What’s smoking in your kitchen?

by , Senior Home Researcher Energy & Home 19 April 2012
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Which kitchen appliances do you think are the most likely to catch fire – cookers, ovens or toasters perhaps? It’s actually faulty tumble dryers and washing machines that come out on top. Does this come as a surprise?

Toaster fire

The new Which? TV ad gives a humorous look at what life could be like if appliances turn bad – the dangers of dodgy dishwashers, faulty fridge-freezers and bean-firing coffee machines emphasise the importance of buying machines that have been independently tested and rated.

Thankfully, occurrences of young couples being attacked in their own homes by appliances on the rampage are rare. But while we all assume that modern appliances are safe, there’s a serious message – some appliances do literally go up in smoke.

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Looking for information about car recalls? Find out how to report a fault and the cars we think should have been recalled in the UK in our guide to car recalls.

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Fridge-freezer fire furore

It’s perhaps unsurprising the furore that surrounded the news last year that some Beko fridge-freezers had caught fire. Thousands of you flocked to our website for advice and the Conversation was one of the most commented in 2011. Craig was concerned:

‘I ended up spending £550 on a new Bosch, money well spent for the peace of mind.’

Carol was cut off:

‘I have one of the affected appliances and have verified online, only to be informed to phone helpline, then they cut you off after a recorded message – very frustrating.’

Ipoolad thought Beko did its best to deal with the situation:

‘What more can be expected?! They have thrown every resource possible at resolving the issue.’

But Beko is not alone in facing safety scrutiny from consumers. According to government figures, in 2010/11 almost 6,000 appliances or their electrical leads caught fire due to faults. And this number could be even higher.

Thousands of appliance fires each year

It’s estimated that 70% to 80% of fires, normally the smaller ones, are dealt with by homeowners themselves, rather than calling out the fire brigade.

Which? submitted Freedom of Information requests to all fire services in England to find out which kitchen appliances are catching fire, and 40 responded in total.

The data reveals that the companies that hit the headlines could just be the tip of the iceberg, and that the problems could be greater than they appear. The data also includes many different common makes and models – for example, Bosch has issued a safety notice about specific dishwasher ranges.

And the numbers show that it’s not necessarily the appliances you’d imagine that are most likely to catch fire. While cookers and ovens cause many fires due to misuse or accident, it’s actually tumble dryers and washing machines that are more likely to catch fire due to faults.

Something is burning

This data isn’t definitive -  makes and models aren’t always recorded and there are many appliances for which the cause of the fire is never identified because they are too badly burnt. In most cases there’s no absolute certainty, as the fire brigade often only gives its opinion on the suspected cause.

Given that it’s impossible to guarantee the safety of all appliances, what do you think should be done? Should manufacturers have to tell us each time they’re alerted to an appliance fire or would that cause unnecessary panic?

35 comments

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wavechange

I would like to know why appliance manufacturers do stupid things like put powerful electric heaters in plastic cases. Kettles, fan heaters and toasters are examples. At one time, all these products had metal cases.

I have searched for all-metal kettles, but the best I have found is metal kettles with a plastic base.

I do not know if plastic-cased appliances are a significant fire risk, but why do manufacturers take the risk by designing appliances that could melt, produce fumes and possibly catch fire in the event of a problem?

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richard

It is called Chinese cost cutting – Plastic is so much cheaper. I actually bought a UK metal electric kettle at £25 and found it effectively unusable – so bought a £5 Chinese from the super-market – It is so good I bought another at £5 as a spare,

Can only say haven’t had a fire yet – but have always ensured that all electrical appliances have a proper rated fuse – and fire/smoke alarms fitted in all rooms.

Actually did a quick check – the only item that is plastic is the kettle..

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rich835

I wonder if it’s because of some sort of Health and Safeety issue, regarding plastic v metal casings? I remember that there was this cool wall technology thing a while back, perhaps they feel that you’re less likely to burn yourself on a plastic appliance? Just guessing…

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wavechange

This is likely to be a factor, rich835, but it should not be impossible to design metal-cased appliances that will not burn the user or their children.

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Dave D

It’s all about maximising profit for the manufacturers, in two ways in particular.

