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Does new feature on dryers prevent fires?

June 25, 2010 12:00:00 AM PDT
Dryers contribute to more than 12,000 house fires every year, often because the vents are clogged with lint. There's a new feature on some dryers that could help prevent fires. But does it work?Kenneth Lakin will never forget the phone call he got in September of 2008.

"I got a frantic phone call from a neighbor indicating that Gena's two daughters, Kendall and Jordan, were at their house, and there was a fire," said Lakin.

When he got to the house, he realized his friend Gena was still inside.

"It hit me like a ton of bricks that she was in serious trouble if she was not out of that house," said Lakin.

Gena never made it out. The fire that killed Kendall and Jordan's mother started in a dryer in which lint had built up in the vent.

Some dryers are touting a new feature. LG calls it "Flow Sense" and on Kenmore machines it's a "Check Vent" indicator. The manufacturers say these will sense if a dryer's vent is blocked.

While both companies say this will improve performance, neither is calling it a safety feature. Consumer Reports tested to see if this feature could alert you to a blocked dryer vent.

"We tested each dryer by blocking the vent completely, and then operating it with a full load of wet clothes," said Jim Nann of Consumer Reports.

Turns out, the results were inconsistent. In one test, the Flow Sense bars clearly showed that the vent was blocked. But other times, despite the fact that the vent was completely blocked, there was no signal at all, and the dryer continued to run for more than an hour.

"These tests, though limited, show that these indicators can't be relied on to alert you to a blocked vent," said Nann.

So no matter what dryer you have, Consumer Reports says use a metal dryer vent and clean it regularly. Also, make sure to clean your lint trap every time you use your dryer.


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