While some homeowners may cling to clotheslines, machine dryers make laundry day a “breeze.” Sure, you may not get that “fresh air” scent in your clothes, but using machine dryers saves people a ton of time on laundry day.

However, there is a significant safety risk associated with clothes dryers. According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), malfunctioning washers or dryers accounted for 15,970 fires between 2010 and 2014. Of these incidents, over 90 percent were due to a faulty dryer.

Thankfully, homeowners could use many proactive strategies to prevent a dryer-related disaster. If you know how to clean and inspect your dryer, you shouldn’t have significant issues with this “hot” home appliance.

Just How Disastrous Are Dryer Fires? — A Quick Review Of The Stats

As mentioned above, the NFPA estimates there are roughly 4,000 home fires each year due to washers or dryers. However, since dryers cause about 90 percent of these cases, homeowners should focus most of their attention on these units.

Unfortunately, about 13 people die and another ~ 450 suffer significant injuries each year in these fires. In terms of property damage costs, the NFPA estimates dryer fires result in about $238 million per year.

The NFPA and the US Fire Administration agree that the top cause of dryer-related fires is excessive lint build-up. Somewhere between 25 – 35 percent of total dryer fires are caused when too much lint or debris clogs up a dryer unit. However, it’s also possible for electrical issues, cable malfunctions, or a bad drive belt to spark a fire.

Evidence from the USFA suggests most dryer fires happen in the cooler months, especially if owners don’t check their outdoor vent for snow debris. Firefighters get the most calls for dryer-related accidents in January.

How Could People Prevent Fires Related To Dryers? — The Top Safety Strategies

First off, homeowners should always rely on professionals to install and inspect a new dryer in their home. Please be sure to ask your installer any questions you may have about your dryer to ensure you take proper care of it.

Once a dryer is safely installed in your home, safety experts stress the importance of regularly cleaning this unit. Since lint is the key culprit in dryer-related fires, it makes sense that removing these fabric fibers is the best way to prevent this issue.

Consumer Reports and the USFA recommend getting in the habit of cleaning lint filters after every load of laundry. Homeowners should also schedule one day every few months to inspect their vent pipe, duct, and the back of their dryer for lint. It’s a good idea to clean these areas of your dryer about every three to six months. Please be sure to unplug your unit whenever checking these areas.

Speaking of vent ducts, Consumer Reports recommends opting for metal units because they have the lowest susceptibility of gathering lint. If you can’t deal with the rigidity of a metal duct, then at least consider more flexible metal units rather than the standard foil designs.

People who live in snow-prone areas must take extra care to inspect their duct for debris in the cold months. There’s also a chance your dryer duct could attract tiny critters or insects, so be sure to keep this risk in mind.

Although getting rid of lint is crucial, homeowners should also consider what they’re putting in their dryer. Most significantly, please don’t put any clothes that got soaked in flammable liquids like gasoline or alcohol into the dryer. Also, avoid putting items with rubber or plastic into the dryer, and never overfill your unit. Please be sure the area around your dryer is free from potentially flammable materials.

It’s also important to consider when to use your dryer. You should never turn your dryer on if you plan to leave home or take a nap. If a fire does occur, someone should be up to monitor this unit. If nobody is going to be in your home for over a week, you should consider unplugging your dryer for peace of mind.

Homeowners may also want to schedule an annual professional inspection, especially if their dryer is old. People who have gas-powered unit should also ensure there are no leaks in their connection. Please keep in mind that most dryers last between 10 – 13 years.

If a fire breaks out in your dryer, you must prioritize your family’s safety. Please don’t attempt to extinguish the fire unless you have professional experience in emergency scenarios. To help contain the blaze, never open your dryer when something catches fire. Please get everyone outside your house ASAP and shut the door behind you. Once you’re in a safe area out of your home, call 911 for professional help.

Side Note: Do Lint Detectors Work? 

Since lint is the primary cause behind dryer fires, some companies have begun including “lint sensors” in their appliances. Unfortunately, there’s no evidence this technology is a suitable replacement for manual inspections. Indeed, according to some reports, these new features only detect lint when it reaches excessive levels.

So, while these sensors may help remind you to clean filters, homeowners shouldn’t overly rely on them. It’s better to establish a routine of cleaning lint filters every time you use your dryer.

Always Dry With Safety In Mind!  

Clothes dryers have a relatively high incidence of causing fires. If you have one of these units in your home, you should take extra care to inspect it for lint build-up. You should also contact a professional if you have any concerns over your dryer’s performance, especially as your unit gets older.

If you have specific questions about caring for your dryer, you should refer to your official user manual. You could also contact your manufacturer’s customer support line for questions about best-care practices.

Taking the time to clean and maintain your dryer could save you from a severe accident. Although dryer-related fires may not be the most common reason for home fires, it’s a topic worthy of serious consideration.