Way 1: use the cheapest possible pats and push all parts (components) to their absolute limits. Examples of this include using plastic not metal (as richard has said above); using mains leads which are only just rated for the current the appliance draws – meaning that even in normal use the flex is liable to get warm to the touch and under certain conditions will overheat without blowing the fuse (washers and other high power appliances are the worst for this); using mains leads which are far too short (to save money) meaning that customers are highly likely to have to use an extension lead – often customers will use an under-rated extension because they don’t understand the difference; fitting the cheapest of fitted plugs – and heaven alone knows how most are ever approved to BS1363 because many have finger-guards and prongs which are to within microns of the legal limit. Some moulded on plugs get very hot to the touch as a matter of routine because they are so flimsily made and back in gthe 1990′s, when fitted plugs were only just coming in, there was one make of moulded on plug that hit the headlines because frequently, when it was withdrawn from the socket, some or all of the prongs detached from the plug and were left, live, sticking out of the wall socket; and using under-rated electrical and electronic components inside the appliance (which I am certain was the cause of the 3 firework displays and fatal failures in my £800, which? best buy, LG washer in 2008/2009, in which all the internal electrical & electronic components burned in spectacular style on 3 occasions before I threw it away).

Way 2: build in all kinds of utterly useless, rarely used, and pointless “features”, many of which confuse users into making mistakes in operating the appliance (which may lead to unsafe use) or temp users to do patently stupid things which court disaster (such as leaving machines running unattended overnight or when out at work by using delay start features).

It is no coincidence that appliances made up to the mid ’80′s are often still in use now and, if you look at them, are made of sturdy parts all rated to run at higher voltages / currents / temperatures / pressures, etc., than modern counterparts. As an example take my mum’s 1950′s Morphy Richards iron. all metal construction except the bakelite handle. Rated 750 watts (far less than modern irons). Fitted with over 3 metres of silicone rubber (i.e. heat-proof) insulated, fabric covered, kink-proof, cable rated to carry up to 1.5 kW (i.e. twice the rated load of the iron) and still working today as well as the day it was given as a wedding gift. Compare this to my current iron (also Morphy Richards, and a Which? recommended appliance). 100% plastic construction. Rated 1750 watts. Fitted with about 1.5 metres of fabric covered, PVC insulated, flex rated at only 1.8kW (1800 watts). Is there any wonder that when I use my iron it creaks and groans as it heats and cools, I am forever accidentally pulling the flex taught as I move along the ironing board, and it smells of hot plastic when you switch on? I don’t doubt that my iron is as safe as modern ones get, but only a fool would not instantly pick my mum’s as being the safer of the two.

We’ll not change things (and neither will Which?) unless a law was to be passed forcing manufacturers to work to higher safety standards (which it won’t be for political and economic reasons) AND unless we, the public, were all willing to pay a higher price for our appliances and keep them for tens of years rather than single digits of years (which much of the population won’t do). So we’re stuck as we are really.

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wavechange

I strongly agree with the points made by Dave, but I believe that the move to moulded plugs has been a great step forward – simply because most people do not do a very good job of wiring a plug and even approved BS 1363 and BS 1363A plug designs are not always very satisfactory. It is very disappointing that manufacturers frequently fit an unnecessarily large fuse in moulded plugs, detracting from the benefit of using fused plugs.

The use of under-rated components in consumer goods is not only a potential safety hazard but it can lead to early failure of appliances, cost to the consumer and a mountain of electrical/electronic waste.

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M.

Dave spot on….
I mentioned in an earlier thread about kitchen appliances that I had a Zannusi dishwasher that caught fire.
This was due to the manufacturer inserting a ‘chocolate block’ connector rated at 12v between the mains lead and transformer.
As the dishwasher was used the inadequate insulation caused the block to continually heat up, degrading it further, eventually the insulation broke down causing arcing to occur which set fire to flammable materials near the connector.
Apart from this one fault, the dishwasher gave stunning performance and I am sure would have given years of service.

I believed then and still do now that either; this weakness was deliberately introduced to cause the dishwasher to fail, or QA at the production plant was abysmal and their negligence allowed this to happen.

I have noticed that many appliances fail shorty after the statutory 1 years guarantee, I think more than Richards Chinese cost cutting is at work, I think modern appliances are designed to fail after a set time, so we go out and buy again.

I have heard they do this already with training shoes, give them a pace life?

