What We Do Blog

Physicians share their allergy prevention advice

Ragweed. Pet dander. Tree pollen. Mountain cedar. Regardless of what’s causing your allergy symptoms, the sniffling, coughing, sneezing and itching are a major downer any time of the year. Before you reach for the antihistamines, look around the house. Odds are you already have many of the tools—your appliances—that can reduce the level of allergens in your home and help you breathe a bit easier.

AHAM spoke with two allergy experts, Corinna Bowser, M.D., of Narberth Allergy & Asthma in Narbeth, Pa., and Sakina Bajowala, M.D., of Kaneland Allergy in North Aurora, Ill., who shared their advice on how your appliances can help you find allergy relief:

Vacuum: Vacuums with HEPA filters can be helpful in removing both ground allergens, like dust mites, and airborne allergens like pollen. A stick vacuum may be a convenient option to help you remove dust mites from the hard surfaces in your home between regular cleaning sessions.  Finally, consider having someone who doesn’t suffer from allergies do the vacuuming.

Room air cleaner: Air cleaners also utilize HEPA filters to remove allergens from the air. Do you have pets? Keep an air cleaner running in the room or area where the pets spend their most time and in the room where the allergic person sleeps. “Running a HEPA filter can help to reduce the levels of allergens in the air by up to 50 percent,” Bajowala said. “The air filters can help trap a lot of the allergens and make the air more suitable for asthmatic or allergic patients to breathe.”

Air conditioner: Air conditioners will help filter outdoor allergens and keep them outside. Combine them with a room air cleaner for an extra layer of protection. “Many patients with asthma and allergies do a lot better in air conditioned environments,” Bajowala said. “Both room and portable air conditioners can be helpful.”

Dehumidifier: The dreaded dust mite thrives in a human environment. “The more people, animals and humidity, the more dust mites,” Bowser said. Dust mites live year round, which means you have to take year-round precautions. Dehumidifiers can help reduce the humidity in your home and give the mites a less-favorable environment. “The recommended humidity is under 50 percent,” Bowser said. Bajowala recommends purchasing a humidity monitor to check your levels. Keep in mind that any appliance that uses water has the potential to grow mold, so follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for cleaning.

Washing machine: Dust mites tend to thrive in mattresses. You can help kill the mites by washing your linens in hot water. Washing machines will also help remove outdoor allergens like pollen from your clothes. “The pollen that covers cars is the same stuff that settles in our hair and clothes,” Bowser said. “It can become airborne again.”

Dishwashers: This isn’t related to seasonal allergies, but Bajowala recommends that anyone who lives in a home where someone suffers from food allergies wash their dishes on a sanitize cycle. “It does a better job of cleaning the surface and not transferring [allergens] from dish to dish. Hand washing can leave food protein behind.”

Finally, it’s important to visit a doctor to see if you can find out what’s causing your symptoms. “It helps to get tested and see what you’re allergic to,” Bowser said. “You can then focus more on what’s causing it and get the right advice.”

Advice from a dietitian on how your appliances can help you eat healthier

From your oven and ranges, to your refrigerator and freezer, to your blender, your appliances, when used properly, can be one of your best tools in your efforts to eat healthier. Much of healthy eating comes down to planning and preparation, says Tamara Melton, MS, RDN, LD, founder of LaCarte Wellness, a corporate wellness consultation firm in Atlanta. Melton is not only a registered and licensed dietician, she’s also a busy working mom who loves to cook and regularly puts the meal prep tips she offers her clients into action for her family.

“You don’t have to have the fanciest appliances, but having high-quality appliances that you know how to use can aid someone who is trying to eat healthier,” Melton said. “They help store your food and cook it well. It’s really important.”

While your appliances can’t do all of the work for you, they’ll make your path to a healthy lifestyle much easier. You’ll have to put in the prep time, though, so Melton recommends carving some time out of your week to prepare the foods you’ll eat. Melton offered her advice on how to take advantage of your kitchen appliances:

Refrigerator: If you organize your food for easy access, you’ll be less tempted to grab your phone and order takeout. Put your food in easy-to-access containers so the ingredients are easy to grab when you’re making the next meal. Slice up vegetables and fruit and store them in sandwich bags for snacks. Keep snacks for the kids within their reach on the lower shelves of the refrigerator. Want to save time in the morning? Boil eggs in advance and store them in your refrigerator until you’re ready to eat.

