Piedmont Association of Home Inspectors

Clothes Dryer Exhaust Systems

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Overheated Clothes Dryers Can Cause Fires

CPSC Document # 5022
Updated June 2003


The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission estimates that in 1998, clothes dryers were associated with 15,600 fires, which resulted in 20 deaths and 370 injuries. Fires can occur when lint builds up in the dryer or in the exhaust duct. Lint can block the flow of air, cause excessive heat build-up, and result in a fire in some dryers.

To help prevent fires:

  • Clean the lint screen/filter before or after drying each load of clothes. If clothing is still damp at the end of a typical drying cycle or drying requires longer times than normal, this may be a sign that the lint screen or the exhaust duct is blocked.

  • Clean the dryer vent and exhaust duct periodically. Check the outside dryer vent while the dryer is operating to make sure exhaust air is escaping. If it is not, the vent or the exhaust duct may be blocked. To remove a blockage in the exhaust path, it may be necessary to disconnect the exhaust duct from the dryer. Remember to reconnect the ducting to the dryer and outside vent before using the dryer again.

  • Clean behind the dryer, where lint can build up. Have a qualified service person clean the interior of the dryer chassis periodically to minimize the amount of lint accumulation. Keep the area around the dryer clean and free of clutter.
  • Replace plastic or foil, accordion-type ducting material with rigid or corrugated semi-rigid metal duct. Most manufacturers specify the use of a rigid or corrugated semi-rigid metal duct, which provides maximum airflow. The flexible plastic or foil type duct can more easily trap lint and is more susceptible to kinks or crushing, which can greatly reduce the airflow.

  • Take special care when drying clothes that have been soiled with volatile chemicals such as gasoline, cooking oils, cleaning agents, or finishing oils and stains. If possible, wash the clothing more than once to minimize the amount of volatile chemicals on the clothes and, preferably, hang the clothes to dry. If using a dryer, use the lowest heat setting and a drying cycle that has a cool-down period at the end of the cycle. To prevent clothes from igniting after drying, do not leave the dried clothes in the dryer or piled in a laundry basket.
Where to clean your dryer to prevent fires

Proper exhausting of clothes dryers is critical for 4 main reasons:

 

  1. Fires - It can prevent fires.
  2. Moisture – One gallon of water or more must be disposed of with each typical load of laundry.  For this reason exhausting to the outside is necessary.  Exhausting to the inside, attic, basement, or crawlspace can create conditions that support mold growth and lead to indoor air quality problems.
  3. Clogging – Dryer lint screens do not catch all of the lint from every load. Lint can restrict of block dryer ducts.  A poorly exhausting dryer is less efficient and increases the possibility of a fire. A clogged line can also lead to moisture accumulation.
  4. Carbon Monoxide – With gas dryers the exhaust duct also carries out carbon monoxide.  A clogged line will force the carbon monoxide to stay in the home.

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2004 Piedmont Association of Home Inspectors / PAHI 
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