We don't need to tell you: laundry piles up fast when you have kids.
But it's important to consider if your dryer can handle the load. After all, a dryer, if not maintained properly, can catch fire.
It happens more often than you think: A 2017 study by the National Fire Protection Association found that nearly 15,000 fires were caused by clothes dryers each year in the United States between 2010 and 2014. Those fires resulted in dozens of deaths, thousands of injuries, and more than $238 million annually in property damage.
The leading cause of clothes dryer fires? Improper maintenance.
5 steps to take every time you use your dryer
It turns out that with just a little effort you can greatly reduce the risk of a fire in your home caused by your clothes dryer. The U.S. Fire Association suggests these 5 steps to take every time you use your dryer:
1. Clean the lint filter in a dryer before AND after each use. The buildup of dust and lint is the No. 1 cause of dryer fires. You should clean the lint filter before and after each use and never use the dryer without a filter in place.
2. Keep the dryer area clear of combustibles like boxes and clothing. Fire can spread extremely quickly when combustibles are nearby.
3. Do not leave a dryer running when you leave your house or go to bed. A fire can quickly become overwhelming if no one is monitoring the dryer.
4. Avoid overloading the dryer. This will lessen the risk of fire caused by leaks or broken parts.
5. Read clothing labels and follow drying directions. Some materials are more likely to be combustible when dried at higher heat settings than recommended. Remember: faster is NOT always safer!
Routine maintenance also important
In addition, the National Fire Protection Association advises that your clothes dryer should be installed by a professional, and, if you have accordion-style lint vent pipes, you should have them replaced with new metal pipes, which are less likely to trap lint build-up and are less susceptible to kinks or crushing.
Three other important steps the NFPA advises you to regularly undertake include:
1. Reviewing the manual. Standards for dryers are constantly changing and improving, so make sure to read your manual when you get your machine, and keep it close at hand to turn to when you have questions on any specific cleaning requirements.
2. Watching the dryer operate. Routinely check while the dryer is operating to make sure that the air exhaust vent pipe is not restricted and the outdoor vent flap opens.
3. Cleaning regularly! Lint builds up, so clean the lint out of the vent pipe every three months or as often as your manual suggests. Also, regularly clean the area behind and around the dryer to prevent dust and lint build up. (You can purchase long, thin brushes to make it easier to reach and remove lint in the vent pipe and around the drum.)
If you are ever concerned about how your dryer is operating or are unsure about how to clean it, you shouldn't hesitate to consult a professional. The extra expense is worth the peace of mind!
Wendy Harrington, R.N., is the mother of Port Jefferson, N.Y., Macaroni Kid Publisher Helen Partlow.