Freezer: Melton bakes muffins and quick bread and stores them in the freezer, defrosting them in the microwave for 15-30 seconds for an on-the-go breakfast. She’ll also freeze extra portions of spaghetti, chili and other dishes to take for lunch or serve as leftovers.

Rice cooker: The rice cooker gets a lot of use in Melton’s home and is a cornerstone of her cooking. “I cook most of our grains in there,” she said. She regularly takes advantage of the rice cooker’s convenience to prepare grains like couscous, quinoa, bulgur and farro. “I’ll put rice in with chicken broth, coconut milk, cilantro. I’ve made quinoa that I’ll take out and make into a Greek quinoa salad.”

Oven and range: “I like to make a lot of one-pot dishes,” Melton said. “We do a lot of roasted veggies.” The range and oven are used to prepare healthy foods for that night and later in the week. “I can walk away from it, and prepare some for the rest of the week.” Pay attention to your cookware and invest in quality saucepans, sauté pans, roasting dishes and dutch ovens, Melton recommends.

Microwave: The microwave oven can be the best friend in the kitchen for busy parents. Melton has a large microwave that she uses to quickly steam vegetables and defrost proteins. “We have steamed veggies as a snack,” she said. “Now that school’s back in, I steam veggies three times a week. The microwave is really important.”

Blender: The blender is an essential tool for making healthy smoothies and juices that can get the kids to eat their fruits and vegetables without them even knowing. Try one of her favorites: ½ a cup to a cup of cottage cheese, a cup of frozen berries, a cup of orange juice and a bit of honey. Add a hard- boiled egg (from the refrigerator), a muffin or quick bread (from the freezer, defrosted in the microwave) and coffee, and you have a convenient, healthy breakfast.

Toaster oven: Take advantage of your toaster oven to reheat leftovers with a smaller appliance and cut down on food waste, Melton recommends. It’s may be a more efficient option than your oven for reheating smaller portions.

How you arrange your appliances can also affect how willing you are to cook a healthy meal, Melton said. She recommends keeping the appliances you use regularly within easy reach. Make sure you reserve enough prep space as well.

5 things to consider when buying a vacuum

If you’re serious about keeping your carpets clean and your floors shining, just any vacuum won’t do. The type, features and design of the vacuum are important, but the type of floors and the level of cleaning they’ll require should be your focus when making a decision. Do you have hardwood floors? Standard or ultra-soft carpet? Area rugs? Pets? People with specific allergies in the house? Do you vacuum every day or once a week? Make the wrong decision and you could end up with more of a mess and a vacuum that just takes up space.

Walk into an appliance retail store and you’re likely to come face to face with a plethora of vacuum models. They can be broken down into seven categories:

Lower half of a man wearing shorts vacuuming a tan rug with an upright vacuum as part of his housecleaning chores..
Upright: An upright is likely what comes to mind when you think of a vacuum. It’s a traditional, full-size, pushable format with or without a mechanical brush roll. It will work well and provide deep cleaning capability on many types of carpets, but it often is not the best choice for a house with only hardwood or other bare floors. Most will include attachments like a dusting brush, crevice tool and upholstery cleaner. Some may also include detachable handheld or smaller vacuum units. The key to cleaning carpeted floors is to have suction, air flow and good filtration. It is important to agitate the carpet with a mechanical brush roller at the same time the suction and air flow pick up the dirt and move it into the receptacle or bag.

Woman cleaning with vacuum cleaner, baby sitting on floor and biscuits all around
Canister: Unlike the upright, you won’t push the whole vacuum when using a canister, though they do need to be pulled. Unlike the upright, the canister can be maneuvered for stairs and difficult to reach places. The body is separate from the wand and floor tool, connected by a hose. They’re designed for the ability to be lighter weight when doing above floor cleaning (dusting, crevice cleaning, upholstery cleaning, etc.), but can also provide deep cleaning for carpet.

Man vacuuming and woman on sofa
Stick: Think of these as the everyday cleanup tool for mealtimes, pet hair and spills on hard surfaces and area rugs, but not as much for heavy carpet cleaning. They’re available in both corded and cordless, though there’s a trend toward cordless models.

