(WXYZ) - A recent report from the U.S. Fire Administration estimates there are 2,900 clothes dryer fires every year, causing 5 deaths, 100 injuries and $35 million in properly loss.
Heavy clothes, sweaters and blankets used during winter months shed much more lint and create a fire hazards during winter months.
But cleaning the "lint trap" alone is not enough to prevent fires.
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.
We teamed up with vent cleaning experts and a fire prevention association, to reveal how lint buildup over years can quietly accumulate 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."
It also builds up inside the vent tubing leading to the outside.
Strah used a high powered vacuum that suctioned huge piles of lint buildup, which over time actually clogs vents from functioning properly.
Fire investigators found that as lint builds up and is exposed to heat, fires can easily erupt.
"That would burn right through and cause a fire in the wall," said fire marshal Mike Kocab, who demonstrated how lint can ignite and start a fire.
To demonstrate how quickly flames can spread if a lint fire comes into contact with clothes we recreated a typical laundry room.
Kocab, using a lighter, lit a small buildup of lint that quickly caught fire.
In another demonstration, firefighters recreated a clothes dryer to show how quickly flames can spread from the clothes dryer and engulf a laundry room.
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.
There are specifics steps you can take to prevent lint fires:
- Clean the lint screen after each load.
- Clean behind the dryer.
- Check and clean exhaust vents at least one a year.
- Remove the dryer back and vacuum the inside of the dryer ever 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.
A spokesperson for Underwriters Laboratories said a new safety standard went into effect for dryer 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.