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wavechange

I am not aware of such a thing as a 12V chocolate block connector. It seems more likely that a poor connection caused the connector to melt or burn, resulting in a breakdown of the insulation. Dave will know for sure.

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M.

‘Chocolate block’ connectors are the common name for Terminal strips /blocks. These are rated by current, not voltage.
I wrote 12v as an indication that the block used for the connection was suitable for low voltage / low current applications, 12volt DC as opposed to 240Volt AC [ I did not want to be overly technical].
The block used in the dishwasher was a polyethylene terminal block rated at 2 amps, the type used by electronic hobbyists for battery powered or low voltage / current devices.
I checked the block remnants carefully, even though the polyethylene body had melted away the wires were still securely attached within the screw terminal.

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Dave

I agree with Wavechange that moulded plugs do get around a very great issue of badly wired plugs and they also greatly reduce the possibilities for people to insert foreign bodies rather than fuses to prevent blowing.

Some moulded plugs are very good – those made by Volex Pencon for example (as fitted to all Apple Mac products) are very robust, easy to grip, and have sturdy metal prongs, including the Earth prong, even when fitted to a two-core lead.

Sadly, others, predictably fitted to budget appliances, are much less satisfactory, often being impossible to grip even for people with full ability, let alone for users who are less able, having plastic earth prongs and some even have current carrying prongs made of folded steel. A recipe for disaster.

Wavechange is certainly correct about the fuses fitted too: a great many appliances with fitted plugs arrive with 13Amp fuses in the plug, even if the rating of the appliance is as low as 500 watts.

I’m afraid that when I get anything new with a fitted plug I usually chop it off and fit a good quality (generally MK or Crabtree) plug, and fit the lowest possible rated fuse for the appliance (I keep 1, 2, 3, 5, 7, 10 & 13 Amp fuses in stock).

We can’t expect all customers to do this – and indeed many people don’t know how to fit plugs these days and would make matters worse than keeping the fitted one – but if manufacturers were not so penny-pinching we could have all appliances arrive with this level of safety / protection as standard.

But that’s just one, small, aspect of the issue.

M. is also correct about the use of inferior / unsuitable parts. The chocolate block example cited is quite normal and it’s another aspect of using the cheapest possible parts.

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wavechange

I am another one who uses all the available fuse sizes, for safety and to minimise the damage to equipment if there is a fault.

It would be difficult for the public to buy anything other than 3, 5 and 13 amp fuses.

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M.

I too am not fond of moulded plugs and always remove them and replace with a good quality traditional one. I also have a box full of fuses and will always use the lowest rating possible Remember fuse wire? I still have some of the Woolworths cards in my spare fuse box.

Unfortunately many people today have no idea of how to change a fuse let alone wire a plug, I have got some pretty good stuff others have thrown away because ‘it don’t work’ and all that was needed was a new fuse and a check with a PAT tester to ensure no faults or earth leakage.

I have noticed that especially for computer peripherals they now supply a small transformer with a slide in plate with the pins on, these things are so flimsy I am loath to use them. Usually tucked out of the way plugged into an extension lead and covered in dust, these are accidents waiting to happen.

I now have a 12 volt rail beside my computer station which I plug all my peripherals into, so I save on power usage and have removed what I believe is a fire hazard.

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Dave D

I’m afraid I have to disagree with Wavechange regarding buying the full range of fuses:

in my local shops (not electrical specialists but ironmongers and hardware stores, including, to their credit, B&Q) it is possible to buy packs of 4 fuses in 1, 2, 3, 5, 10 and 13 amp ratings. Only 7 amp is missing form the full ASTA / BS approved range.

On-line there are a great many retails who sell all sizes of fuse in a variety of pack sizes. TLC-Direct is one especially good electrical dealer who sell them all on-line.

Given the profusion of B&Q stores I can’t image there are many parts of the UK where you cannot readily buy all these fuses, though I don’t know if every branch of B&Q stocks the whole range and I do know that only a few years ago it was the devil’s own job to get anything except 3 and 13 amp anywhere.

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wavechange

My experience has been different. I’ve just looked at the Maplin website and they have only 3, 5 and 13 amp, like the local Tesco and most shops I have been in around the country.

It’s good to know that the less common sizes are becoming more readily available, but that is unlikely to encourage many to use them if these sizes are not used in new equipment.

