We all know the major do’s and don’ts when it comes to fire safety around the home: Do know where your fire extinguisher is, don’t leave the stove unattended. Do keep space heaters clear from combustibles, don’t store flammable material inside the home, and so on.
Seems pretty simple, right? Well, it might surprise you to learn that there are many common fire risks that homeowners are completely oblivious to! These sneaky hazards are so seemingly benign, fly so low under the radar, that you might not recognize them even if they were staring you right in the face.
Don’t think so? Read on and see if you run any of these risks in your home!
Laundry Day Danger
It isn’t the kind of thing you’d think about after the end of a long day, but some of the liquids and chemicals you might get on your clothes can present a sneaky fire hazard in the wash. While you might think that the combination of soapy detergent and a good thorough soaking would make it impossible for anything to ignite, some chemicals and flammable materials can seep deep into fabrics and still light off when left in the dryer.
Obviously, anyone who works as a mechanic or a factory worker who has to interact with grease, oil, gasoline, and other chemicals on a regular basis is a risk for this, but they’re far from the only ones. Chefs working with cooking oils can also be at risk, as can craftspeople and contractors working with wood staining and polishing chemicals. It’s all too easy to splash some on your clothes and not even think about it when you’re tossing them in the wash. Even if you never touch a chemical in your workplace, a busy weekend taking care of home and lawn chores, like doing some work on the old lawn mower, can inadvertently contaminate your clothes with flammables.
Keep your clothes dryer safe by paying attention to what you’re washing. Wash anything that has been in contact with flammable liquids separate from the rest of the load and with extra detergent. If you know you came in contact with flammable materials, either pre-soak the clothes in soapy water or do the load twice to be sure you’ve pulled out as much of the material as possible. When it’s time to put them in the dryer, do so on the lowest heat setting and check on them as they go.
If you want to play it extra safe, go old-school and hang dry your work clothes! Nothing ever ignited hanging on a clothesline.
Lighting Up The Lint
While on the topic of laundry, there is another threat not everybody thinks about – lint. Lint is of course a pest because it gets on your clothes and plugs up your dryer filter making every load take longer, but it is also a dangerous combustible. Lint is extremely flammable and the number one reason dryers catch on fire.
What makes lint so flammable? It isn’t so much what lint is made of that makes it such a threat, but how it is put together. Lint is the left-over residue of thousands of tiny threads and strands of material entangled tightly together. Every ball of lint has is made up of dry, extremely fine individual strands. In this respect, it’s identical to kindling you might use to get a campfire going, or saw dust shavings (and we all know how dangerous those can be).
With that in mind, it’s important to clean up the lint your dryer produces regularly. Clean the lint trap every use and sweep up any loose lint that might have accumulated in the area. Don’t just dump it into a single garbage can in the laundry room and leave it there either. Take lint garbage directly outside or make sure to clean out the laundry room garbage on a regular basis, so you don’t have a concentrated mass of kindling just waiting for a spark.
Extension cords are extremely handy to have around. Most homes have at least one room with a sub-optimal outlet situation and extension cords are the go-to solution to plug in those devices that can’t quite reach the power they need. However, this kind of permanent use isn’t what extension cords are intended to be used for, they are supposed to be temporary solutions used occasionally. Leaving them plugged in all the time is a hazard in the making.
To minimize this risk, you should try to eliminate the use of extension cords wherever you can. In those situations where that is impossible, do the proper extension cord diligence. Keep your extension cords out of foot paths so they don’t become tripping hazards or damaged by having people step on them. Check the type of cord you’re using (indoor or outdoor) and how much power it is rated to pull. Regularly check the cord (both at the plug and along the line) for any signs of damage, wear, or heat, and replace them annually.
Wrap It Up
When I was young, I was taught that you put things away properly. This meant every time you were done with the Nintendo, the electric lawn mower, the Christmas lights, or whatever else, you would tightly wrap each cord into as tight a bundle as possible. Ideally, you would try and do this even while appliances were in use. Got some extra slack in the cords behind the TV? Wrap and tape them up. The lamp on your night table? Keep that cord out of the way by wrapping it around the leg of the table. It was just common sense!
Well, as is often the case, it turns out common sense isn’t always right.
Tightly wrapping electrical cords around the home is dangerous. It damages the cords and can become a fire hazard under certain circumstances. Cords wrapped around objects trap heat, especially with high-draw devices. This heat can melt or weaken the insulation creating areas of live wire exposure. Tightly wrapping cords can also snap and break the wiring inside, creating small electrical arcs that you might not even notice until you smell that telltale scent of melted plastic and smoke.
Keep your cords loosely bound when in storage and never wrap them around anything while in use. You should also steer clear of covering them with rugs or heavy furniture. Your cords might not look quite as organized, but it will keep your home safer and your appliances working longer.