Dryer Vent FAQs

Q: What is the leading cause of dryer fires?
A: According to the US Fire Administration (USFA), the leading cause of home clothes dryer fires is failure to clean them. The leading cause of home clothes dryer and washer fires was failure to clean (32%), followed by unclassified mechanical failure or malfunction (22%). Eight percent were caused by some type of electrical failure or malfunction.

Q: How often should I have my dryer vents cleaned?
A: Typically a dryer vent needs cleaning every two to three years. However, it is recommended that the first vent cleaning for a dryer should be rechecked within a year to determine a reasonable frequency for cleaning depending on several factors including:

  • How much use the dryer gets
  • What the dryer vent is like – longer, curvier vents typically get much more lint trapped in them than short, straight vents
  • The dryer itself – the age, model, and type of dryer

Q: How many dryer fires occur each year?
A: USFA statistics tell us that 2,900 home clothes dryer fires are reported each year and cause an estimated 5 deaths, 100 injuries, and $35 million in property loss.

Q: Is the risk of a dryer fire higher with gas dryers vs. electric fires?
A: The risk of fire is roughly equal for gas-fueled clothes dryers and electric-powered clothes dryers according to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA)

Q: What signs should I look for to know it’s time have my dryer vent cleaned?
A:

  • Slow drying time or clothes are damp after a normal 35-40 minute cycle
  • Strong fabric softener smell when dryer is running
  • Large amounts of lint collect in the lint trap
  • Clothes feel hot to the touch when finished drying
  • The laundry room (or room where the dryer is located) seems unusually warm after the dryer runs
  • You notice lint buildup in the outside dryer vent where it exits your home
  • You can’t see any steam or hear any noise outside your house at the wall vent when you run the dryer

Q: What are the biggest homeowner dryer use mistakes?
A:

  • Leaving the dryer running when going to bed or leaving the house.
  • Using a dryer without a lint filter or with a lint filter that is loose, damaged or clogged.
  • Overloading the dryer.
  • Not cleaning the duct regularly or cleaning the lint screen with every load. You should clean inside, behind, and underneath the dryer regularly as well.
  • Covering the wall damper with cloth or a metal screen.
  • Drying items that contain foam, rubber or plastic (like rugs with rubber backing).
  • Drying items manufacturer’s instructions clearly state “do not dry with heat.”
  • Drying items that have come into contact with flammable materials like alcohol, cooking oils or gasoline.

Q: What kind of regular maintenance should I do with my dryer?
A:

  • Check the venting system behind the dryer to ensure it is not damaged or restricted.
  • Make sure outside wall dampers have a cover to keep out rain, snow and dirt.
  • Check the outdoor vent while the dryer is running to make sure it opens when the dryer is on.
  • Check regularly to make sure nests of small animals are not blocking the outside vent.
  • Replace cloth, coiled-wire foil or plastic venting with rigid, non-ribbed metal tubes.
  • If your dryer is a gas dryer, have it inspected every year by a professional to make sure the gas line and connection are together and free of leaks.
  • Keep the area around the clothes dryer free of items that can burn (including lint).
  • If you will be away from home for an extended time, unplug or disconnect the dryer.
  • Read manufacturers’ instructions and warnings in use and care manuals that come with new dryers.

Q: What kind of venting hoses are safest?
A: Make sure your dryer ducts are made of metal. Ducts made of foil or plastic can sag and cause lint to collect in low points. Straight vents are safer than ridged vents as ridges can allow lint to collect in low points as well. The smoother and shorter the vent tubing, the safer it is. Also, metal ducts will contain a fire better than foil or plastic ducts.

To learn more about the causes and incidences of home clothes dryer fires, download this free report Clothes Dryer Fires in Residential Buildings 2008-2010

Signs Your Dryer Vent Needs Cleaning

Your dryer will give you some hints that it needs help. By the way, the risk of fire is roughly equal for gas clothes dryers and electric clothes dryers, so keep an eye out for these signs no matter which type of dryer you own:

  • Slow drying time or clothes are damp after a normal 35-40 minute cycle
  • Strong fabric softener smell when dryer is running
  • Large amounts of lint collect in the lint trap
  • Clothes feel hot to the touch when finished drying
  • The laundry room (or room where the dryer is located) seems unusually warm after the dryer runs
  • You notice lint buildup in the outside dryer vent where it exits your home
  • You can’t see any steam or hear any noise outside your house at the wall vent when you run the dryer

The most important thing to remember is that dryer fires are almost always preventable. Just pay attention, look for these signs, and have your dryer vents cleaned once a year.

Dryer Vent Maintenance Tips

According to the National Fire Protection Association, the leading cause of home clothes dryer and washer fires is failure to clean (32%), followed by mechanical failure or malfunction (22%) with electrical failure or malfunction coming in at 8%.

Clean the duct regularly (and keep cleaning that lint screen with every load of laundry). You should also clean inside, behind, and underneath the dryer because lint builds up there as well. The age, model, and type of dryer will affect its likelihood of failure. Older units typically vent worse than newer models.

Full-size, single-unit dryers vent much better than stack dryers. Longer, ribbed vent hoses collect more lint than shorter, solid metal hoses. The fewer the curves, and the smoother the inside of the pipe wall, the better the airflow.