Clothes dryer fires due to lint buildup spike during the winter, causing 5 deaths every year

CLEVELAND - A major cause of clothes dryer fires -- which spike during winter months -- is often ignored until fire breaks out.

A recent report from the U.S. Fire Administration estimates there are 2,900 clothes dryer fires every year, causing five deaths, 100 injuries and $35 million in property loss.

Heavy clothes, sweaters and blankets used during winter months shed much more lint and create fire hazards during winter months.

But cleaning the lint trap alone is not enough to prevent fires.

Just last October, a dryer fire nearly destroyed Kimberly Ness' home.

"That room was pretty much gone," said Ness, looking at what was left of her charred laundry room.

Fire investigators say cleaning the lint trap is just a first step. The real buildup of lint happens out of sight and is overlooked by most consumers.

Vent cleaning experts and officials with the North Eastern Ohio Fire Prevention Association, NEOFPA,  said that lint buildup can quietly accumulate over years and trigger fires.

Rick Strah operates Advanced Air Duct Solution, Inc., a company specializing in dryer vent cleaning.

"Just building up in here," said Strah after taking the back cover off of one dryer.

"All your electrical wiring is all coated in this stuff."

Strah used a high powered vacuum that suctioned huge piles of lint. He noted that lint also builds up inside the vent tubing leading outside. 

Mike Kocab is an Ohio fire marshal and a member of NEOFPA.

"That would burn right through and cause a fire in the wall," said Kocab.

He used a lighter to demonstrate and lit a small buildup of lint that quickly caught fire.

Kocab says there are two major warning signs you may have severe lint buildup:

  • Clothes taking too long to dry, requiring another cycle of drying.
  • Laundry room being warmer than usual.

Both are signs the vent is clogged with lint.

Other steps you can take to prevent lint fires include:

  • Clean the lint screen after each load.
  • Clean behind the dryer.
  • Check and clean exhaust vents at least once a year.
  • Remove the dryer back and vacuum the inside of the dryer every two years.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission wrote to Underwriters Laboratory in November 2011 calling for new safety standards that could reduce dryer fires.

The commission warns consumers that properly maintaining clothes dryers is vital in preventing fires.

A spokesperson for Underwriters Laboratories said a new safety standard went into effect for dryers manufactured after March 2013 that would aid in "containing" a fire to the inside of the dryer itself, but stopped short of safety standards called for by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.

View more clothes dryer safety tips here.