Dryer Fire Causes and Prevention Tips

Key takeaways:

  • According to the U.S. CPSC,15,500 clothes dryer fires occur annually.
  • Lint build-up, mechanical and electrical failures, and misuse like overloading and drying inappropriate materials are primary causes of dryer fires.
  • Regular cleaning of lint traps and professional inspections of dryers and ducts can significantly reduce the risk of dryer fires.
  • Ensuring professional installation and adhering to manufacturers' guidelines for proper use and maintenance are critical for safety and efficiency.
  • Homeowners should be aware of how to respond to a dryer fire, including using a fire extinguisher if safe to do so and evacuating immediately if the fire spreads.


Clothes dryers are common in homes, providing a convenient solution for drying clothes and linens. Yet, even as many homeowners use dryers, fewer may understand the risks they may pose. Specifically, dryers can catch fire. Learn more about dryer fires, their causes and how to clean your dryer to prevent fires.


How common are dryer fires?

According to the National Park Service, 15,500 clothes dryer fires occur annually, resulting in an average of 10 deaths, 310 injuries, and over $84 million in property damage. These hazards aren’t just the result of faulty wiring or malfunctions. In many cases, misuse increases the chances of a dryer catching fire. Therefore, homeowners want to be aware of what causes dryer fires and the steps they can take to mitigate this risk.


How do dryer fires start?

Entire homes, and not just laundry rooms, can be subject to significant damage when dryer fires occur. So, how can a dryer catch on fire? Here are the main causes:

Lint build-up and its dangers

A National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) report also indicates that in 26% of dryer fires, the first piece that catches fire is dust, fiber or lint build-up. When lint traps aren’t cleaned regularly, it’s more difficult for the dryer to exhaust hot air. Machines overheat, potentially causing flammable components to ignite. Beyond causing dryer fires, lint build-up may also cause problems with ducts and reduce dryer efficiency.

Mechanical and electrical failures

Like any machine with electrical wiring, dryers are subject to mechanical or electrical failure. A dryer with faulty wiring or other damaged components may catch fire. Professional installation and maintenance are the best ways to protect against these types of failures.

Overloading and improper use of dryers

The NFPA report lists clothing as the second most common item to ignite first in a dryer fire. Both residential and commercial homeowners are encouraged to use dryers as intended. For example, some materials, such as plastic, rubber and synthetic foam, shouldn’t be put in a dryer. Additionally, clothing or linens stained with flammable chemicals like oil, gas or cleaning solutions shouldn’t go in the washer or dryer—those items should always be hand-cleaned.

Another common misuse of the dryer is overloading. Air can’t circulate through the drum of an overloaded dryer as easily, which may cause overheating and eventually a fire.

Beyond avoiding fire hazards, homeowners want to use these machines properly to preserve the longevity of their investment. On average, dryers last up to eight or 12 years. Yet, improper use can cause malfunctions and significantly diminish this life expectancy. So, using your dryer properly helps prevent the risk of fire and allows you to make the most of your investment.


Less commonly discussed risks of dryer fires

Other dryer fire causes may get less attention but are no less a hazard. These include:

Ventilation issues beyond the lint trap

Just as lint traps become clogged, so do ducts. If it suddenly takes longer to dry clothes and linens, go outside while the dryer is running to check the vent attached to the duct. If you feel no hot air, the duct may be clogged.

In addition to lint, ducts may become clogged with pieces of clothing, small critters or bits of debris from outside like grass. Clogged ducts are harder to correct than cleaning out the lint trap. If you suspect this might be the problem, contact a professional repair company for help.

Sometimes, a cracked exhaust vent can cause ducts to become clogged. Hot air is trapped in the duct, creating a fire hazard. This can happen if the dryer is pushed too close to the wall.

Similarly, some dryer vents aren’t installed properly. Instead of directing all exhaust outside, they allow some exhaust to creep into the attic, go through the chimney or linger in a basement or crawl space. Exhaust can also get trapped in walls. This can deteriorate indoor air and cause mold build-up.

