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Prevent dryer fires: Cleaning the lint trap is only the start

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By Sarah Jackson
Herald Writer
Published:
  • Lint flies from the dryer vent hose as Peter Lui augers the hose. Lui first places a fan at the dryer end of the hose to blow the trapped lint out.

    Michael O'Leary / The Herald

    Lint flies from the dryer vent hose as Peter Lui augers the hose. Lui first places a fan at the dryer end of the hose to blow the trapped lint out.

  • Lint flies from the dryer vent hose as Peter Lui augers it. Lui places a fan at the dryer end of the hose to blow out trapped lint.

    Michael O'Leary / The Herald

    Lint flies from the dryer vent hose as Peter Lui augers it. Lui places a fan at the dryer end of the hose to blow out trapped lint.

  • Accumulated lint and dust aren't just gross -- they can become a fire hazard and shorten the life of your dryer.

    Accumulated lint and dust aren't just gross -- they can become a fire hazard and shorten the life of your dryer.

If you're worried about having a fire break out in your clothes dryer -- a common concern among homeowners -- you probably clean your machine's lint catcher before every cycle.
Good job.
That's what you're supposed to do.
But there are other steps you need to take to keep your dryer working efficiently and safely, according to Snohomish County dryer experts.
When lint builds up in a dryer or, more important, in its exhaust vent hose, fire risk increases.
The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission and the National Fire Protection Association have blamed dryer fires for roughly 15,000 home fires annually in recent years.
Dryers with lint problems are also much more likely to break down because of burned-out heating elements and thermostats.
Here's what to do to prevent fires and avoid having to fix or replace your dryer.

Replace plastic or foil vent hoses with metal.
Lint catchers collect only 70 percent to 90 percent of dryer lint, said Peter Lui, owner of the local Dryer Vent Wizard, a national franchise that offers dryer vent inspections, cleaning, repair and installation.
That means some of that lint needs to be exhausted out of your home through the hose on the back of your dryer.
Flexible plastic or foil dryer hose venting should be replaced with rigid or corrugated semi-rigid metal hose venting, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission.
That's because plastic, foil and other accordion-style venting is more likely to sag, which can trap lint, heat and moisture.
Lui uses special brushes and tools to clean dryer hoses. He said how often a vent hose needs cleaning can vary from annually to many years.
It just depends on the condition and configuration of the hose, the type of dryer and the type and frequency of usage.

Inspect and clean your dryer vent hose.
Blocked dryer hose venting can prevent damp, hot air from escaping and that can cause the dryer to work harder and longer, which can burn out heating elements, thermostats and other parts, said Mike Trushinsky, an appliance service technician with Judd & Black in Everett.
If your dryer seems to be taking a lot longer to dry clothes, that's a red flag and could mean an increased risk of fire inside the dryer or venting hose, Trushinsky said.
"When you can't get rid of the damp air, it's like a sauna in there," he said. "When the lint gets wet and damp, it actually hardens and starts to stick."
Anyone can check for a possible hose failure by going outside to make sure exhaust air is escaping the vent while the dryer is operating.
Hose vents more than seven feet long are more likely to clog and may require professional cleaning tools or more frequent cleaning, said Lui, who charges a minimum $39 service fee for his home visits.
Lui can diagnose potential problems with the dryer and can clean and update most venting systems.
If major construction is required to upgrade your venting hose, however, you may need a general contractor.
And if your machine needs to be taken apart to have parts replaced, you'll need to hire a technician such as Trushinsky, who said his minimum dryer service charge is $80.

Wash your lint catcher.
Lint-catching screens, especially if you use fabric softener or dryer sheets, can become covered in an invisible film that can make it sticky and less effective, Lui said.
Lui said lint screens can become so filmy that water will actually pool on top rather than running through them when he goes to clean them for clients.
"That's how clogged it can become," he said. "It actually puddles."
Wash your lint catcher every six months with soapy water and small cleaning brush.

Put a brick behind your dryer.
Dryers have a tendency to get pushed back every time someone closes the dryer door, which can damage or crush venting systems.
Trushinsky recommends putting a brick or a piece of wood cut to size to keep your machine from shifting.

Clean behind the dryer.
Keep the area around the dryer clean and free of clutter. The Consumer Product Safety Commission recommends having a professional clean the interior of the dryer periodically to minimize the amount of lint accumulation.

Resources
Dryer Vent Wizard, Peter Lui, 866-498-7233, www.dryerventwizard.com
Judd and Black, 2808 Maple St., Everett; 425-258-4557, www.juddblack.com

Story tags » FireHome Improvement

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