The female hand holds a portable vacuum cleaner
Handheld: Handheld vacuums are made for smaller clean-ups. They’re often light enough to be operated with one hand, but some larger models may include hoses or attachments to tackle bigger messes. Again, they are available in both corded and cordless, although the cordless ones are more prominent.

Home vacuum cleaning robot in action on genuine wooden floor. Selective focus on robot.
Robotic: They’ll do the cleaning for you. Robotic vacuums are growing in popularity. They can be set to clean for a certain time and some are capable of following certain patterns or mapping a house or room. They don’t have the capacity of the other types of vacuums. They can clean carpets or hard surfaces, but may not have the deep-cleaning power of an upright or canister vacuum.

Wet-Dry: These vacuums are often reserved for the garage or basement but can be used in many places to mop up water spills or to clean up after wet cleaning on concrete or other hard surfaces. The vacuum is specially constructed to be used around water so that the user will not receive an electric shock when used in accordance with the instructions.

Central: These vacuums are installed in one place in the home and a tube is embedded in the walls of a home for routing to the central unit in the garage or basement. Central vacuums use ports located at intervals in the home to access the vacuum. A hose and floor tool can be connected to the ports. The advantage is that all the vacuumed dirt and dust are directed out of the living space of the home.

Now that you know the types of vacuums available, here are five factors you should consider when shopping for a new vacuum:

Ease of pushing: Vacuuming is a physical activity, and you’ll need to think about how much weight you want to push around while cleaning. Some vacuums are light and easy to push. Some will have heavy suction for cleaning deep in the carpet, but may have adjustments to make them easier to operate. Others are heavier and may require more force. If it’s too hard to push, you won’t want to clean. You should also think about how you’ll feel carrying it up and down stairs. Some vacuums use a motorized brush roller that helps to move the vacuum on the floor. Many vacuums make turning around furniture easier through their design. Ask your retailer if you can try it out before you buy it.

Bag or no bag? Bagless and bagged vacuums require somewhat the same level of maintenance. Both must be emptied regularly. A bagless vacuum will free you from having to stock up on vacuum bags, but they still contain one or two filters that need to be cleaned. Bagged vacuums trap the dirt and debris inside a bag and can be carried out for disposal.

Your level of dirt: Do you have pets? You’ll likely need to clean up more hair than anything else. Pet owners often own two vacuums—one for routine cleaning and a separate model for frequent deeper cleaning of pet hair from the surfaces and the right attachments like a turbo brush and crevice tool.

Allergen removal: Both allergy sufferers and pet owners should consider buying a vacuum with a sealed air system that prevents dirt, dander and allergens from escaping the vacuum.

Reliability and durability: Some retailers will have carpet available in store for you to try out a vacuum. Others may allow you to take a model home and try it out. Ask for a demonstration. But in case a demo isn’t possible, study online consumer reviews in advance and look for descriptions of how the vacuum performed on the types of flooring that you have in your home.

Vacuum Bags, Belts and History: Advice from the Curator of the Vacuum Cleaner Museum

Tom Gasko was about eight years old and walking to school when he found his first vacuum. It was a GE Roll-Easy from 1956. He was immediately fascinated.

“It looked like a barrel,” Gasko recalls. “Somebody had thrown it away. My mom said ‘That thing probably has bugs in it.’ I thought it was very interesting.” Gasko took the vacuum apart and figured out how it worked. Friends and neighbors, hearing of his interest, began giving him their old vacuums. He followed his passion into a successful career in vacuum sales, repair and design, and ultimately to his current role as curator and manager of the Vacuum Cleaner Museum and Factory Outlet.

Gasko’s vacuum collection, which began with the GE model, has now grown to nearly 800 and includes nearly every model ever made. To him, the individuality of vacuums makes them stand out among home appliances.

“Every dryer you buy is a square box with a rotating drum,” he says. “The design is pretty much the same. Vacuum cleaners are completely unique. Then, you add on top of that the passion of the door-to-door sales. It’s passion that you have with no other appliance.”

Visitors to the Vacuum Cleaner museum can get a guided tour through Gasko’s collection, and he’ll share details about each model and note how their design reflected the events of the time.

