13 Items That Are a Fire Hazard If You Don’t Clean Them Enough
Continually putting off cleaning these items around your house can actually be very dangerous.
An accident waiting to happen
We all remember to clean the crumbs off the counter and vacuum the dust bunnies out of the corners. But, there are some areas of the home that aren’t as obviously dirty and if left untouched for too long, can actually present a significant fire hazard. The next time you do a big house clean, make sure to hit these oft-neglected spots to keep your home and family safe.
Toaster ovens are a frequently used item in nearly every home, but if they aren’t cleaned enough they could start a fire. Crumbs fall off of food and accumulate at the bottom of the toaster—then, when the toaster is used again, those crumbs reheat and could start smoking. “I’ve also seen this occur with cheese or other ingredients melting onto the heating panel,” says Spencer Dirocco, owner of K1 Cleaning and Restoration. “Items touching the heat source can become extremely dangerous as they will begin to smoke much quicker than a crumb on the bottom tray. I suggest cleaning the crumbs after every use and ensuring that nothing is touching the heat source.”
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Pests and critters
When you think about potential fire hazards in your home, pests and critters probably aren’t at the top of the list. If you aren’t setting traps, cleaning up things that attract them, or taking measures to make sure they get out of your house, they can get inside of your home and potentially start a fire. “For example, if mice build nests within your walls out of combustible items—think straw or paper—you can end up with a volatile situation on your hands,” says Michael DiMartino, Senior Vice President of Installations at Power Home Remodeling. “Similarly, squirrels can pose a problem in your attic, as they can enter the interior space through any gaps that have formed over time to find electrical wire as their new snack.”
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Over time dust will naturally accumulate around the heaters in your home. If you don’t make an effort to regularly dust your home you could be creating a fire hazard. “Dust can ignite quickly and spread throughout your home if your heaters or electrical sockets cause a spark,” says Dirocco. “I recommend dusting your house at least once a week to prevent house fires caused by dust igniting.”
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Bathroom exhaust fans
One of the most commonly overlooked fire hazards in a home is the bathroom exhaust fan. If you have an old and dirty, dusty exhaust fan the motor can overheat and start a fire. “Newer bathroom fans usually have thermally protected motors (the motor shuts off if it overheats), but older fans do not have this safety feature,” says Arie Van Tuijl, licensed home inspector and founder of Home Inspector Secrets. “If dust and debris are choking the motor, and the fan cover or grille is clogged with dust, the motor can easily overheat and become a fire hazard.” Tuijl recommends cleaning the bathroom fan cover at least once a year and the motor itself at least every few years.
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Even though air conditioners are meant to cool down your house, if it’s not maintained and cleaned regularly by a professional, it can potentially start a fire. “The main culprit is the wiring in the air conditioner. Broken wires can happen due to many reasons or just due to wear and tear,” says Albert Lee, founder of Home LivingLab. “If the wire is totally broken, the risk is low. However, if the wire is partially broken or frayed, power still continues to flow with increased resistance. This causes overheating and can potentially start an electrical fire.”
Some homeowners may try to temporarily fix frayed wires by tying the copper bits together and covering them in masking tape. This is also extremely dangerous because the heat from the wire will melt the masking tape and it could catch on fire. Lee recommends getting your air conditioning unit cleaned every three months during times of high use.
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Regularly cleaning your rangehood can prevent grease fires and fires caused by smoking cooking oil. “As grease and remnants of smoke can buildup in the vents, regularly cleaning the range hood filter is key,” says Eamon Lynch, Director of Warranty Service at Power Home Remodeling. For cleaning, Lynch recommends you use a little hot water, baking soda and degreasing soap once a month. “If buildup continues, the filter could become clogged and even destroy your ceiling with bubbles and residue where exhaust isn’t able to properly escape.”
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Grill mishaps are all too common in the summer months as more people choose to cook outside. You need to properly clean up and store your grill after each use to make sure you don’t start a fire. Grease build-up can cause a grease fire so make sure to scrub or wipe down your grill after each use. “When cooking in your backyard on a charcoal grill, make sure that your coals are fully extinguished. Wait until you no longer see a red glow on the coals, hose it down with water, and stir up the coals until they turn into a soup-like mixture,” says Lynch.
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Overgrown trees and shrubbery around your house can be easy to ignore because you don’t necessarily see if from inside your house. “Leaves and other forms of debris can become a fire hazard if they block vents for appliances such as the dryer or stove range,” says Lynch. Make sure to rake and clear out around your house at least twice a year.
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It’s important to clean the lint from your dryer as well as from the dryer vent that leads outdoors on a regular basis. If the lint isn’t able to fully exhaust from your home it can be a huge fire hazard. You can purchase drill attachments to help you get deep into the vent to clean out all the lint. Lynch says that it is also important to make sure the duct’s connection is secured and functioning properly—if it’s not, don’t try to repair it with duct tape; it’s safer to replace the whole duct.
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Fire Chief Charles A. Moore of Truckee Meadows Fire and Rescue says that they often see home fires started by oily rags used for staining that are just left in the garage or basement and not cleaned up properly. “A chemical reaction between cotton and certain oil-based stains can cause spontaneous combustion,” says Moore. “Our fire district starting given metal ash cans to people free of charge to help stop the number of these fires. Cotton rags used for staining should be placed in a metal can with a tight-fitting lid, and soaked in a solution of water and detergents like Tide or Dawn, and allowed to soak for three days, before disposing of them.”
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Most people with wood-burning fireplaces know that they need to get their chimney serviced on a regular basis. If things build-up or get stick inside of your chimney from lack of cleaning it can be a fire hazard. “Inspect your chimney for creosotes, or tar deposits, which can build up in your chimney and need to be knocked down,” says Lynch. “If you notice this build-up, call a professional chimney sweep. They have the tools and the knowledge to tackle the issue and perform complete routine maintenance.”
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When you use your hairdryer every day, debris, hair and dust start to build-up and can become hazardous. “If the appliance smells like burning hair, if it shocks or burns you, these are sure signs that it needs to be cleaned or replaced,” said electrical experts at Mister Sparky. “Additionally, the hair dryer’s power cord can overheat also leading to melting, fire or explosion.”
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After using the lawnmower, people typically just push it into their shed or garage and forget about it until the next time they need to mow the lawn. There are risks that come along with not properly maintaining and cleaning your lawnmower though. “Debris or dry grass can easily get stuck in the mower deck and cause a fire, especially during the warmer months,” says Nikolay Miloshev, owner of property maintenance company Two Lions 11 Ltd. “In addition, fuel vapors often end up packed in the hot muffler, again posing a risk.” You should be cleaning off your lawnmower after each use.
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