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Electric Notes

Want Efficient, Safe Laundry? Ditch the Lint

Household chores like laundry seem fairly safe. But hidden problems like lint buildup in a dryer could lead to higher energy bills due to inefficiency and, ultimately, hazardous conditions in your home.

“Lint is the bane of our existence,” said Brian Wallace, president of the Coin Laundry Association in Oakbrook Terrace, Illinois. “We have to clean lint, not only as a safety issue, but to keep our energy costs down and ensure proper performance.”

At coin-operated laundries, dryers are key to customer satisfaction. Other amenities pale if clothes don’t dry fast enough, so laundry owners remain adamant about maintaining proper air flow through commercial dryers. With 30 to 50 dryers at an average laundry, operators clear trash cans full of lint every day from their screens.

The same principle applies at home, although on a smaller scale.

“Cleaning the lint filter after every cycle is one habit we want to encourage,” said Jill Notini, communications and marketing director for the Washington, D.C.-headquartered Association of Home Appliance Manufactur­ers (AHAM). “Repetition builds a habit.”

AHAM urges consumers to clean the lint filter after each load and occasionally remove the filter and wash it with a nylon brush and hot, soapy water to remove residue. This simple chore not only improves air flow and energy efficiency, but also reduces the chance of a dryer fire.

Statistics on dryer fires show no difference between the natural gas and electric dryers, according to John Drengenberg, consumer affairs manager for Underwriters Laboratories (UL), a Chicago-based nonprofit that tests and sets minimum standards for electric-consuming items. “If you forget to clean the lint screen too many times you’re going to get a buildup, and that’s where ultimately you could have a problem,” he said.

Manufacturers whose products carry the UL mark are required to ship dryers with safety instructions that specify cleaning the lint screen before or after each load. These instructions also recommend keeping dryer exhaust openings and adjacent surrounding areas free from accumulated lint, dust and dirt, and having qualified service people periodically clean the dryer’s interior and exhaust duct.

Without adequate air circulation, heat flow becomes stymied, clothes take longer to dry, and it costs more to operate the appliance. Like ovens and stoves, dryers apply extreme heat on potentially flammable materials.

“You wouldn’t leave something cooking unattended for long periods of time—at least you shouldn’t, for safety and edibility,” Drengenberg noted. “Dryers, though, often run up to an hour or more, forgotten in a basement, garage or utility space.”

This out-of-sight, out-of-mind practice makes it essential that a dryer be maintained on a simple and regular basis.