Clogged dryer vents: the invisible household danger - WECT TV6-WECT.com:News, weather & sports Wilmington, NC

Clogged dryer vents: the invisible household danger

Clogged dryer vents account for more than 15,000 structure fires in the country every year. (Source: WECT) Clogged dryer vents account for more than 15,000 structure fires in the country every year. (Source: WECT)
WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) -

Clogged dryer vents account for more than 15,000 structure fires in the United States every year, and most people don't know the warning signs to detect them.

"One of the big dangers if the vent gets clogged is the heating element will work too hard, get too hot, and break. That's what will ignite a fire inside of your dryer," Mr. Appliance owner Matthew Sarkela warned.

Sarkela said it's not enough to clean the mesh frame that collects lint inside the dryer.

"Sometimes those lint traps don't catch everything. That lint can get into the cabinet of the dryer or into the tubing that goes from the wall to the outside of the house," Sarkela said.

He said homeowners should have their dryer vent cleaned annually, if not twice a year.

"The best thing to do is locate the vent on the outside of the house," Sarkela explained. "There'll be a cap somewhere with a flap inside. Turn your dryer on and feel for air flow coming out.  It should be a very strong air flow, almost like a leaf blower coming out.  If you don't feel any air, then there's definitely a problem. "

The problem he's referring to could spark a fire.

"We see probably one or two close calls a week in situations where they've been neglected for way too long; letting it go for five to ten years," Sarkela explained as he stuck a suction tube up a client's dryer vent.    

Sarkela said he saw a dryer fire while he was working on a house a few years ago.

"I was working on another appliance and the owner grabbed my attention and said, ‘Something is wrong with the dryer.' The heating element had broke and caught the lent on fire," Sarkela explained. "Luckily I was there, and we were able to put it out."

Wilmington Fire Department Battalion Chief Sammy Flowers said the city sees at least 16 dryer vent fires a year, but that number is higher because they often go unreported.

"There could be times in a single family home where there's a problem -- overheated dryer or clogged vent, -- and the homeowner puts the fire out, and we're never called and it's never reported," Flowers said. "There's a good chance that a lot of these fires are unreported."

Experts agree there are some warning signs to look out for to prevent a dryer fire.

  • It takes more than one cycle to dry your clothes
  • The dryer  feels hot on the top or sides when you touch it.
  • Lint has built up on the ground around the dryer
  • The metal tube between the dryer and the wall is crushed

They also said never leave loose papers or plastic on or around the dryer, and don't run the dryer while you're away from home.

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