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Samantha Mazzotta: Dryer fires linked to buildup of lint

Posted: November 17, 2012 2:00 a.m.
Updated: November 17, 2012 2:00 a.m.

My roommate says that we need to clean the lint filter on the dryer after every cycle, while I think it should be cleaned only when it’s full. Can you settle the argument? — Flo in Harrisburg, Pa.

This one is pretty easy to settle. Clean the lint filter after every cycle. Why? Because a buildup of lint in the dryer — even just in the lint filter — can become a fire hazard. Dryer lint is alarmingly combustible and causes some 15,000 laundry-room fires each year.

Even though the lint filter screen traps a good deal of lint from clothing, some lint particles still pass through the screen and out of the dryer vent. Over time, these particles accumulate in corners and bends along the path that the dryer’s exhaust takes. So it’s not unusual to find lint buildup in places like the junction of the exhaust outlet and the hose attachment, or in the bends and folds of a longer piece of flexible vent hose.

So in addition to cleaning out the filter after every load, you should clean behind the dryer and clean the vent connections all the way out to the outside vent at least twice a year.

To do this, unplug the dryer and, with a helper, carefully slide it out away from the wall, enough so that you can reach behind it. You may need to shift the washing machine as well, if the units are located in a tight space (and it seems like they always are).

Purchase a lint brush at your home-improvement store. This can be used to clear built-up lint from the area beneath the lint filter, something you can do more frequently if this seems to be a problem.

Clean the vents and hose by detaching the vent hose from the back of the dryer. Use the lint brush and if possible a shop vacuum to clear lint from the vent and the hose. Carefully brush or vacuum out the vent hose. Then, clean the exterior vent -- from the outside in, if need be. Make sure to reconnect the hose securely to the vents on either side.

A final tip: If the exhaust hose or pipe is made of white vinyl, replace this material as soon as possible with flexible metal pipe. Vinyl in particular is no longer permitted for dryer exhaust in building codes.

Home tip: Wash your dryer’s lint filter in warm soapy water every few months to clear built-up fabric softener from the screen.

Send your questions or comments to, or write This Is a Hammer, c/o King Features Weekly Service, P.O. Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475.



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