8 Innocent-Seeming Habits that Put Your Home at Risk
If you wrap the cord around your iron too tight or fail to clean the lint from your dryer filter, look out for trouble
It seems innocent enough to forget to clean your dryer’s lint filter once in a while, or to toss your oil-stained work shirts in the wash, or to use a window cleaner and a toilet cleaner at the same time. But all three of these habits — along with some other household mistakes — are more dangerous than you might think.
Before you accidentally set the house on fire or make yourself sick, check to see if you’re committing any of these blunders.
1. Tossing the owner’s manual
Common consumer products, such as appliances and tools, should come with a user manual that includes safety advisories. Don’t just throw it out. Take a few minutes to read it — and then actually follow the advice.
“They [user manuals] really do contain some good tips to help keep one safe, as well as extending the useful life of the product,” says John Drengenberg, consumer safety director at UL, which requires that most consumer products bearing its certification label include a manual.
2. Washing flammable chemicals
If you have a dirty job, getting your work clothes clean can be tough. It's also hazardous, unless you do it right. Fabric soaked with cooking oil, gasoline, woodworking oils, industrial cleansers or other volatile chemicals can ignite on exposure to heat and start a fire. To keep your work apparel from flaming out:
- Wash the load twice to remove as much of the chemicals as you can
- If possible, hang the clothes to dry instead of using a dryer
- If you need the dryer, use the lowest heat setting and a cool-down cycle
- Don't leave damp clothes sitting in a warm dryer
3. Leaving the lint
Did you know that lint is flammable? In fact, the leading cause of home fires involving dryers is the failure to keep them clean, according to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). Here's their advice:
- Sweep up any visible lint, including behind the machine
- Clean the lint trap after each use
- Never run the dryer with a missing or clogged trap.
- After using fabric softeners, wash the lint trap with warm, soapy water
- After washing the trap, dry it completely before reinstalling
- Keep the exhaust vent clear
- Have a professional clean the ducts and dryer every eighteen months
4. Mixing the cleansers
Resist the temptation to mix bleach with another cleaning product, and also be careful not to use a product that contains bleach at the same time as one that contains ammonia. Bleach produces a toxic gas that can sicken or kill when combined with ammonia or acids. Products that contain either include:
- Hydrogen peroxide
- Glass, window and oven cleaners
- Toilet and drain cleaners
- Dish washing detergents and rinses
- Lime, calcium and rust removers
- Brick and concrete cleaners
Add urine to the list, including from animals. So be careful when cleaning litter boxes or pet puddles.
5. Neglecting the stove
Who hasn't tried to save time by ironing a little laundry or doing other chores while chicken legs sizzle on the stovetop? Cooking ranks at the very top of causes of home fires and injuries, according to the NFPA. They advise you play it safe by:
- Staying in the house while baking, roasting or boiling
- Staying in the kitchen while frying, grilling or broiling
- Using a timer to remind you that dinner is still cooking
- Never cooking when you're sleepy
6. Wrapping the cords
Electrical cords may look sort of like rope or string, but in fact they are precision instruments with delicate components.
Don't wrap cords tightly around any object. It will trap heat that melts the insulation. This is especially true for an iron, space heater or other heat-producing appliance. Wrapping cords also can break the wiring, shorting out the appliance or even initiating an electrical arc that sets it on fire. For similar reasons, never:
- Place furniture legs or other heavy objects on cords
- Cover cords with carpets or rugs
- Step on cords
- Staple them to walls
7. Overusing the extensions
Extension cords are lifesavers in older houses that don’t have enough outlets — but they can also be killers if you overload them or use them wrong. They cause some 3,300 residential fires annually, according to Electrical Safety Foundation International. To protect yourself:
- Purchase an extension cord rated for the amount of power that it needs to pull
- Use it on a temporary basis only and disconnect it after use
- If it feels hot or appears damaged, disconnect it
- Don't run it inside of ceilings or walls
- Don't place it where people can trip over it
8. Flushing and running
If you flush the toilet and leave the bathroom immediately, you won’t notice if the toilet clogs and overflows. Water damage from toilets typically cost a homeowner between $2,000 and $10,000 to repair, according to the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety.
Wait until the bowl has emptied and refilled before exiting the loo.