He might point out the Atlas vacuum, released in 1957, whose design evokes the classic Chevy model of the same year.

He’ll show you models from the 1960s, the age of the race to the moon, Star Trek and Lost in Space. This Fairfax model, Gasko says, was designed to resemble Rosie, the robotic maid from “The Jetsons.”

1960sFairfax
The 1970s, the era of Saturday Night Fever can is reflected by this Kirby model. The rake on the front is designed to tackle the strands of that iconic relic of the time, shag carpet.

1976Kirby
It’s safe to say that Gasko is one of the world’s vacuum experts. That designation means he gets a lot of questions from consumers about which vacuum they should buy. There’s no easy answer, as it depends on the home’s flooring, carpet style and cleaning needs.

Vacuums are relatively easy to care for, but Gasko sees widespread misunderstanding among consumers who aren’t aware of the simple steps they can take to keep their vacuum…well, sucking.

“They don’t understand that the removing of the dirt from the machine and filters, and changing the bag, is the best thing they can do to lengthen the life of their machine,” Gasko says. Upright vacuums without bags are common models, he said, but their owners often neglect basic maintenance. “Just because it doesn’t have a bag doesn’t mean it doesn’t have filters,” Gasko says. “Most people don’t know where the filters are or how to clean it. They don’t realize there are one, or two, or in some cases, three filters.” If you don’t clean your vacuum filters, eventually, the suction will disappear. Gasko estimates that about half of the vacuums put out with the trash work just fine. But their owners have failed to clean the filters and believe the vacuum no longer works.

Most filters are washable, Gasko says. He recommends removing the filter every time you empty the canister. Simply rinse it off and allow it to dry for 24 hours before you put it back into the vacuum.

Another simple maintenance step you can take is to change the belt every two years. “I’d estimate 50 percent of vacuums in people’s closets have worn out belts. Everyone waits until it breaks.” Belts usually cost about two dollars, Gasko says. A worn belt means the vacuum’s rotating brush won’t turn at the correct speed, limiting its cleaning power.

Vacuum owners also tend to neglect the attachments that come with the cleaner, Gasko says. “If it’s an upright, it has an onboard hose attachment, an extension wand, a crevice tool, a dusting tool and a furniture tool.” A canister vacuum will have a power head and rotating brush. The attachments can greatly expand the vacuums ability to clean and allow it to tackle different surfaces, like mattresses and furniture. But they too often sit unused in the closet, the casualties of their owners’ reluctance to read an instruction manual, Gasko says.

If you’re in the market, Gasko firmly believes that cordless vacuums are the future of the industry. It’s a safe bet he already has some in his collection. But he’s still on the hunt for a Hoover Model O.  “They only made 239 of them,” he says. Do you have one? Let us know!

Smash through the heat dome with this air conditioning advice

Days of the oppressive heat dome have left people across the country feeling more than a little hot under the collar. Your air conditioner may be your best ally during a string of hot summer days, turning a stuffy space into an oasis from the heat. These tips apply to both portable and room air conditioners.

Don’t go too low: Your air conditioner doesn’t need to be set at a high level if nobody is going to be in the room for a while. Set it at 75-80 degrees if you’re going out. You’ll keep the room cooler and cut power consumption.

Keep it steady: While oppressive heat will make you want to crank up the AC, it’s inefficient to try to cool the room all at once by setting your AC to the maximum level. Start earlier in the day when the temperature outside is lower and allow the room to cool slowly.

Block out the sun: Give your AC unit some help by drawing the shades or blinds to keep the sun—and the heat—out of the room.

Clean equals cooler: Check your air filter twice a month and clean it when necessary. Excess dirt and debris can reduce the efficiency of your air conditioner. Filters can be cleaned with lukewarm water and mild dish detergent. Accessible parts can be carefully cleaned with a vacuum and brush attachment.

Stick with cooler activities: Make it easier for your AC unit to do its job, and avoid activities that heat up the house, like cooking or laundry, during the hottest hours.

Let nature do some of the work: Has the temperature outside dropped? Take advantage of the break in the heat, turn off your air conditioner and open the windows. Use the unit fan and portable fans to bring the cooler outside air inside.