Different types of dryer ducts

Different types of ducts attached to dryers may also increase the risk of fires. Most dryer manufacturers state in product manuals not to use plastic or flexible dryer ducts, such as accordion-style ducts. Heat can cause these ducts to sag or twist, making it easier for lint to build up and pose a fire hazard. Consider replacing plastic ducts with metal ducts, or only using UL-listed flexible ducts.


Preventive measures for dryer fires

Understanding these risks is the first step toward dryer fire prevention. Learn how to prevent dryer fires and safeguard your home with these tips:

Routine maintenance and inspection

How often do dryers catch on fire due to a lack of maintenance? According to the U.S. Fire Association (USFA), failure to clean was the leading factor (31%) causing the ignition of clothes dryer fires between 2018 and 2020.

Cleaning the lint trap is an easy task, and homeowners should check it before and after every cycle. The lint trap may have a different location on the dryer depending on the type. Lint traps on front-load dryers are typically inside the door on the bottom. On top-load dryers, lint traps or usually near the top of the drum.

Besides the quick clearing out of lint before or after each cycle, homeowners may complete a deep cleaning every few months. This might be necessary when clothes take longer than usual to dry, or when the dryer feels hot to the touch. For quick cleaning, a dry cloth should do the trick. To remove stubborn lint, dust and debris, soak the trap in warm water and soap, then use a scrub brush to remove residue.

Beyond cleaning the lint trap, homeowners should seek professional maintenance and inspection services at least once a year. This technician will inspect the interior of the dryer and venting system. A technician might detect problems with ducts, ventilation and your dryer’s mechanism that you might not notice otherwise.

Installation and usage guidelines

Unless you have professional experience installing dryers, you want to work with a trusted professional for the installation and setup. You can also ask the technician(s) questions about dryer maintenance and safety, such as checking ducts and vents.

The user’s manual is a great resource for ensuring proper use. It will provide information on safe use and correct load management. It may discuss troubleshooting if the dryer won't spin or heat. Most importantly for fire prevention, most manuals will state load capacities and the materials that should not go into the dryer.


Emergency response: how to put out a dryer fire

Implementing dryer fire prevention practices can reduce the risk of fires considerably. However, if a fire does occur, homeowners must act quickly to protect themselves and minimize damage. If smoke or flames are already coming from the dryer, keep away from it and make sure everyone on the property evacuates to a safe area then call 911 immediately. However, if you have a fire extinguisher and have experience using it, attempt to put out the fire before it spreads. Only consider using a fire extinguisher if you can reasonably contain the fire. If flames spread, evacuate immediately and wait for emergency services.

You may be able to stop a dryer from bursting into flames. That’s why knowing the signs your dryer is going to catch fire is essential. Telltale signs are clothes and linens taking longer to dry and the dryer feels hotter to the touch than usual. You may also perceive a burning smell.


Insurance and liability

According to Forbes, your homeowners insurance should cover fires in your home as long as they weren’t intentionally started. If you have specific questions about your insurance coverage and dryer fires, contact your insurance provider and review the terms of your agreement


Protect your home from dryer fires

Preventing dryer fires avoids significant property damage and harm to others. According to the aforementioned NFPA report, fires involving clothes dryers and washing machines between 2010 and 2014 caused $238 million in direct property damage, as well as homeowner injury and death in rare cases. Understanding the causes and how to handle dryers properly goes a long way in safeguarding your home.

Here at Cinch Home Services, we provide multiple home protection plans*, such as the Appliances Plan which covers 12 major appliances including clothes dryers, and the Complete Home Plan which covers over 25 appliances and system components.

To learn more about home protection plans from Cinch, contact us today at (866) 408-0024 to get an instant quote.

*Plan availability and coverage may vary.

*The product being offered is a service contract and is separate and distinct from any product or service warranty which may be provided by the home builder or manufacturer.

*The information in this article is intended to provide guidance on the proper maintenance and care of systems and appliances in the home. Not all of the topics mentioned are covered by our home warranty or maintenance plans. Please review your home warranty contract carefully to understand your coverage.

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