer than normal to dry, check for blocked pipes or lint buildup. If the unit is clean, the heater coil on the unit may be malfunctioning.
  • Replace ripped filters or cracked exhaust vents.
  • Choose aluminum or steel ducts over vinyl hoses, which can droop in certain areas creating pockets that might trap lint. Plastic ducts can also melt or collapse and fail to contain the fire within the unit.
  • In the winter, make sure that dryer vent flaps are not freezing shut or sticking.
  • Liquid fabric softener boosts the burning speed of all-cotton clothing including fleece, terry cloth and velour, according to the consumer watchdog Consumer Reports. Use dryer sheets for these clothes instead.
  • Don't leave your dryer running unattended because the shut-off switch can fail, causing the dryer to run continually. As an added safety precaution, be sure to place a working smoke alarm in the general vicinity of the dryer.
  • Keep the area around the dryer clear of flammable materials.
  • Make sure the dryer is plugged into an outlet with sufficient power.
  • A blocked vent will cause the dryer's high temperature safety switch to continually cycle on and off, which can lead to early failure.

For more information, visit saintjohn.ca/fire.