If your air conditioner still doesn’t seem to be keeping the room cool, it’s possible that your AC unit may be too small for the size of the room. Grab a tape measure, paper and a calculator and use AHAM’s online room air conditioner worksheet to find out how powerful a unit you’ll need.

If you’re in the market for a new air conditioner, learn the differences between room and portable air conditioners.

Still sick of the heat? Autumn is less than eight weeks away. You’ll be dusting off your heater soon enough!

Universal design: How to select appliances

Universal design started as a concept aimed primarily at creating accessible, barrier-free homes for people with disabilities. But it has evolved into the concept of creating a comfortable, accessible space for all members of the household, and there are number of reasons why a homeowner may decide to pursue it during a remodel or renovation.

“Aging in place is a huge thing,” said Chris Salas, owner of Cocina Interior Design in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, and a Certified Master Kitchen and Bath Designer. “Multiple generations may be living in one home. You may have small children and older parents living under one roof and need flexibility in the spaces according to who’s using them. Resale is also a big factor. You aren’t ruling anybody out.”

Many appliances already incorporate universal design concepts and are easy for anyone to use, Salas said. But if you’re looking to build a kitchen that’s accessible to people of all sizes and physical abilities, there are certain features and elements you should consider when choosing your appliances. Salas, who has more than two decades of design experience, shared her insight on what homeowners who are pursuing a universal design concept should keep in mind.

Cooking

A traditional oven/range has limits to where and at what height it can be installed. Wall-mount ovens and microwaves can be mounted and placed at different heights according to the needs and abilities of the user, so they may be preferable. How the oven opens is also a factor. “Side-opening ovens are handy for everybody,” Salas said. Think about how all household members will reach the controls, not just those for cooking. For example, you may choose to put the fan control at counter level rather than at the rear of or above the range, or use a remote-operated fan. Many cooking appliances already have safety features in place that are appropriate for universal design concepts, Salas said. “A lot of cooktops and ranges have an indicator showing that the surface is still hot. Some even have a lock-out so you can’t turn on the cooktop without knowing how.”

Dishwashers

You’ll need adequate space and access to load and unload dishes as well as put them away. Salas has designed kitchens with all dish storage on the same side of the dishwasher door so those who are unloading the dishes don’t have to go around the open door. Dishwashers with single or double pull-out doors rather than a standard design may make opening, closing, loading and unloading easier.

Refrigerators

Consider the width of the door swing and whether all parts of the refrigerator are reachable. “It might be hard to get out of the way of a 36-inch door,” Salas said. “The smaller doors come in handy. The French door is probably the best invention for universal design.” Keep the height in mind as well. “The door swings may not be as big as a one-door model, but you might not be able to reach half the fridge because it’s tall.” Salas recommends testing appliances before you buy them. “Some fridges have a really good feel but may be difficult to open,” she said. “The bells and whistles might look or sound cool, but once you’re living with it, it might not add value. Get out and try these things to make sure they work.”

Outside the kitchen: Laundry

The height of the appliance relative to the user’s needs is also a factor in choosing and installing clothes washers and dryers, Salas said. “Keep flexibility in mind,” she said. “The washer and dryer can be on a pedestal. You can build them up onto your custom platform. It’s all about the user’s height. The front load is optimum for anybody to use.”

Stay cooking with these kitchen appliance safety tips

An excited mother and her happy children cooking a roast together in the kitchen

When used properly, home appliances have a proven and extensive track record of safety. Appliances are rigorously tested for safety long before they make it to retailers’ shelves. Many of the accidents that involve appliances are easily preventable.

John Drengenberg, consumer safety director for UL, has been involved in the appliance safety and testing business for more than 50 years, earning the informal title of “Mr. Safety.” He recently spoke with AHAM and shared some of the kitchen appliance safety knowledge he’s gained over more than a half century spent in and around appliance testing.

Don’t touch hot surfaces: Manufacturers design portable appliances to be carried and handled in a way to reduce the risk of injury. In the case of cooking appliances, handles and knobs are often designed to stay cooler than other parts of the appliance when the appliance is in use. “All crock pots come with two handles, and that’s the way you should carry it,” Drengenberg said. If a knob or handle breaks, contact the manufacturer for a replacement. Only the manufacturer’s parts will have been tested with that appliance, and improvising or using one intended for a different model could create a risk.

