Bathroom ceiling fan

Can Bathroom Fans Cause House Fires?

Updated February 29, 2024 . AmFam Team

Although you may not think about it frequently, your bathroom exhaust fan is like any other electrical appliance. And like others, these exhaust fans can pose a fire risk if they aren’t properly maintained. Stay safe and reduce the risk of an exhaust fan fires by following our tips on how to keep your bathroom fan in great shape.

A photo of a luxury bathroom

Do a Bathroom Ceiling Fan Checkup

A quick look at your bathroom exhaust fan can offer up a lot of critical information. Most of the time, details on the well-being of your fan are hiding in plain sight. Discoloration, odd sounds and smells, the fan itself slow to start up and dusty build up — these are all clues that you’re at risk of a fan malfunction or potential fire. Here’s some key signs to look out for to prevent a restroom fan fire:

1. Consider Replacing Older Fans to Prevent a Bathroom Exhaust Fan Fire

Before you take on the task of cleaning exhaust fan, take a look at the age and condition of the fan. Many are in use long after they should have been retired. If your exhaust fan looks really old, it’s probably time to replace it. Hire a licensed electrician to replace the fan with a thermally insulated fan.

2. Listen for a Scraping Sound When You Start Your Bathroom Fan

If your bathroom exhaust fan is making a lot of noise as it’s rotating, that can spell trouble for the motor. If that contact should halt the fan’s rotation altogether, it can cause the motor to overheat and lead to a fire.

Over time, your home’s framing and timbers can shift as the building settles. If you hear scraping when you start up the bathroom fan, be sure to get in touch with an electrician right away. And tell your family not to use the bathroom fan or put a piece of tape over the on/off switch to keep people from turning the fan on until it's repaired or replaced. That extra friction can tax the fan’s motor which may lead to overheating and perhaps a fire.

3. Pay Attention to Whether Your Bathroom Fan Smells Like Smoke

Because the fan is venting away air, it can be difficult to smell the smoke from a fan that is at risk of fire. A mild burning smell or scent of ozone may be telling you that bigger problems are on the horizon. If you smell burning from your exhaust fan, turn it off and look for melted wires and wire nuts.

It’s important to catch these signs early, as issues like these are likely going to get worse and could spark a bathroom ceiling fire if left alone. When this is the case, get a licensed electrician to look for wire damage and have them inspect the entire circuit.

Father washing a toddler in a bath tub

How to Reduce Bathroom Exhaust Fan Fire Risks

Keep your bathroom vent fan working well for years to come by checking it once in a while. You’re going to need to remove the cover to inspect it, so take a look at the owner’s manual for details on how to get that done. Follow the manufacturer’s recommendations on cleaning the unit as well. Once the faceplate is off, here’s what you’ll generally need to do:

1. Remove Dusty Build Up to Prevent Bathroom Exhaust Fan Fires

The small slits on most exhaust vents can quickly become choked up with dust or get blocked altogether when material collects over time. The good news is this is an easy problem to solve with a simple cleaning method.

2. Wash Bathroom Exhaust Vents and Let Dry

Wipe the dust away from the bathroom exhaust vent with a wet cloth and rinse the cloth in warm soapy water. Another option is to submerge the faceplate after safely removing it in warm soapy water and let it soak for a while. If you find any mold on the inside, put a little bleach into the water to keep it from returning quickly. Wipe down the interior of the fan housing with a rag as well.

3. Clean Bathroom Fan Ducts

Often, dust and dirt collect on the ducts that channel the vented air outside, making it difficult for the fan to work efficiently. Dust and dirt build up can cause the exhaust fan to overheat, posing a fire risk. Pick up a flexible duct cleaning extension kit at your local hardware store and use it to clean up those hard-to-reach areas. You may need to uninstall the fan to get into the ducting behind it. Again, hiring a licensed electrician is a good idea if you’re not familiar with how the fan’s installed.

4. Use LED Light Bulbs for Your Bathroom Fans

Swap out incandescent light bulbs with low-heat, energy-saving LED light bulbs. These bulbs will decrease the electric load placed on the circuit and the exhaust fan, which can help to reduce the risk of a bathroom fire.

5. Install a Timer Switch to Reduce Bathroom Fan Fires

Leaving the fan on for hours at a time can really put the fan at risk for serious trouble. Consider installing a twist-on timer switch that will turn the fan off automatically after a few minutes. If you don’t have a timer, set one on your smart phone to remind you in 15 minutes to turn the fan off. In order to prevent bathroom fan fires, keep fan usage to 20 minutes or less.

6. Manage Bathroom Fan Dust Hazards with Canned Air

Between thorough cleanings of your bathroom exhaust fan, you can keep the build-up to a minimum with a few bursts from canned air that’s typically used for cleaning electrical equipment. Be sure to turn the fan on before cleaning so debris can vent out and away.

7. Mark Your Calendar to Check on Your Bathroom Exhaust Fan

Set up a meeting on your smartphone with your bathroom ceiling fan twice a year and clean it thoroughly. Go through the maintenance steps above to make sure all is well. For more good housekeeping ideas, take a look at these tips on seasonally caring for your home.

Keep Your Home and Family Safe from Fire Risks

At American Family Insurance, we’re all about keeping you and your family safe. That’s why small steps like checking in on your bathroom ceiling fan can be so important to the overall health of your property. After you’ve taken a close look at your vents and cleaned up your fans, connect with your American Family Insurance agent to check in on your policy to make sure you’re well covered. You’re going to feel great knowing that what matters most is insured carefully.

This article is for informational purposes only and based on information that is widely available. We do not make any guarantees or promise any results based on this information.

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