Your household dryer is a workhorse, transforming soggy clothes and linens into warm, soft laundry day after day. But despite its importance, you might not give this appliance much thought. After all, it hardly requires any maintenance.
Except your dryer requires a little more care and attention than you might realize. If you fail to clean it properly, you could actually cause a fire.
John D’Alessandro, secretary of the Firemen’s Association of the State of New York, said that aside from other heating sources and cooking, dryers are a major cause of structure fires. That’s because “it doesn’t take much for lint to catch fire,” he said.
In fact, 2,900 home clothes-dryer fires are reported each year, resulting in about five deaths, 100 injuries and $35 million in property loss. Failure to properly clean dryers is the leading cause of these fires.
The truth is that you should frequently clean out the lint trap, exhaust pipe and exhaust cover, according to D’Alessandro. So if it’s been a while since you did any type of deep clean on your dryer, here’s what to know.
Dangerous Dryer Warning Signs
There’s really no way to completely avoid the buildup of dryer lint, especially when you use the dryer every day. The lint screen is there to catch it from clogging up the vent. However, when too much lint builds up, it can affect your dryer’s performance and even pose a fire hazard because it cuts down on air circulation, potentially causing overheating, a representative of the Whirlpool brand laundry team told HuffPost.
There are a few red flags to watch out for that can tell you your dryer is getting clogged up with lint, according to Mark Dawson, chief operating officer of One Hour Heating & Air Conditioning.
The first is reduced efficiency. If your dryer is taking longer to get laundry completely dry, it is probably clogged. Another sign is excess lint behind the dryer. A moldy smell coming from the dryer could also be a warning sign that it’s clogged with lint. “All of these indicate your dryer and dryer vent could use a cleaning,” Dawson said. “Most dryer vents need to be professionally cleaned annually, at a minimum.”
Between these professional cleanings, he said, you can lightly clean your dryer by following a few steps.
Steps For Cleaning Your Dryer
Cleaning the lint out of your dryer is a pretty simple process, but there are a few areas that are important to check. When you’re ready to give your dryer a good cleaning, follow these steps:
Unplug your dryer.
Remove the lint screen from the trap. Use a brush to loosen and free any obvious clumps of dust and lint from the trap and screen. You can also use a vacuum cleaner to suck any dirt and clumps off of them.
Wash the lint trap screen with soap and water and let it air-dry.
Inspect the vent located on the outside of your home. Look for and remove debris or other items that may have clogged the opening.
After you’re done cleaning, visually inspect the dryer ducts to make sure there are no holes, punctures or other damage that can become a hazard.
How To Keep Your Dryer In Top Shape
You don’t have to do a deep clean of your dryer every time you use it. Even so, it’s a good idea to keep up on regular maintenance. Not only will you avoid a potentially dangerous fire, you’ll keep your dryer operating at maximum efficiency, saving you time and money.
Clean out the lint screen after every use. You can usually find this filter near the dryer door. Pull the screen out and remove any lint buildup by hand. Whirlpool noted that wet lint may be present and can be a bit harder to remove.
Clean the lint trap and exterior frequently. In addition to the lint screen, you should also clean out the trap that it sits in every few uses. Do this by turning off the dryer and removing the lint screen, then use a vacuum crevice tool or dryer cleaning brush to carefully clean the interior and exterior of the lint trap. Use a microfiber cloth and gentle cleaning spray to clean the outside surfaces, knobs and buttons. Be sure not to get any water or cleaner inside of the lint trap.
Deep-clean the lint screen every six months. After removing the screen and scraping off any lint, run both sides underhot water. Scrub with a nylon brush, hot water and liquid detergent to remove any buildup, then rinse with hot water and dry thoroughly before putting it back in place.
Hire a professional. Dawson also recommends having a qualified professional inspect your dryer vents as a safety precaution, especially if you haven’t been maintaining the dryer as diligently as you should. “They will be able to reach areas in the vent that the average homeowner can’t and will ensure all excess lint is removed,” he said.
Don’t overload. Finally, D’Alessandro warned against overloading the dryer: “It can cause an electrical fire that can snowball very quickly,” he said.
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This article originally appeared on HuffPost and has been updated.