SAN ANTONIO - You toss in the towels and push the start button, giving no thought to the danger that may be lurking in your laundry room.
The serious hazard is simple lint.
An estimated 6,000 house fires are traced to lint that builds up in clothes dryer exhaust systems.
"That lint is fuel for the fire," said Alisa LaSueur, a certified dryer exhaust technician who's business, The Dryer Vent Lady, is to clean out the mess many homeowners neglect."
We know to clean the lint trap with every load, but that's only the beginning.
"Some lint gets past it, and that's where the fire hazard is," LaSueur said. "It builds up in that vent pipe and over time with buildup, that lint is so flammable, all you need is the tiniest spark from the dryer, and you've got a chain reaction and it burns down houses."
Lint gets trapped in the dryer duct, the slinky-looking tube that connects the dryer to the vent that leads to the outside.
"It does need to be metal," LaSueur said. "If you have a white plastic, vinyl one, get rid of it as fast as you can."
Rigid or semi-rigid metal is recommended. It not only traps less lint because it is less flimsy and flexible, metal can contain a fire better.
Lint also gets trapped in the pipe that vents to the outside of the house.
Using a system of connecting rods and brushes, and resembling a chimney sweep, LaSueur climbs on ladders and rooftops to reach deep into the venting system to unclog lint accumulation.
It's not unusual to see huge clumps of lint come raining down, enough to fill a large bucket.
Newer, two-story homes with laundries on an interior wall are especially susceptible because the vent runs straight up and over to the side of the house, with more footage for lint to collect. And, all that lint wears down a dryer's motor.
LaSueur said homeowners also need to keep lint from collecting under and behind the dryer where it can be drawn into the dryer itself. The back of the dryer should be brushed clean, too.
"I'll see the back of the dryer and it will be dark brown or black, and it will be an area like a dinner plate size, and I'll ask the homeowner, 'Did you know you had a fire?' and usually they said they had no idea."
Because lint is so flammable, you should never go to bed or leave the house with the dryer running.
How often you clean your dryer exhaust system depends on how much laundry you do. For families who wash and dry a lot of towels, once a year may be necessary.
There are symptoms to tell you that you should check your ducts, according to LaSueur.
"The most prominent one is clothes taking too long to dry," she said. "Too long is defined as light fabrics on high heat should take no more than 30 minutes to dry. The second one is the dryer just getting too hot to the touch."
If your lint screen is collecting lint unevenly, leaving a bald spot or leaving lint on the backside of the screen, LaSueur said that's an indication of you have a serious blockage.
Homeowners can clean the dryer vents themselves. But for long vents, the homeowner often does not have the tools to reach all of the lint.
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