The clothes dryer is an appliance we easily take for granted. But cycle after cycle of drying, fluffing, and tumbling can take its toll, which is why proper maintenance is a must in order to avoid hazards that can ultimately result in fires.
Indeed, the National Fire Protection Associationreports there were some 14,300 clothes dryer fires in homes in 1998, the most recent year for which figures are available. The fires resulted in 19 deaths, 312 injuries, and $67.7 million in direct property damage.
The leading cause of 30 percent of the fires was lack of maintenance. Eleven percent were triggered by an unidentified or unknown-type of mechanical failure, and 10 percent by part failure, leak, or break.
In most cases, clothing was the most common source of ignition. Dust, fiber, and lint are also common ignition sources.
The NFPA says dryers are the third most common type of equipment involved in home fires - following stoves and fixed area heaters.
"We take it for granted that our home appliances will work safely as they should," said Meri-K Appy, vice president of public education for NFPA. "But we need to take care of these devices to keep them safe. Don't let fire start in your home because you didn't clean your lint filter or maintain your dryer."
The Consumer Product Safety Commissionsays that under some conditions, when lint blocks the flow of air, excessive heat build-up can cause a fire in some dryers.
The NFPA and the CPSC offer these tips:
In addition to potential fires, clothes dryers also trigger energy bills. The U.S. Department of Energysays that behind the refrigerator, the clothes dryer is the top electricity-using appliance in the house, costing about $85 a year to operate.
The DOE recommends that if you're shopping for a new dryer that you choose one with a moisture sensor - that means the dryer will automatically shut off when the clothes are dry, saving energy and wear and tear on your clothes.
The DOE also says gas dryers are less expensive to operate than their electric counterparts - an electric dryer will cost you 30 to 40 cents a load; a gas dryer will cost you 15 to 20 cents a load.