Tumble Dryer Fires
Just as with other domestic appliances, tumble dryer fires are more commonplace than many people might think them to be, from what we see in the news wires we’d roughly estimate that there are about one or two a month, perhaps slightly more in the UK.
Again, as with others, although the headlines will often cite a fire attended by the local fire brigade the severity is often omitted from the reports.
Most turn out to be a lint or fluff that has built up inside the dryer and has caught light and the severity of this can vary depending on the amount in the dryer.
It may strike you that we are being not so serious here about tumble dryer fires and, you would be very wrong in the presumption as we are very serious about it indeed. That said, it is extremely important to realise that the vast bulk of incidents will often come down to the use, maintenance or environment being the problem and not the tumble dryer itself.
It is absolutely critical that if you wish to stay safe using a tumble dryer of any make or kind that it is installed and used correctly. Not doing so will give rise to fire risk among other safety concerns.
If you just want a simple short burst of tips to keep you safe please see our tumble dryer safety tips article.
What Can Go On Fire In A Tumble Dryer
The headline is, not much at all in terms of components.
The reason we are quite relaxed on this is as manufacturers do not build tumble dryers with flammable material. There’s not really much in one to burn other than some plastics and they need something to set them alight and to fuel any subsequent fire.
Generally the fuel for any fire is what people put in them. We will come back to that in a moment.
They should be fused and connected to a protected electrical circuit.
So, all in all, the danger than tumble dryer poses when used, installed and maintained correctly, at least in terms of a fire risk, isn’t large.
Based on the statistics we can get and considering there are upwards of and estimated 7-10 million tumble dryers in use in the UK, the number of fire instances are very low when it comes to tumble dryers.
However, under the right conditions then sure, like most things you can get a fairly dramatic event to take place. But, the conditions have to all line up and the actual chance of it is extremely low assuming the dryer is used and maintained properly.
There are a number of components that can blow that will often be reported as a “tumble dryer went of fire” type fault but, these tend to be blown capacitors and the like which, whilst perhaps dramatic and likely to give a fright, aren’t really dangerous as such. They are just simple failures.
What Burns In a Tumble Dryer
Far more common (we promised to come back to it) is the stuff people put in it catching light or fluff build up in the dryer catching and this is down to poor maintenance.
To look at the most common first, lint gets into the dryer cavity as the filter isn’t maintained (cleaned) correctly and then the fluff, ooze or lint that comes off the items being dried is forced to go elsewhere. Elsewhere is into the main cavity of the cabinet.
Over time this can build up eventually blocking the air supply allowing the machine to overheat and quite possibly becoming a fire risk, especially if it touches the heater.
And, be very aware, this stuff is tinder dry, burns on contact extremely easily, is highly flammable in effect and will burn till it is all gone, even if that means destroying your dryer in the process. In extreme cases where the fire can take hold outside the cabinet the resulting carnage can be very much more severe.
We cannot overstate the importance of cleaning the filter/s out and it should be done before or after every single drying cycle. Without fail.
This is utterly vital if you tumble dry towels etc as these can give off massive amounts of fluff.
For self condensing or condenser dryers the condenser should also be cleaned regularly, this is not required as often as the main filter but it still has to be done or, again, you create a fire risk.
For both your user manual will detail exactly how to do that for your model although most are obvious and common sense.
If you are really worried about the risk of fire and/or know you've not kept up with cleaning the filters then you can strip the back off the dryer and clear the build up of fluff manually.
Clothing On Fire
Occasionally, although more than we’d like, we will see a load of laundry that goes on fire in a dryer. Whilst this isn’t a daily occurrence it does happen and in every single instance we’ve ever seen the results from, the cause was not the tumble dryer.
There are items that should not be tumble dried, ever.
There are labels on these items to tell you this or, no label will ordinarily mean that it is not suitable to be tumble dried. Common items like this are shoes (yes, people do that), plastic backed bath mats (yes, they do that too) and other items that contain flammable material or coatings that are unsuitable for high heat drying.
If you put these things in a dryer then you may well get away with it but, you might not. If you don’t then the chances are you will have a fire in your tumble dryer.
Many people dry towelling in a tumble dryer but, read the care label very carefully as many towels and some bedding cannot be tumble dried. If you do this, you risk fire or excessive fluff or lint from these items.
For some people you need to balance the risks, for example what’s more important, having fluffy towels that really shouldn’t be tumble dried or burning down your home?
Some people may read that as being condescending or whatever but it’s not intended that way at all, it is intended as a stark warning that many people seem to place convenience and making things fit their needs, even if that proves to be totally unsuitable and potentially extremely unsafe, over the safety of themselves, their family and property.
All we are pointing out is that you, as the user and operator, do have some responsibility to use these appliances in a safe manner as they are intended to be used as well as being responsible for what you put in them.
Flammable Items Of Clothing
Some clothing as we mentioned are flammable and should never, ever be in a tumble dryer.
