/ Home & Energy

What’s smoking in your kitchen?

Toaster fire

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?

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.

—————————————————————————————————————————–

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.

—————————————————————————————————————————–

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?

Comments
Member

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?

Member

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..

Member

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…

Member

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.

Member
bdevlin says:
11 October 2016

Rusted metal when injested can cause lock jaw, not good for human’s. I bought a metal kettle for £49 it started to rust around the neck / lid rim. Got rid because of the danger rust can cause to health. Bought a plastic one for 6.99. In a colour to match kitchen Very happy now.

Member

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.

Member

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.

Member

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?