World record ball of dryer lint does slow burn in Farmington Hills

Neal Rubin
The Detroit News
Fire marshall Jason Baloga, left, watches as three of his firefighters try to set the world record lint ball aflame.

Farmington Hills — Come to find out a 690-pound ball of dryer lint is a lot like your kids and your Cocker spaniel: It won't perform in front of company, either.

A Farmington Hills firm called Dryer Vent Wizard assembled a Guinness World Record wad of fuzz Thursday and had firefighters set torches to it to show that your dryer vent is yet another thing in your house that can kill you.

The hope and expectation was that it would burst into vibrant flames, demonstrating the importance of dryer vent safety and putting a colorful cap on an afternoon at the city public works yard.

Instead, it just sort of smoldered like a world record charcoal briquette in reverse, slowly turning from gray to black as the firefighters poked at the base. But a fine time was had by a crowd of mostly Dryer Vent Wizard franchisees gathered in Detroit for their annual conference, and the key facts remain no matter how modest the blaze:

•Some 2,900 home clothes dryer fires are reported every year, according to the U.S. Fire Administration, resulting in an estimated five deaths, 100 injuries and $35 million in property damage.

•Most of them are preventable with a little attention and an update or two.

•A 690-pound ball of lint is an impressive thing to behold.

"We were hoping it would burn much faster, like it would in a home setting," conceded Terry Reuer of Farmington, the executive chair and co-founder of the company.

Live and learn: compressing that much lint into a 5 ½-foot-wide clump deprives it of the surface area and oxygen it needs to flamboyantly combust. But the teamwork and pride involved in collecting a previously unimagined mound of fabric dandruff will endure long after the remnants were carted to a dump.

Plus, Reuer said, "Our UPS guy is probably glad we're done."

A small flame continues the charring of the lint ball, disassembled by firefighters as they tried to inspire more dramatic combustion.

The 95 franchisees in the U.S. and Canada had been collecting lint since April, she said, and shipping it to the home office in cartons.

For Johnny Cowan  of San Antonio, Texas, it was a dream come true.

"You'd get the Guinness book every year and say, 'This is cool,'" said Cowan, a former production supervisor who started his business three years ago. "The tallest man. The shortest man.

"After a while, you think, 'How can I get in this? I can't jump rope for two weeks.'"

But his lint was part of dryer history, and in case anyone is thinking of taking a run at the first-time record, another 250 pounds or so sat unused because, as Reuer discovered, "there's kind of a limit to how much you can press and have it stay together."

Guinness representatives, she said, were adamant that the lint remain in a ball without falling apart, which her office assured by dumping it in a wooden crate, covering it with a board and having employees stomp on it.

A Guinness evaluator in the organization's classic navy blazer with pale piping was on hand to make sure that a surveyor checked the ball's dimensions, and that a fabric expert verified it was all authentic lint with no artificial fillers.

Fire marshal Jason Baloga, meanwhile, verified that "typically, we don't have reason to light things on fire in Farmington Hills."

He was initially reluctant to allow the stunt, he said, but couldn't pass up the opportunity to dispense safety tips.

Put smoke alarms on every level of the house and in every bedroom, he said. Ideally, have them interconnected.

Peek behind the dryer and make sure the vent hose isn't crimped. If it's plastic, replace it with metal. Corrugated is okay, but aluminum is better.

"Something simple everyone can do," he said, "is clean out the dryer screen every time you do a load."

Something harder, but potentially more fun:

The next time someone builds a world record lint ball that will ultimately burn like a briquette, show up with a world record s'more.

Twitter: @nealrubin_dn