How to prevent dryer fires

Experts share 4 ways to keep clothes dryer from building up lint, catching fire

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Every year, firefighters across the country respond to around 14,630 home fires caused by clothes dryers, according to the National Fire Protection Association.

An accumulation of lint causes one out of four fires, which means that not cleaning your dryer is more of a threat than a mechanical or electrical malfunction.

Some dryers have indicators designed to alert you when lint has built up and blocked the vent. Our clothes dryer tests have found that LG's FlowSense and Samsung's Vent Sensor detect completely blocked vents, but aren't as good as detecting partially blocked vents. The same is true for the check-vent feature on Whirlpool and Maytag dryers.

"Dryer fires are responsible for nine deaths, 420 civilian injuries and $222 million in property damage annually," Marty Ahrens, a spokesperson for the NFPA, told Consumer Reports.

Given these numbers, and the fact that more dryer fires occur in the fall and winter, we asked Consumer Reports' experts for advice on reducing your risk of a dryer fire. Below are four simple steps for laundry-room safety.

1. Clean your lint filter

Not once a month, or even once a week: "Remove lint from the dryer's lint screen every time you use your dryer," said Emilio Gonzalez, the test engineer who oversees CR's laundry appliance lab.

It doesn't matter if you take this step before or after running a load, but remove any lint from the screen at some point during each use.

"This helps prevent a fire, but it also helps your laundry dry faster," Gonzalez said.

2. Replace accordion-style ducts

Generally, dryers are equipped with a 4-inch vent in the back, which homeowners or installers connect to the exterior vent with a duct. But not all ducts are created equal.

If you see a plastic or foil accordion-style duct connecting your appliance to the vent, it's a good idea to replace it.

"These are risky because they can sag, allowing lint to build up at low points," Gonzalez said. "And the ridges on this style of duct can trap lint."

He recommends using a metal duct, whether it's flexible or rigid, since it won't sag, and lint is less likely to accumulate. Use the shortest length possible, and refer to the manual's instructions.

3. Inspect vent and exhaust duct periodically

If you notice that your dryer takes longer to dry laundry than it used to, it's a clue that there may be a blockage. Another clue: When you're drying a load, head outside, and take a look at the dryer vent, if you have access to it. Do you see or feel exhaust air? If not, the vent or exhaust duct may be blocked with lint.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission recommends disconnecting the duct from the dryer, cleaning it out, and reconnecting the duct to the dryer and outside vent. While you're at it, clean behind the dryer and underneath it -- lint builds up there, too. In winter, be sure that snow isn't covering the outdoor vent.

4. Take care when washing stained items

Clothes stained with flammable chemicals or substances, such as gas, cooking oil, cleaning agents or paint thinners need special care. The CPSC recommends washing the clothing more than once to minimize the volatile chemicals, then hanging it to dry. If you must use a dryer, use the lowest heat setting and a drying cycle that concludes with a cool-down period.

In the event that a fire does start, keep the dryer door closed, warns Ahrens -- a fire needs oxygen to keep it going.

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