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wavechange

I am intrigued that Which? has used Freedom of Information requests to gather information from fire services. FOI requests are often done to extract information when reasonable requests have been unsuccessful. I would be grateful if Alice could tell us more.

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zoe

my house caught fire on friday 13th just a week ago,due to a toaster with a faulty heat element,it has totally gutted my kitchen and caused severe smoke damage throughout my 3 bedroom house,costing us to loose practicurly everything.we were away on holiday,but my son had remained home,he had used the toaster to cook crumpets and left the house around 20 mins after,around 40 mins later my kitchen was on fire !!! gladly my son wasnt there as the severity of the fire is shocking !!!

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M.

Complain to the manufacturer and they will tell you it wasn’t the appliance, it was the date!

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wavechange

It is easy to check if the body of plugs or their pins get warm when in use. If they do, there is a poor connection and the plug may need to be replaced. It’s worth checking every appliance that consumes a lot of power. A poor connection can also damage the wall socket.

Brass pins should be reasonably bright. If they have gone dull or even black (due to a coating of copper oxide) that can mean a poor connection, as anyone who has done any PAT testing will know.

I have seen cases where a plug and wall socket have gone brown due to severe overheating. With luck, the appliance will stop working, but the consequences can be much more serious.

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wavechange

Many people avoid putting a smoke detector in the kitchen because it can be set off by smoke and steam generated during cooking. My answer is to use one with a button to silence false alarms, within easy reach and at the far end of the kitchen. I have never had a kitchen fire but the smoke alarm has saved a few non-stick pans from being destroyed when allowed to boil dry.

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AM

We only have a wired heat detector which sets off all the detectors but think I will get 2 battery ones with hush buttons in accessible locations as a fire will have taken a considerable hold before the heat detector senses it. Our electrician advised suggested heat detectors so that burning a piece of toast doesn’t set off the whole house alarms but the heat detector didn’t help when our LG washing machine caught fire & it was lucky that we saw the smoke!

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wavechange

Here is a link to a Which? Conversation about the risk of leaving leaving kitchen and other appliances running when unattended:

http://conversation.which.co.uk/energy-home/unattended-kitchen-appliances-fire-risk-washing-machine-tumble-dryer/

Kelly Fenn has posted some statistics about fires caused by appliances, about half way down the page.

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AM

Like Dave D our LG washing machine caught fire & having commented on our situation in this link posted by Wavechange http://conversation.which.co.uk/energy-home/unattended-kitchen-appliances-fire-risk-washing-machine-tumble-dryer/ too I now have had another member LG owner contact me saying that their LG F1443KDS had also caught fire. I have also passed details of our experience to Alice (the Which? researcher who started this conversation) as in the July copy of the Which? magazine they are asking for members who have had appliances catch fire or explode to get in touch with her – email your experience to her to helpwanted@which.co.uk & you need to put her name Alice Rickman in the subject line. Hopefully the more members who highlight this as a safety issue the more chance that our traumatic experiences or worse can be avoided.

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jane

I purchased a max gener 8 steam generator iron which spontaneously caught fire whilst in use no warning.Since then have read one other review where this has happened, and a few reviews where this iron has stopped steaming. When I reported it to the company where I purchased it they said it was my own fault as I had wrapped the flex too tightly around the iron, I found this highly insulting as they made this presumption when in fact I always store the cable in a figure of 8, my son witnessed the incident and my wrist been burnt,luckily had short sleeve top on and as I am first aid trained was able to treat the burn immediately. The iron had been in use for less .than sixteen months. I have found out that this product was manufactured in China and was told by the company where I purchased it that it complies with all British standards.But amazingly all Gener8 products are no longer produced. I have no idea what to do next.

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wavechange

You could report this to Trading Standards, Jane.

Have a look at the reviews on Amazon and you will see another report about one of these irons going on fire.

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M.

@Jane,
I think a dig around the net will show enough faults have occurred with this appliance that trading standards need to get involved.
You have suffered a personal injury as a result of this, luckily it does not seem too serious, but the next person along could suffer a far more serious injury.
So please, if you haven’t done so yet, tell them now.

