Generally when we hear the unfortunate news that someone’s house caught on fire, immediately we think of possible causes.  The typical culprits are usually something like faulty wiring, leaving a curling iron on, a cigarette accidentally caught the house on fire, or the owners left the house but forgot to turn off the stove.  The one we rarely ever think about is that the dryer vent was clogged and caught on fire.

According to the National Fire Protection Association, in 2010 over 15,500 house fires were the direct cause of the lint trap catching on fire.  It’s unfortunate because this is something that is completely preventable with a regularly scheduled maintenance program. With so many homes catching on fire due to clogged lint traps, we’re outlining several warning signs that indicate it’s time for you to have yours cleaned out.

Takes longer for your clothes to dry

When a dryer vent is clogged, it can take your clothes double or even triple the time to become dry.  This is because the dryer vent is supposed to release hot, moist/humid air out and allow the dry air to dry the clothes.  When the vent is clogged then the humidity and moisture stays within your machine and becomes much less efficient at actually drying your clothes.  Sure, there may be some items that will naturally take longer to dry than others, such as blankets and heavy sweaters, but you want to be aware of how long it takes to dry the normal items you wash such as t-shirts, jeans and socks.  If you see that this takes longer than one standard cycle to dry then that’s your first sign that the lint trap may need to be cleaned out.

You notice a burning smell

The smell of something burning in your house should always catch your attention, but when you notice that it’s coming from your dryer then you should immediately inspect the dryer and it’s exhaust system.  As the coils in your dryer heat up your clothes, some of your clothes breaks down into lint. This lint gets pushed out of the exhaust ventilation, but when the pipe is clogged and the lint has nowhere to go then ultimately it builds up to the point where the lint gets so hot that it sparks, catching on fire.

If you smell smoke coming from your dryer, immediately shut it off, unplug it and check the exhaust valve coming from either the back or side of your unit.  Make sure to grab either a metal or heavy duty plastic tong so that you can pull out the lint that is trapped in the exhaust. If it’s too hard to do it with a metal tool then put on some gloves and pull out the lint by hand.  As you pull it out you’ll probably be able to see where the lint is starting to smoke or fire. If the smoke or fire has caused enough damage, you may need to contact your local appliance repairman who can help you further.

Outside vent hood doesn’t open and close properly

Your vent door from the outside of your house should open and close freely, allowing hot air to escape but also preventing debris from entering through the hose.  When the ducts are clogged with debris, the flaps cannot do their job as they were designed. Inspect the vents to make sure they are free to let hot air escape as there could be numerous reasons (not having anything to do with clothes) that your ducts could be clogged.  Birds can even build extremely tightly packed nests in there causing twigs and leaves to catch fire.

It’s been over a year since your last cleaning

A regularly scheduled cleaning and maintenance program is the best measure you can take to keep your dryer functioning at its peak for years to come.  Dryer vent cleanings should be performed at least once per year. The repairman will not only check the vents but the actual unit itself just to make sure it’s running properly.  The small investment you pay in getting your unit inspected is well worth the peace of mind, and the longer lifespan of your unit.

Dryers are not complicated pieces of equipment at all, so there are few things that can actually go wrong.  Stay on top of your cleanings and your machine should work hassle-free for many years down the road.

-This is a guest post not written by the site’s owner.