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According to the National Fire Protection Association, there were 15,970 fires involving clothes washers and dryers between 2010 and 2014. In these four years, ninety-two percent of the fires were caused by clothes dryers specifically. Dust, lint, or fiber caused twenty-seven percent of the dryer fires. Clothing contributed to a further twenty-six percent. As far as washer fires go, wire or cable insulation and appliance housing or casings caused fifty percent of incidences.
With almost 4,000 fires caused by dryers and washers a year, it seems they are unsafe to have within the home. This notion, however, isn't very correct. According to the U.S. Fire Administration, thirty-four percent of dryer fires are caused by failure to clean the appliance on schedule or correctly. One of the most basic maintenance tasks involving dryers is cleaning the lint trap before and after each load of laundry. Unfortunately, I could not find statistics on how many people forgo even this most basic task. One hopes that anyone who uses a dryer knows to clean the trap at least once in a while.
Based on statistics, it is decidedly true that most people do know they should be doing more to care for their dryers to limit the risk of fires. Even though I've always had a dryer in my home, from childhood on to today, I only recently learned about how much maintenance a dryer really needs. I feel lucky knowing that I should be doing more than just cleaning the lint trap. Why? Because dryer lint made me money.
Above you see my laundry room. This photo was taken after I cleaned my dryer but before I got around to getting the lint off of the walls (which I swear I did). I own a Kenmore 80 series dryer and a GE washer. Both have worked very well. The washer was a brand new scratch and dent I got from work. I got the dryer from someone else in the mobile home park where I currently live. I did not see the dryer before it was purchased, nor did I install it. In all honesty, I wasn't even the one who purchased it. I was told it was "like new" and "only a few years old," but both statements have proven to be untruths.
I got the dryer in early 2016. I got the washer in September 2016. Both have done their jobs with little trouble. As anyone else would think, that's pretty much the end of it. You plug them in, attach the hoses and vents, throw in some laundry and go. Up until right before Thanksgiving of 2017, this has worked for me. That is, until I began noticing a slight burning smell and lint covering everything in the laundry room. I do mean everything - walls, floor, shelves, ceiling. Based on what little I knew, I felt this wasn't right. So, I hit the internet and decided that maybe the dryer duct that connects to the dryer may have come loose.
That is where my adventure began.
I had decided one night to clean the loose lint in the laundry room while I waited for my last load of laundry to finish washing. This idea turned out to be both terrible and fantastic. After gently pulling the dryer from the wall, I found lint in snow drift style piles in the corner and along the walls. I also discovered the cheap duct had both disconnected from the dryer and split almost completely in half at floor level. The person who installed the dryer used cheap shipping tape to attach the vent to the dryer. Dryer clamps are the preferred and safest method. It was at this point that I knew I'd have to replace the vent before doing the rest of my laundry. Unfortunately, it was a project for the next day as I didn't want to crawl around under the mobile at midnight.
I also discovered another problem. In my research concerning my lint problem, I read that a common problem was an accumulation of lint in the ducting. This accumulation would be just like a person's arteries, slowly blocking the flow until the heart attack, or in our dryer's case, fire happens. I figured I should take a reach into the ducting while I was cleaning up to see how badly my dryer's arteries were clogged.
I was horrified.
I couldn't pull the dryer duct out of the floor. It was connected somehow underneath the mobile. I reached in and didn't get much deeper than my wrist before I was pulling out lint. I was used to lint being soft fuzzy stuff that, while being kind of gross, could almost pass for one of those sweaters I used to wear in the 1990s. The stuff I was pulling out wasn't the same kind of lint. It was hard and solid. It was compact and heavy. It was wrong.
I kept pulling lint out until I couldn't reach anymore. The picture above is only a part of what I pulled out. That night, I ended up with almost eight pounds of this fire starter. I hadn't even gotten it all. I knew I hadn't. I didn't know how long the vent was, but I did know there would be more. I felt like I had somehow just missed the very real danger of my house burning down. The lint was warm. I'd been running the dryer most of the afternoon and evening. The lint was far warmer than it should have been. It wasn't smoking, but some of it gave off that odd burning smell I'd been experiencing for several weeks.
I knew I couldn't use my dryer again until I replaced the duct and cleared out all of the lint. In my research, I discovered that I'd have to do more than slap on a new duct. It seems that lint can and does collect inside of the actual dryer. This is just as much of a hazard as the monstrosity I pulled from the clogged duct. To preserve my level of perceived safety, I would have to open up my dryer and clean out the lint I was sure was there. I could feel it in the Force waiting to get me.
After being paranoid all night wondering if the warm lint I couldn't pull out of the clogged duct would start a fire, I got up early to begin the recommended cleaning I'd researched. As my laundry room is far too small to actually work in, I muscled my dryer out onto the even smaller back deck. The steps allowed me to sit semi-comfortably while cleaning.
The outside of the dryer was covered in a very fine layer of lint. I could see that the hole where the duct connects was dirty. I knew that I would have to remove the back cover in order to access the important parts of the dryer.
The black plate was held on by bolts. I needed to use a socket wrench and two different bits to remove the small black plate above the cord and then the large black plate. A socket wrench made the job easy and quick. It also granted me access to a lovely surprise.
The picture above is the view I had as I began to lift the black plate away from the dryer. It was windy that day so as soon as I saw what was inside the dryer, I stopped. At the bottom of the dryer, under the heating element, I found something that was worth the bruises I got wrestling this bulky machine out of a just-barely-big-enough door. Covered in lint and dust, I saw paper money.
