Part of a fully functioning household is working appliances. They keep daily routines flowing smoothly and when they’re interrupted, stress builds and suddenly the house is in turmoil.

One appliance in particular that hides a dangerous secret is the clothes dryer. When it stops running, so does laundry day. But when the dryer runs and isn’t drying well, the solution is not to keep trying. Instead, it’s time to call for service.

Sadly, people could have prevented these fires if they kept maintained their ductwork through dryer vent cleaning. Dryers require a 4” diameter vent made as short as possible to vent dryer exhaust to the outdoors. When the vent begins to clog with lint, the effective 4” diameter opening of the vent shrinks and impedes air flow, causing lint to build up inside the dryer instead of being exhausted outdoors.

Over time, lint builds inside the dryer to where it contacts the heat source of the dryer and ignites. In some cases, the only damage is burnt wiring and a terrible smell emanates from the dryer. Other times, the flame spreads to all the lint inside, and uses any available fresh air to grow in intensity, eventually igniting the lint inside the entire vent, burning through and catching the home on fire.

A dryer that’s running but isn’t drying well is a likely sign of serious trouble. Here are some important tips to consider at the onset of long dry times:

  • Check the vent. A clogged dryer vent is the leading cause of dryer fires leading to house fires. According to the National Fire Protection Association, in the years between 2010 and 2014 in the United States, an estimated average of 15,970 house fires occurred with their cause directly related to clothes dryers and washing machines.
  • Be aware of long dry times. Always be aware of gradual lengthening of your normal dry times for clothes. This is a sure indication of either blocked or restricted air flow that can lead to an eventual dryer fire. Typically, towels require longer drying times, so start monitoring dry times for different types of fabric and stay aware of the signs of bad airflow.
  • Check the outside vent grille. Often, the outside vent grille is the first to clog with lint, and is the easiest to clean. Locate this grille and check it at least once a week. If it begins to clog with lint, clean it immediately because the dryer will react in the same way as with a blocked vent.
  • Never overload the dryer. An overloaded dryer works harder and can’t dry the clothes efficiently. That leads to running the dryer longer than normal. Also, moist, damp air can’t escape as easily, which leads to an eventually clogged vent. The lint produced in an overloaded dryer tends to build up quicker because it’s more dense and not the fluffy lint you’re expecting.