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13 Things That Become Fire Hazards Without Proper Cleaning

Continually putting off cleaning these items around your house can actually be dangerous.

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Fire raging in domestic kitchen at nightMichael Blann/Getty Images

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 are dusty but aren’t as obviously dirty. and if left untouched for too long can actually be dangerous. The next time you do a big house cleaning, make sure to hit these spots so that your home and family can stay safe. Watch out for these other hidden items in your home that may be a fire hazard.

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Toaster on fireImage Source/Getty Images

Toasters And Toaster Ovens

Toasters and toaster ovens need to be cleaned regularly, toaster ovens especially. If not, they could start a fire. Crumbs fall off food and accumulate at the bottom of the appliance. Then the next time you use it, 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.”

Here’s how often you should be cleaning everything in your home.

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Cute Little Grey House Mouse Hiding in Window SillChristinLola/Getty Images

Pests and Critters

When you think about potential fire hazards in your home, pests and critters probably don’t come to mind. If you aren’t setting traps, cleaning up things that attract them, or taking measures to keep them out of your house, they can get inside 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.”

This is the most overlooked fire hazard in your home.

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Retro style radiatorFeifei Cui-Paoluzzo/Getty Images


Over time dust will naturally accumulate around the heaters in your home. If you don’t dust regularly, 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.” These 10 household items are extremely flammable.

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bath fan noiseFamily Handyman

Bathroom Exhaust Fans

One of the most commonly overlooked fire hazards in a home is the bathroom exhaust fan. If you have an old, 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 every few years. Here’s a list of the things you should clean in the next 30 days.

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Person's Hand Holding Remote To Operate Air ConditionerAndreyPopov/Getty Images

Air Conditioners

Though air conditioners are meant to cool your house, if they’re not maintained and cleaned regularly by a professional, they can potentially start a fire.

“The main culprit is the wiring in the air conditioner,” says Albert Lee, founder of Home LivingLab. “Broken wires can happen due to many reasons or just due to wear and tear. 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. Watch out for these household items that can ignite a fire if put together.

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New and Modern Open Concept KitchenChiyacat/Getty Images


Regularly cleaning your rangehood can prevent grease fires, or 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.

Lynch recommends cleaning with 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.” he says.

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Raging fire from charcoal barbecue grillKelly Sillaste/Getty Images

Outdoor Grills

Grill mishaps are all too common in the summer months as more people cook outside. Properly clean and store your grill after each use so 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,” says Lynch. “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.” Be aware of these things you should never clean with water.

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Secret CottageBianca Izurieta/Getty Images


Overgrown trees and shrubbery around your house can be easy to ignore because you can’t see them from the inside. “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. You probably don’t wash these everyday items enough.

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Flexible aluminum dryer vent hose, removed for cleaning/repair/maintenanceBenjamin Clapp/Getty Images

Dryer Vents

It’s important to regularly clean the lint from your dryer as well as from the dryer vent that leads outdoors. If the lint can’t 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 you should also make sure the duct 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. These are the things you should be cleaning every day.

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Dirty rags

Unwashed Rags

Fire Chief Charles A. Moore of Reno, Nev. says he often sees home fires started by oily rags left in the garage or basement.

“A chemical reaction between cotton and certain oil-based stains can cause spontaneous combustion,” says Moore.

“Our fire district starting giving 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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Smoking Winter Chimney


Most people with wood-burning fireplaces know they need to get their chimney serviced regularly. If fire byproducts stick inside your chimney, 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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Girl (12-13) blow drying her long hair with an electric hairdryer in a bedroom


Debris, hair and dust build up with daily use 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,” says the 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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Mowing the Lawn


After cutting the lawn, people typically push the lawnmower into their shed or garage and forget about it until the next time they need it. But there are risks with not properly maintaining and cleaning your lawnmower.

“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.”

Clean off your lawnmower after each use. Now, to make your home sparkling clean and safe, learn about these nearly forgotten house cleaning tips from the past.

Reader's Digest
Originally Published on Reader's Digest