Every now and again we see in the news or we get called to a tumble dryer that has gone on fire and, like most instances where there is acrid smoke, flames or even a whiff of danger to life it is taken very seriously indeed. Often the results are, for want of a better term to use, spectacular and more often than not the actual danger blown out of all proportion.
There's just one small problem, almost every instance that we have ever come across has come down to one simple mistake, a lack of care on the part of the user.
We would also point out that, even if you do leave the machine operational and unattended (which we don't recommend) then as every single fire service in the UK will telll you, you should have a working smoke alarm that is regularly tested fitted in your home to warn you, often long before massive damage can occur or life is lost from a fire from any source never mind an appliance.
The picture above was from an incident attended by Staffordshire Fire Service of a tumble dryer that had apparently gone on fire, the Assistant Area Commander of the service Mick Daniels said more or less exactly what we would say:
The biggest culprit is the owner of the tumble dryer.
Sorry, but it is a fact.
Just as stated above by someone from the fire service, which obviously has no connection to us as appliance repairers, Mr Daniels states the blindingly obvious to most people in that, really, appliances should not be left running in an unattended location (we don't even like delay timers due to this) and that you must, must, must clean the filters in your tumble dryer and the condenser unit if you have a condenser tumble dryer.
If you fail to clean the filters regularly then fluff and lint builds up and gets forced through the air distribution system, it reaches the heater and it can then burn. In all likelihood and, in almost all cases, this won't actually ignite but it will give off an acrid burning smell, quite possibly smoke and give the impression that the tumble dryer is on fire and in the process give you a good scare.
Also, if the filters are faulty and, we see a lot in a right old state, with holes in the filter mesh and all sorts and even some people that have removed them completely, then that fluff and lint can just pass straight through into the heater chamber.
If you do not maintain the filters you have an accident waiting to happen. It is not a matter of "if", it's a question of "when".
If you choose to risk life and limb for the sake of a few seconds cleaning a filter out or a few pounds for a replacement filter then that's entirely your call. Just don't blame the tumble dryer manufacturer for a fault caused by you.
In a tumble dryer there are a set of thermostats (you can find out more about them in this article) but the short of it in relation to this article is that there are safety thermostats that, when activated due to excessive heat, will stop the dryer and make it safe.
There is nothing in the tumble dryer that can burn of its own accord. If you think about it, any manufacturer that built a machine that heats up and has a heating element in it that also puts flammable materials in the construction would have to be, frankly, terminally stupid. They're not stupid and they do not use flammable materials so there's nothing in a tumble dryer to burn without a lot of effort or some sort of catalyst. Usually that would be the build up of fluff and lint as above.
In fact, on canvassing the engineers in a quick completely non-scientific poll, not one has ever seen a tumble dryer fire caused by anything else. We've all seen them though.
We know, it's a complete contradiction.
In many instruction manuals (most) it will state that the tumble dryer should not be used unattended yet manufacturers provide delay start timers that allow that, you could say even encourage unattended use and, you would be correct.
But people demand the function so manufacturers provide what the customer wants, even if hardly any people ever use it.
On top of which most manufacturers and we, don't recommend unattended use. In fact, we'd say that you should never, ever leave an appliance (any appliance) running and leave it alone without anyone in the home. Ever.
Appliances are pretty reliable and have a lot of safety devices built into them but, every once in a while one in millions upon millions of cycles run will do something odd and fail in a bad way. Whether that's the machine at fault or, as in this case almost exclusively, the owner's fault is irrelevant. The fact is that it can go wrong and even if the odds are millions and millions to one that it will, you should not leave any appliance completely unattended and operating.
On top of that, as the fire services tell you, fit a smoke alarm. Make sure it works.
Clean the filters!
Clean the condenser chamber!
Do these very regularly, most manufacturers say to do it after every use, they say that for a reason not just for fun.
If the airflow in your tumble dryer is impaired then it is working less efficiently, it will be costing you more in electricity to run, the performance is degraded and it is dangerous. Asides from which it can also cause the premature failure of heating elements and thermostats. It can cause blockages with water systems on condenser dryers, fan blockages and other issues.
There's a heap of reasons to maintain your tumble dryer as directed.
If you don't then you will, at some point inevitably need either our services to repair your tumble dryer through a spare part, one of our engineers to repair it or the fire service to put out the flames.
It is entirely up to you.