My Dryer Almost Caught Fire (And It Wasn't Even Running)

This mom had no idea one feature of her dryer could be so dangerous

You know those times when you were in the right place at the right time and you’re grateful you were? And then, there are those times where had you just been in the wrong place at the right time, the entire course of your life could have been different?

I know it sounds dramatic but the more I think about how lucky I was three weeks ago when I was home and smelled smoke, the more grateful I am that I was in the right place at the right time; at home and awake.

Did you know that dryer lights can cause a fire if the door is left open over a period of time? Me either. But they can.

I suppose I should have read the owner’s manual of our appliances when we bought our (then) 6-month-old-house. Maybe then I would have seen on page 10 of our dryer manual that the door to the dryer should remain closed.

But, I didn’t, and neither did my young kids, who are prone to grabbing underwear from the dryer filled with clean clothes (don’t judge me, we do a lot of laundry—it gets folded….sometimes).

One morning, my son did just that and didn’t shut the door. The light didn’t turn off and it got hot. It got so hot it burned through the plastic cover and started to burn the blanket at the back of the dryer. I smelled it burning as I walked up the stairs. Then I saw the smoke.

Leslie Kennedy's dryer after the incident

We hear dryer horror stories from time to time. I personally know two people who had houses catch fire due to uncleaned lint trays or clogged dryer ducts. Dryer safety is no joke. These days, we all want laundry on the top floor for the convenience. And yet, all I can think about right now is that the laundry room shares a wall with my son, and what if….?

I’m not here to preach to you to care about what didn’t happen to me but could have. But in a million years, I didn’t think leaving the door open could cause a fire. I always closed the door anyway but my son or daughter? They’re kids. They’re lazy and they’re absent minded like every other child. I never made clear the importance of shutting the door because it never occurred to me that leaving it open could do more than make the light burn out, not up!

As it turns out, it’s not uncommon for dryers to have lights that don’t time out. They are commonplace in some brands. I called the company to report what happened and was told to review my manual and that the dryer was working as intended.

So where are the safety nets that my other appliances are fitted with?

My fridge will beep if the door is left open. Not my dryer.

My fridge light will time out if the door is left open. Not my dryer.

My fridge is not filled with items that can easily catch fire, nor does it use a heat source within the unit to work. As for my dryer...

However, I say all this having recently learned that investigators looking into the tragic Grenfell fire in London—which saw an entire apartment building burn down—suspect that the initial cause of the fire (not the reason it spread) was a faulty fridge. Let's just curl up in the corner and wait for the apocalypse, shall we? 

Listen, I'm not an alarmist. If anything, I genuinely think that people are prone to overreacting in such instances. But this seriously scared me and I want to make sure the same (or worse) doesn't happen to you. 

Dryers (like fridges) are not supposed to catch fire. Even knowing what it says in the manual, one would assume the risk would be the light having a shorter life—not that it could become flammable. The manual certainly doesn’t indicate that risk. And I have been assured by the company it is not supposed to be a fire hazard. They have committed to investigating why mine proved to be.

The manual simply says not to leave the door open. But if you leave your door open all day, that light will stay on, all day. Add that to years of use and wearing down of the plastic from the heat of the light, and boom—fire hazard. Regardless of the lack of a warning sound, regardless of the lack of a fail-safe feature that will turn the light off, regardless of the fact that it uses a heat source within the unit to work, ultimately, it can become a hazard. Look at my picture. It can and it did.

There are the dangers we have heard about, most importantly the need to clean out the lint trap and keep the venting clear. If you have a dryer with a light, check to see if the light will shut off on its own if you leave the door open. If it doesn’t, make sure everyone in your house knows the importance of keeping that door closed to be on the safe side. 

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