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Jamie Dick

As a kitchen installer I have to ask these questions.
In the majority of these cases has it been a newly installed kitchen?
or has it just been a replacement appliance?
in any case if the electrics in the house were complient with current regulations these incidents should really not happen.
There are far to many kitchens being installed by cowboys, DIY enthusiasts who have very little knowledge with electrics. and even electricians (not 17th edition qualified) who are not up to the job.
but get a friend who is qualified to sign off there jobs for them.
If a 17th edition complient RCD consumer unit is in place it should pick up on any faulty appliance and trip off the breaker, therefore stopping any potential fire.

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wavechange

I disagree, Jamie. Compliance with modern regulations but RCDs and circuit breakers will only reduce the risk of fire due to faulty appliances and certainly not eliminate the problem.

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Bob Willis

Just heard about the Bosch recall for overheating solder joint causing fires. My appliance was registered but I did not get any information from Bosch.
What really irkes me is I emailed a picture of the defective solder joint and circuit board to Bosch Customer Services in around 2004 telling them that this was a design problem after my dishwasher stopped heating the water after about 18months. They were not interested in assisting with the repair despite my protestations that this was not fair wear and tear. I added solder to the joint and it’s still working today! Not sure if I still have the email but if it helps some insurance company recover their costs I have a mind to pass it on after the poor service I received – would serve them right for not listening!

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Em

I’m not surprised tumble dryers are a major cause of fires.

I used to buy basic Creda tumble dryers and change them when they broke down. This was on the basis that the efficiency of warming air using electricity and blowing it through a rotating drum, cannot be improved on simply by paying twice as much for a premium brand. The energy labels on nearly all vented tumble dryers tend to confirm this view – they are almost without exception “C”-rated.

After switching off my 4-year-old Creda dryer, ready to head off to bed, I noticed it was emitting a strong burning smell and the odd whiff of smoke. On removing the top cover, the cause was obvious. The exposed bi-metallic strip thermostat that controlled the heating element was covered in a build-up of lint, and the sparking of the contacts had caused this to start smoldering. A there was a good layer of felt-like debris on the floor of the dryer, just waiting for something to drop … .

BTW – all household circuits are RCB/MCB protected – a fat lot of difference that made, when the appliance is poorly designed to begin with. Creda? Never again!

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wavechange

A service engineer has reported the problem of build up of flammable lint in tumble driers in another Coversation, and I don’t believe that the problem is confined to Creda. Users are unlikely to know about the developing problem.

It is about time there was an independent organisation for the trade and public to report potential safety issues. Many well respected manufacturers have come in for criticism for not taking prompt action, hence the need for an external body.

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gareth richards

do the companies pay out ?

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leanna

Would just like to share im currentley awaiting a court date as taking Hotpoint to court for liability claim , faulty dshwasher cause my house fire , the control panel in the door was faulty .

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wavechange

Thanks for letting us know, Leanna. As Alice has said in her introduction, there may be many fires that go unreported, particularly if they are small and discovered promptly.

It may be possible to reduce the risk but we all need to be prepared for the possibility that electrical appliances of all makes could cause fires. Try not to use appliances other than fridges and freezers unattended, fit a smoke detector in each room (I have two in my kitchen) and buy a couple of decent fire extinguishers which to help you escape in an emergency and possibly put out a small fire. Check that leads are undamaged and that plugs etc. don’t get warm.

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colin carswell

I was interested in reading the problems with the Beko fridge Freezer. I have had a similar problem with my Bosch KUR15444GB/01 Fridge. My Fridge door was not closed properly and did not switch the light off. The next morning i found my Fridge not working. The light fitting and the plastic interior of the Fridge had melted and showed signs of burning of the insulation and wiring behind the plastic interior. The 3 amp fuse in the plug had blown. On closer inspection i found my kitchen fitter had changed the plug from a 13 amp fused plug to a 3 amp fuse. I feel i was lucky he had changed the plug, otherwise the burning may have been allowed to continue for longer. I have contacted Bosch to report what i believe to be a potential fire hazard and have been suprised and disappointed that Bosch are only interested in inspecting my Fridge if i pay £80.00 for an Engineer to visit. Am i over reacting or do i have a case for concern?

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Keith andrew healey

Purchased a indesit via640c induction hob which is aprox 14 months old which caught fire starting
internally to which indesit seem totaly unconcerned by this.Which i find more than a little concerning.

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