Unplug your appliances…: Any appliance, regardless of whether it’s turned on, poses the risk of electrical shock. Unplugging the appliance when it isn’t in use will drop that risk to nearly zero.

…but don’t let that cord hang: “Cords are a snagging hazard,” Drengenberg said. A child can be injured by a falling appliance or burned by cooking appliances like crockpots or deep fryers. Some models include breakaway connectors to reduce the chance that an appliance will fall if the cord is pulled.

Don’t toast your toaster: Toasters and other portable appliances shouldn’t be stored near ranges. The heat from the stove can melt or damage the outer surface of the appliance. That both damages the appliance and could create other hazards if the inner components are exposed, Drengenberg said.

Keep  plugged-in appliances away from the sink: Plugged-in appliances used near the sink might fall into the sink, creating an electric shock risk. “Now it’s turned on, in a sink full of water, in a metal sink,” Drengenberg said. “It’s a perfect storm.”

Treat blades as knives: Most food processors include interlocks to stop the blade from rotating when the appliance is taken apart for cleaning, Drengenberg said. But the blades on blenders and food processors are sharp and should be handled with care during cleaning. “When you’re washing the blender or blade, it’s a sharp cutting tool,” he said.

Set the proper microwave cooking time: Care for a potato or some popcorn? Cooking those two foods for too long is a common cause of fires in microwaves, Drengenberg said. When fires happen, it’s often because the user mistakenly put too much time on the microwave and forgot the food was cooking, he said. Manufacturers have installed sensors in many models to shut the oven off in case of fire. If there’s a fire in your microwave, turn it off and keep the door closed. Opening the door could make the fire worse.

Watch what’s cooking: Most of the more than 100 million ranges and cooktops in use in the U.S. are used safely. But unattended cooking remains a leading cause of household fires in the U.S. and the leading cause of cooking fires. Monitor what you’re cooking when your range or oven is in use. AHAM, appliance manufacturers and UL are working to reduce cooking fires through technical developments and consumer education.

Prevent range tipping: Never use the oven door for support or as a step. Check to see that an anti-tip device has been installed on your range.

Read your manual: The instruction manual for your appliance should include ways to reduce hazards. Appliance safety standards from UL contain a list of “important safeguards” that are to be included in instruction manuals, Drengenberg said.

Do you have a question about kitchen appliance safety? Ask us in the comment section, and we’ll get an answer from “Mr. Safety.”

How to prevent odor, mold and mildew in your washing machine

Advancements in clothes washer technology have led to dramatic decreases in energy and water consumption and larger average tub volume. A new high-efficiency unit, compared to a 10-year-old clothes washer, will save more than 5000 gallons of water per year and nearly $135 in operating costs from decreased electrical consumption.

Like all household appliances, clothes washers require regular cleaning and maintenance. All clothes washing machines have the potential to have some amount of odor, mold and mildew after a period of use.

Potential causes of odor, mold and mildew may include:

  • Washing machines generally are kept in somewhat closed and damp environments, such as laundry rooms and basements.
  • The laundry that is put into them contains a wide variety of organic materials.
  • Modern high-efficiency washing machines use less water and are more tightly sealed when the door or lid is closed.
  • Over time, changes have occurred in consumer laundry habits including the use of less bleach, more fabric softener and more frequent cold water wash cycles. These habits may impact the accumulation of biofilm and other residues, increasing the potential for odor, mold and mildew.

Consumers can take several simple steps to control odor, mold and mildew:

  • Follow the instructions in your washing machine’s use and care guide.
  • Increased air flow greatly reduces the development of mold and mildew. Consult your use and care guide for additional instructions on this topic.
  • Always remove wet items from the washer promptly after the machine stops running. Wet fabric left in a closed space is particularly conducive to the development of odor, mold and mildew.
  • Use only the amount of detergent recommended on the detergent container. If your washer is a high-efficiency machine that recommends use of “HE” (high-efficiency) detergent, use only HE detergent, not regular detergent. Regular detergent may generate excessive suds in high-efficiency machines, and the excessive suds can leave a film that is conducive to the development of odor, mold and mildew. Excessive suds do not make your clothes cleaner.

