Don't let the clothes dryer burn down the house

And keep the washer from flooding the place

February 02, 2003|By NEWSDAY

Each year in the United States, about 15,500 fires start in laundry rooms, causing about $84 million in damage. The cause: the clothes dryer. Its neighbor, the washing machine, is responsible for about $150 million in water damage in the United States and Canada because of bursting hoses.

Those numbers are staggering, especially because it is not difficult to keep the laundry room and its appliances clean, dry and safe. Light maintenance and visual inspections are easy preventive measures. Another is to turn to metal: flexible metal exhaust pipe for the dryer and "no-burst" braided stainless- steel hoses for the washer.

Whether electric or gas, dryers collect lint, which is highly combustible. Lint buildup - on the inside of the exhaust pipe, where the pipe connects at the back of the dryer and outside at the vent - also reduces air flow and drying efficiency. If clothes seem to take a long time to dry or are hotter than normal at the end of the drying cycle, try a light cleaning.

Start with the lint trap. Peel lint from the screen and wipe the edges and the trap drawer with a damp cloth. A shop vacuum is handy for sucking out any lint stuck inside.

Next, unplug the dryer. Check the back, where the exhaust pipe connects to the appliance. The pipe is held in place by a clip or a steel clamp that can be loosened by pliers or a screwdriver. After removing the pipe, reach inside the dryer opening to remove as much lint as possible. Again, use a damp cloth to wipe away lint.

Clean the inside of the exhaust pipe, too. Reach in to wipe away any buildup. If the exhaust pipe is made of vinyl or foil, replace it with flexible metal pipe, and be sure that dryer exhaust doesn't vent inside your home or attic.

Also, don't store flammable materials - paints, solvents, household cleaners and paper - near your dryer.

Cleaning the exterior vent might entail using a step ladder because some dryers vent upward. You might need a screwdriver or scraper blade to hold the vent flap open. Wipe away as much lint buildup as possible. A shop vacuum will suck out any excess lint.

Remove lint and inspect the exhaust pipe at least once a year, more often if you use your dryer twice weekly.

Turning to the washing machine, check the supply hoses to the appliance. Look for cracked or frayed material on rubber supply hoses, which can burst. These rubber hoses should be replaced with hoses of braided steel. Braided steel supply hoses come in lengths of 4, 5 and 6 feet and cost $10 to $12 each. They install like garden hoses. However, you'll first have to turn off the water supply valves to the washer. Valves that are hard to turn can be closed with pliers, and use a bucket to collect excess water. Hand-tighten the new braided steel hoses, turn the water back on and check for leaks.

Automatic flood-stopping units are also available. The units, which contain two solenoid valves that connect between the shut-off valves and the hoses, run about $70. The valves are connected to a sensor, mounted beneath the hoses. When the sensor detects a leak, it engages the solenoid valves, which stop water flow at the control valve.

Installation is simple: A screwdriver and pliers are about the only necessary tools.

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