Common Causes of Dryer Fires (And How to Prevent Them)

C.E. Larusso
Written by C.E. Larusso
Updated March 17, 2022
A woman loading dirty clothes in washing machine
Photo: Mariakray / iStock / Getty Images Plus / Getty Images

Highlights

  • The number one cause of dryer fires is a buildup of lint.

  • Replace plastic or foil accordion-style ducts, which can contribute to lint buildup.

  • Call 911 immediately if a dryer fire breaks out in your home.

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Some appliances in your home that seem innocuous can cause significant damage, and that goes for your clothes dryer. According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), firefighters respond to over 15,000 home fires caused by dryers every year. Keep your home and your family safe by learning what causes dryer fires and how you can prevent one through proper dryer safety inspection, cleaning, and overall maintenance.

Causes of Dryer Fires

There are several reasons why a dryer might catch on fire, an event that can lead to significant damage in your home beyond the appliance. 

Lint Buildup

According to a report from the NFPA, dust, fiber, or lint causes 27% of dryer fires. Make sure to clean the lint out of your dryer filter every time you use it, not once per week or once per month. 

Clogged Ducts

While lint can get trapped in the ducts and vents, so can articles of clothing, bits of grass, and even animals. If you notice it takes much longer for your linens to get dry, go outside while the dryer runs and check for hot air coming out. If you don’t feel anything, a pro may need to clean your dryer vent to remove the blockage. 

Prevent pests from entering dryer vents by replacing a cracked or otherwise damaged vent cover. It’s imperative to have your ducts cleaned every year to prevent this. In addition, if your dryer uses a plastic or foil accordion-style duct, have it replaced with a metal duct. Accordion-style ducts can sag and cause lint buildup.

Crushed Vents

If you push your dryer too close to the wall, you might crush the exhaust vent. When the vent is bent or twisted in some way, lint and hot air can get trapped in the duct, potentially starting a fire (and, at best, making your dryer take much longer to dry your clothes). 

Mechanical or Electrical Failure

Anything that has electrical wiring can catch on fire. If some of your dryer’s wiring is faulty or parts are damaged, the appliance can ignite without warning. Have your dryer professionally installed and maintained by a pro to ensure everything is working properly.

Chemicals

A woman doing her laundry
Photo: © eleonora galli / Moment / Getty Images

Avoid drying anything that has been stained with flammable chemicals—such as oil, gas, or cleaning agents—in your dryer. Instead, hand-wash the items twice or more to remove as much of the chemical as possible, then hang to dry.

Improper Use

Don’t dry things that aren’t meant to be put in the machine, which can include but isn’t limited to plastic, rubber, or foam items. A bath mat with a rubber backing, for instance, should always be air-dried.

What to Do if Your Dryer Catches Fire

If your dryer does catch fire, the most important thing to do is to call 911 and leave your home as quickly and safely as possible. Take the following steps when a dryer catches on fire. 

1. Call 911 Immediately

If a fire breaks out in your home, call 911 and have the fire department handle the situation, as fire can spread quickly and cause much damage, including respiratory issues and death. Do not hesitate to call 911. 

2. Do Not Open or Touch the Dryer

If you suspect your dryer has caught fire, don’t open or touch it—it can be hot enough to burn you. Also, opening it can add oxygen to the fire, fueling the flames and allowing carbon monoxide and smoke to get out.

3. Leave Safely

After calling the fire department, evacuate and make sure to close the door to the laundry room behind you. This will help contain the flames. Make sure to turn off the electricity via your outside fuse box as well.

4. Check Your Electrical Connections

After the fire has been extinguished, have an electrician check all the wiring in your home to make sure nothing was damaged by the flames, which can leave you at risk for another fire down the line.

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