But did you ever think about what was on the clothing, even if it is okay for tumble drying?
Over the years we’ve come across some strange things and we have seen instances where copious amounts of flammable deodorant or perfume was on items went on fire.
Worse yet, flammable things like turpentine, paint thinner and so on especially from people working in body shops and the like have caught light in a tumble dryer. Some of these substances can survive and remain on clothing through a wash cycle (you can sometimes still smell it) and all the more so when they are not washed correctly and this poses an obvious danger of fire.
Many people might not consider it but overalls covered in turpentine or the like after a bout of DIY painting could just be enough.
The risk here isn’t huge for most people but worthy of note in any case.
Claims & Compensation
Our advice is that if you do have the huge misfortune to have a fire incident related to a tumble dryer fire or any other appliance and are intending to lodge a claim of some kind, check all the facts first.
Trust us, manufacturers will forensically take apart what’s in the dryer, what went on fire, how and all the rest and they will know or be extremely confident of what happened. And, given what you have read above you will know by now that a fire needs fuel that was not in the dryer when it was new and, shouldn’t be if it was maintained and used properly so if you go down this road you will need rock solid irrefutable proof that the dryer was the cause. Not what you put in it etc.
People thinking that they can badger manufacturers or their insurers into just paying up and compensating is a mistake, they will fully investigate every single instance and require proof that they were at fault.
On balance, with what we’ve seen over the years, there are very few successful claims. We’re sure some have been settled out of court but to date, we’ve not seen a successful prosecution or claim.
We imagine although with no evidence to prove it, that this is as all instances come down to the reasons set out in this article. As certainly all the tumble dryer fires we’ve seen have come down to one of these reasons, hence the warnings.
Let us clarify our interpretation of “unattended use”. By this we mean that there is either nobody in the home or, the tumble dryer is in use when there is nobody that can see or hear it, primarily use when in bed to in outbuildings.
We do not recommend unattended use, we never will despite the electricity companies wanting to have you run appliances through the night. Which, by the way, you only save money doing if you are on the appropriate tariff and have the meter to allow it, if you don’t have one or both there is no point at all, you save nothing.
We would stress that these are machines and all machines will at some point fail. Just like cars, PC’s and every other mechanical device, they will not run forever and they will fail, this is a certainty. All that is in doubt is the “when”, not if.
With a tumble dryer we would say that unattended use is simply not a thing you want to be doing.
Yes, we know that there’s delay timers on many tumble dryers and we actually don’t recommend using them, we think it is dangerous but that is just our opinion that we have delved into in more depth previously.
The short answer is that unattended use is a really bad idea in our estimation and, at least if someone is around and the worst happens, you have a chance to do something about it and/or limit the damage.
Common Sense Safety
Of course by now you will have read our fire safety tips that apply to all appliances haven’t you? If not, jump over to that article here and read that as well as this one if you have any concerns.
Most tumble dryer safety is simple common sense though coupled with proper ventilation and maintenance.
Do put your tumble dryer on a proper supply with a good socket. Make sure the circuit is protected by an RCD or suchlike. Don’t use it in damp conditions and so on. It’s mostly all straightforward common sense stuff.
Ensure that the venting is correct and clear and the room suitable.
It would surprise many people just how many tumble dryer as well as other appliance faults we see being as a direct result of faulty mains supplies and in the case of dryers, poor venting or room that’s too small.
Again, like other appliances do not install tumble dryers outdoors in unheated areas such as garages, sheds and so forth as there is a high risk of dampness and this will affect the machine, it’s performance and can be a major safety risk, including a potential shock and fire risk.
Tumble dryers are not designed for outdoor use.
Neither are they designed for use in other areas subject to or can be subject to high levels of damp, like bathrooms.
Doing either is just asking for trouble.
Fire Safety Recalls
There are specific issues but they tend to arise from safety recalls as manufacturers, in a bid to avoid getting sued, will issue safety notifications if there is an issue and, we publish them then leave them up for a long time in order to try to make people aware.
If you do have a tumble dryer that is subject to a notification then get it registered and sorted as quickly as you can.
If you see one and know of someone that has or may have and affected machine please let them know.
Trouble is, nobody seems to care unless there’s a problem and as many tumble dryers are never registered with the manufacturer or anywhere else, there’s often no way to get in touch with owners of affected machines.
In our experience these tend to be related to a single component, often a batch from a supplier that has a specific issue and given the low likelihood of any danger these are normally more the manufacturers covering themselves than much anything else.
Stay Safe With Your Dryer
Most of this will be, to most rational and reasonable people just plain common sense.
It surprises us though that there are as many people that ignore one or a number of the most basic points of safety when it comes to tumble dryers and other appliances.
Following these simple points and ensuring that you use your dryer correctly will almost guarantee that you will never have any issues of encounter a tumble dryer fire.
Ignore these safety points however and it is entirely at your own risk.