I quickly secured the black plate and ran into the house for a plastic bag. I again removed the plate and started to shovel all the debris into the bag. Lint, hair ties, screws, pen caps, and two button pins I'd been missing all came out. So did coin money and stiff crumpled bills. I saw dollar signs as I removed more and more. It was tough not to stop there and count my treasure. Instead, I secured the bag, tossed it back into the house, and continued to clean.
It took a good twenty minutes to get all of the loose debris out. Every few minutes I was pulling out a coin or two. A few more bills appeared as I dug under the drum. Soon, it just looked like I needed to run a wet cloth over the surfaces. I still needed to take the lint trap vent off. I knew that it had to be clogged if all of the back was covered in lint.
The lint trap is that funny little screen that is either right inside of the door or on top of the dryer. You're supposed to clean it out before and after each load of laundry. I've always done this, though I don't often clean the trap after my last load. I do check it every time before turning on my first load. In dryers where the lint trap is on top, the vent is pretty easy to remove. I just undid three or four bolts and carefully pulled down and out. I found my dog's lost cousin in the vent. Most of the debris is dog hair and heavier particles. Yuck!
After dumping the gross accumulation into the trash, I sent the lint trap vent to the tub where I washed the remaining debris out. I went back out to the dryer and took the vacuum to all I could reach. The screen and its seal, the motor fan, the hole for the dryer duct, the wires, the little plastic cradle where I'm certain large objects like money falls through, and the outside of the heating element all got a good vacuum and rubdown with a wet rag. This step took the longest because I was still taking up so much lint with the rag. Some of the lint had burned onto the metal and needed a scrapping to come off.
After the scrub down, I knew I had to let it all dry properly. It was time to go under the mobile and fight the duct. I don't have pictures of that adventure. I felt the spiders would steal my phone when I wasn't looking. It took very little time to loosen the broken duct from its attachments. It was stiff with hardened lint. A substantial chunk came crashing down on me as I removed the duct from the floor. It earned a photo opportunity.
I replaced the duct with a new one of similar design. They aren't the safest types of ducts, with the USFA recommending smooth sided metal ducts. Another good alternative is a semi-rigid aluminum duct. If I owned my home, I would have gone with the recommended ducting. However, as I rent, I felt it was not appropriate to modify the house to that extent. I went with the cheaper option.
In all, I ended up with almost fifteen pounds of compacted lint from that broken dryer duct. Most of it probably wasn't from my use. I have a feeling that the duct had been in place for many years. I know the person who installed my dryer did not replace the duct as he should have. My home was in danger before I even moved in.
After replacing the duct and putting my skirting back on, it was time to put the dryer back together. The process was as simple as it was taking it apart. I only had to do exactly as I did before but in reverse order. The lint trap vent was put back on, though it was a just slightly more difficult to get it in than it was getting it out. Wires were put back in their proper places (I took a picture before disassembling just to be sure). The black plate was wiped down and then secured back on. Finally, the little black plate above the cord was replaced, making sure the ground wire was secured as well.
Several hours of cleaning led me back to manhandling the beast into the house again. A clenched jaw and the knowledge that I had done it once before let me lift and push it back into its proper place. I attached the new duct to the back, with an appropriate clamp this time, and gently scooted it back into place. It's important to make sure the dryer is not pushed too close to the wall and that the vent isn't crushed. I plugged it back in, leveled the legs, prayed and turned it on.
There was an immediate burning smell. I panicked. Before I could do anything, the smell began to dissipate. A sigh of relief. It must have just been bits of lint I couldn't reach. The dryer was okay. Not only was it okay, but it was quieter. It didn't have dozens of metal objects vibrating around. It was leveled better.
Evening had arrived by the time I stood at the counter sorting lint from the treasures I found in the dryer. The plastic bag was emptied of its contents, and I organized my finds. In all, I recovered stuff that wasn't mine (the hair ties, buttons, pen caps, screws) and found $47.29. I had found a $20 bill and two $5 bills in that dryer! I was amazed. They were stiff from their rides in the washer and slightly burned from the heat of the dryer.
While it's not a lot of money, it's $47.29 I didn't know I had. I do not know of anyone who is opposed to free money.
Finding money wasn't the only way lint put cash in my pocket. Now that my dryer can properly breathe, it takes less time running to dry the same amount of clothes. I've found in the past week and a half that my load of towels went from sixty minutes to dry to forty. My sheets are done in twenty, and that's including the cool down period. The dryer running less for each load means I'm using less electricity. While I can't confirm how much less at this time, I know that the few dollars it saves every month adds up. Even if I am now saving a dollar each month because I'm running my dryer for less time, that's still twelve dollars a year. That's an extra month of Netflix. I also don't have to worry about the clogged artery of a duct heating up and catching fire. I don't have to worry about getting my elderly grandmother out of the house because the mobile home has gone up in flames while doing laundry. I don't have to worry about losing everything I own either. I can now rest easy knowing that I've cut my fire risk down significantly.
The USFA has several guidelines for keeping your dryer safe. In addition to following the manufacturer instructions in your dryer's user manual, you should also perform the following steps:
It is also always wise to:
The USFA website has many tips on how to properly care for your dryer. It is always best to follow these guidelines to ensure the safety of your home and extend the life of your dryer.
Question: How long of a dryer duct run can I have?
Answer: The dryer duct must be long enough to reach from the back of your dryer to the venting outlet without over-stretching the duct but not so long that you end up with loops and twists.
© 2017 Anne Ryefield
Layne Williams on August 16, 2020:
I really enjoyed reading this. This article was very educational and helpful. My dryer is four months old and is efficient but I plan to clean my dryer duct this week. After reading this I believe I can do this. Thank you for sharing your dryer adventure
KT Dunn from United States on November 30, 2017:
This is really interesting and useful information, and I enjoyed reading about your dryer adventures!