Numerous appliance products, if not properly installed, used and maintained, can become fire hazards.

Numerous appliance products, if not properly installed, used and maintained, can become fire hazards.

One appliance often overlooked in the home is the clothes dryer.

According to the National Fire Protection Association, in 2010, more than 15,500 home structure fires were caused by this appliance. And the leading cause of these fires was failure to clean.

Items such as clothing, dust, fiber, or lint, normally found in a dryer, accounted for 60 percent of the combustible materials first ignited in clothes dryer fires. To avoid a clothes dryer fire, follow these essential safety precautions:

* Clean the lint filter in the dryer before or after each use because accumulated dust and lint can be a fire hazard. Do not operate the dryer without the filter. Also, remove accumulated lint around the drum.

* Make sure that the dryer is plugged into an outlet suitable for its electrical needs as overloaded electrical outlets can result in blown fuses or tripped circuit breakers.

* Verify that the exhaust vent pipe is not restricted by snow, leaves, or other materials and the outdoor vent flap will open when the dryer is operating.

Rigid or flexible metal venting material should be used to sustain proper air flow and drying time.

* Do not leave the dryer running if you leave your home because, if it malfunctions, no one will be there to avert a possible disaster.

* Keep the dryer area clear of combustibles such as boxes and clothing.

* Never dry items that have come in contact with flammable substances such as cooking oil, gasoline, paint thinner or alcohol.

Even after washing, clothing can still contain residues that can ignite.

* Have your dryer installed and serviced by a professional.

It is important to keep dryers in good working order to avoid problems associated with lack of maintenance and part failures.

Gas dryers should be occasionally inspected by a professional to ensure that the gas line and connection are intact and free of leaks.

Washington Township Fire Department Fire Marshal Alan regularly submits the Smoke Signals column.