Model #LEW0050PQ2, this compact 24″ dryer caught fire near the heating element in the rear of the unit setting off the house smoke detectors. Fortunately, the fire was very small in scale because once the fire started, the heating element wire melted opening the electrical circuit and shutting off the heat source. With the heat gone, the lint which was the source of the fire stopped smoldering. This was a frightening moment for the customer, but it could have easily been avoided.
Depending on who you ask, dryer fires are either very rare, or all to common. My personal take on this is, fires in newer dryers with all the safety features and clean vents are probably rare, while fires in older dryers without all the new safety stuff and a vent that has never been cleaned probably still happen. But the reality of it is dryers don’t catch fire unless there is something within the cabinet that can burn. And the one thing that will start a fire and generate plenty of smoke is lint buildup. This is where a little maintenance can go along way to save energy, and prevent a fire.
Everyone has seen the amount of lint that accumulates on the lint screen in a dryer, and if you happen to take a look inside the venting to the outside of the house, you may find a halo of lint on the bark dust and plants that are near the dryer vent outlet. Dryers rely on good airflow in order to properly dry clothes. This air is drawn from inside the room the dryer occupies, through the heating element and the clothes, and is then exhausted to the outside or wherever the end of the vent ends up. As long as the vent remains free of kinks, excessive bends, or any other restriction, everything works great.
But even the slightest of obstructions within the vent will slow the airflow and allow moisture to begin condensing on the walls of the vent. This moisture will attract lint that has made it’s way past the lint filter causing it to stick to the sides of the vent. Once this has started, it is going to continue the pattern until the vent is all but closed, and the only real indication you might have of a problem is it takes more than one cycle to dry your clothes. If this is a problem you have noticed with your own dryer, it is time to do something about it.
The dryer that caught fire not only had a restricted vent, but the hose had come loose from the rear of the unit allowing lint to collect on just about everything behind the dryer. With so much lint in the area, the dryer was essentially recirculating lint through the cabinet where it would attach itself to the heating element and everything else. Most of it probably burned up and was never noticed but after enough collected in the area, the fire started and, well the photo shows the results.
Thankfully everyone was safe. The smoke didn’t do any lasting damage, and oddly enough, the dryer was easily cleaned up as the fire didn’t do any damage to any of the other components inside of the cabinet. As a matter of fact, I only needed to replace the heating element, and vacuum out the cabinet to get this one back up and running. The customer also planned to get the venting cleaned to ensure this doesn’t happen again.