If specific cleaning instructions are not included, it is good practice to use a cup of chlorine bleach or a commercially available washing machine cleaner and hot water without any laundry once a month. This will help you maintain a clean machine.

Always use precaution if children are present in the household, as children should never play near or on appliances.

Tips to keep your dryer running safely

 

Hand holding a clothes dryer lint filter that is covered with lint.
Hand holding a clothes dryer lint filter that is covered with lint.

When used and maintained properly, clothes dryers are extremely safe appliances. But accidents still happen. In 2010, nearly 15,500 fires occurred that involved clothes dryers, according to the National Fire Prevention Association. And the NFPA says that failure to clean the clothes dryer is the leading cause of fires involving dryers. When failure to clean a dryer was a cause, the fires led to $44 million in direct property damage.

Regular cleaning of your dryer both improves performance and reduces the risk of fires. There are four areas of your dryer that need regular cleaning: the lint filter, the interior and venting system, and the rear of the dryer. Here’s how to keep each clean:

  • Lint filter: This easily accessible and removable piece should be cleaned after each time you use the dryer. The lint can usually be removed by hand. The filter should also be periodically cleaned with a nylon brush and hot, soapy water to remove residue. Don’t use your dryer if the lint filter is blocked, damaged or missing. Contact your dryer’s manufacturer or a licensed service technician to ask about a replacement filter.
  • Interior and venting system: This is the venting material that leads from your dryer to your dryer vent, which typically is outside the home. The system should be cleaned once a year by a qualified service technician. It can become blocked if it isn’t cleaned regularly, leading to longer drying times. If you’re noticing clothes are taking longer to dry, it may be time for cleaning.
  • Behind the dryer: Lint can build up behind your dryer as well. Check the rear of your appliance regularly and remove any trapped lint.
  • Drum: Remove any lint that has collected in and around the drum.

Cleaning is important to prevent fires, but there’s more you can do to reduce your dryer fire risk. Keep these items out of your dryer:

  • Anything that has come into contact with flammable liquid: This includes materials that have been used to clean up gasoline, alcohol, solvents, cooking oil or other types of flammable material. Most can’t be completely removed in a wash cycle, meaning the flammable material remains in the fabric. Dry these items outdoors away from heat. Even if the item makes it through a drying cycle, a fire risk remains for hours afterward.
  • Foam, rubber, plastic or other heat-sensitive material: These materials aren’t made to withstand the heat of a dryer cycle. They should be line-dried. If you are using a dryer, use a no-heat cycle.
  • Glass fiber materials: Follow the manufacturer’s care instructions.

Proper installation can also reduce your risk. Are you installing a dryer or having one installed? Follow this advice from AHAM and UL:

  • Use rigid or semi-rigid sheet metal venting material. This will reduce airflow and reduce dryer times.
  • Use the shortest, straightest possible vent length, and use a louvered or box hood-style to cap your outside vent.
  • Check the air flow. You should be able to feel the air flowing out of the dryer vent to the outdoors when the dryer is on.
  • Regularly inspect the venting system behind the dryer. Replace any damaged or crushed pieces.

Get AHAM and UL’s pamphlet, “Helpful hints for using your clothes dryer safely and effectively.”

5 questions to ask before buying a used appliance

Has a bargain price on a second-hand portable appliance at a thrift shop or yard sale caught your eye? The price may be right, but it’s important to research your purchase just as you would when buying a new appliance. Otherwise, it may end up costing you more in the end. Ask these five questions before buying or selling a second-hand portable appliance:

  1. How old is the appliance? While appliances tend to last for years, their age can affect how well they function.
  2. Is everything intact? Inspect the appliance for frayed or damaged power cords, switches and parts.
  3. Has it been repaired? Ask the seller about the appliance’s repair history, and look for signs of any home repairs or tampering.
  4. Is everything there? Don’t buy a secondhand appliance if the operating manual and all parts that came with the original aren’t included. The owner’s manual will contain important use, safety and repair tips.
  5. Has the appliance been recalled? Check with the S. Consumer Product Safety Commission to see if the appliance has been the subject of a safety recall, and check back throughout the life of the appliance.

If you’re still in doubt after asking these questions, look into buying a new appliance instead. Follow AHAM’s advice to find the one that’s right for you.

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