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In August last year, a fire broke out in an 18-storey tower block in Shepherd's Bush. Fortunately, the fire was caught early enough and all residents were safely evacuated.

The cause of this near-disaster? A tumble dryer that caught on fire.

After the fire, London Fire Brigade revealed they "attend nearly one fire a day involving white goods". And that's just in London.

Less than a year later, residents of the UK awoke to the horrific news that Grenfell Tower was on fire. This time the residents were not as fortunate as those in Shepherd's Bush. At least 80 people died, with the death toll still not finalised.

Of the 27,289 accidental fires from March 2016-March 2017, 51% of the fires were caused by faulty appliances or leads or the misuse of equipment or appliances.

All our homes contain white goods, but it is rare that we ever consider them as potential fire hazards.

In this article, we'll investigate whether tumble dryers present a higher-risk than other white goods. We'll also look at the steps you can take to protect you and your family from unnecessary risk.

Do You Have A Faulty Dryer?

The first step to take in identifying if your appliances have a high risk of catching on fire is to check if the manufacturer has issued a safety notice or recall notice.

The cause of the fire in Shepherd's Bush was a Whirlpool dryer. Whirlpool is the company behind the Hotpoint, Creda, Swan, Indesit, and Proline brands.

At least 750 fires have been traced back to these brands since 2004.

In October 2017, Whirlpool's communications director admitted that there was still an estimated 1 million faulty tumble dryers that are at risk of catching fire in households around the UK.

Despite issuing a safety notice last year, they claim they have had difficulty contacting those who have a faulty device.

To establish if your tumble dryer is included in the safety notice, visit:

  • Hotpoint, Creda, and Proline -  here
  • Indesit - here
  • Swan - here

If your dryer is on the list, follow the instructions and unplug the dryer immediately and cease to use it until visited by an engineer.

Why Do Tumble Dryers Catch Fire?

Whirlpool explained the reason why their dryers caught fire was because:

""...excess fluff can come into contact with the heating element and present a risk of fire"

When you wash clothes in a washing machine, the garments rub together. This is part of the cleaning process as the agitation of the fabric releases dirt. This friction causes little bits of lint to form.

In a washing machine, this lint doesn't cause a problem as it sticks to the wet clothes. However, when placed in the dryer, the clothes are dried using a stream of warm air.

This air blows the lint off the clothes, and it then exits the dryer. Most tumble dryers house a lint screen which is designed to collect all excess lint to prevent it being exhausted from your machine through the vent.

This lint screen needs to be frequently cleaned, ideally after each use. When blocked, air cannot flow properly out of your tumble dryer.

If the lint screen is not clear, it can cause the dryer to operate at an unsafe temperature. Given that the lint material is very fine and dry, it can quickly catch on fire.

Switched Off Dryers Can Still Catch Fire

The London Fire Brigade, following Whirlpool's safety notice, explained that the fluff on the heating element could cause a smouldering fire that doesn't fully ignite until after you have finished using your dryer.

This could be particularly dangerous if you leave the house, or go to bed, once you've removed your clothing

How to reduce the risk of your dryer catching on fire

tumble dryer fire

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Are you starting to feel a little bit nervous about using your dryer now? If so, we can't blame you.

Fortunately, most of the time dryers are safe to use but you should read the following three tips for reducing the risk of a potentially deadly fire breaking out.

1. Regularly Clean The Lint Screen

You should clean your lint screen every time you use your dryer. This will prevent the highly-combustible lint from accumulating in large amounts.

Once the screen is removed, use a hoover to fully remove any lint that is left in the cavity where the lint screen sits.

2. Position The Dryer In A Suitable Location

Placing your dryer in an optimum location can help reduce the risk of fire. This includes:

  • Positioning it in a room with an ambient temperature of 15 - 30c, away from direct sunlight.

  • Position it at least 10cm away from a wall to allow air to flow behind the dryer, and to prevent the hose from being crushed.

  • Do not place it on top of another appliance. The air leaving a tumble dryer can be very hot (over 60c) so the surface it is on should be able to withstand this temperature.

  • Do not position the tumble dryer close to a heat source such as an oven, fire or radiator.

3. Ensure Vent House Installed Correctly

tumble dryer hose

Lint build up inside twisted hose

If you have a vented dryer, you need to ensure that the vent hose is installed correctly.

This is critical to operating your dryer safely as not all lint is trapped in the lint screen.

Some lint is carried out via the vent hose. If not installed correctly, lint could build up in the hose and present a fire hazard.

Here are some tips for making sure it is o.k.

  • The hose should not be crushed or stood on. The hose needs the full width to efficiently vent the hot air and lint.

  • There should be no more than two bends in the vent hose. Each bend is an obstacle for hot air and lint to escape safely into the outside world.

  • Always makes sure the hose vents to outside.

    Venting inside your house can cause a buildup of moisture and damp that can adversely affect the tumble dryer and even cause health risks.

4. Follow Manufacturer's Instructions

Always make sure you read the manual before operating your appliances.

Although you may be able to install it without the manual, it is still worth familiarising yourself with the best practice for using it.

As a general rule ensure that:

  • You use the correct programme. 

For example, a shorter drying time for a smaller amount of laundry to prevent the generation of an excess amount of heat.

  • You don't use an extension lead to plug in the dryer. 

  • You don't  prematurely open the dryer door.

    Most dryers have a cool down function at the end of a programme. You should allow this to run to reduce the risk of fire. 
  • You should not leave the house or go to bed while the dryer is running.

    It may be tempting to run some errands while your clothes are drying, but if a fire were to occur there would be no one to raise the alarm quickly.

How to choose a safe tumble dryer

If you are looking to purchase a dryer, don't be put off by this article. With the proper preventative measures, there is no reason why it should be dangerous to own and operate a dryer. 

Buying a 2nd-hand tumble dryer

If you are buying a second-hand dryer, make sure that the model is not on a recall list. You can do this by visiting the manufacturer's website.

You can also visit the Government's list of recalled household items.

Finally, you can search the Electrical Safety First website that lists all recalled electrical products since 2007.

Ask the seller if the dryer has undergone Portable Appliance Testing (PAT).

This certification will assure you that the electrical side of the dryer has been checked over by a competent and qualified person.

Check For The Green Dot

After Whirlpool recalled their tumble dryers due to fire risks, they placed green stickers on models that were not part of the safety alert.

You can find these stickers on Creda, Hotpoint and Indesit models.

Check the rim of the door, inside the door and on the back of the appliance for a green dot.

tumble dryer green dot

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Buying A New Dryer

If you are purchasing a new dryer, it is essential that you register it.

You may find a leaflet inside the box that instructs you to register it with the manufacturer, or you can register it on this Government supported website.

Registering your new tumble dryers is important as they will notify you quickly  if a safety issue is found.

It is estimated that when a product is recalled, only 10-20% of the products end up being returned. People are just unaware that they have a potentially dangerous appliance in their home.

We also checked to make sure our page on small tumble dryers didn't have any on a recall list.

Hopefully, you have found this guide informative. Remember, if you have found that your dryer is on the recall list, you need to stop using it immediately.

If you have any questions, please feel free to leave them in the comments section below.