/ Home & Energy

Do you leave your appliances running unattended?

Washing machine

Do you leave your washing machine running when you go out, or pre-programme a dishwasher cleaning cycle to kick in while you’re asleep? And more to the point – should you?

The recent fire risk furore involving faulty Beko fridge freezers has put the spotlight back on home product safety.

Refrigeration appliances are of course designed to be left on at all times. But what about other kitchen electricals like washing machines, washer-dryers, tumble dryers or dishwashers – is it ok to leave these devices running without you being around?

Absent from our appliances

With delayed starts or programmable timers on lots of appliances these days, you don’t even need to be in the neighbourhood to start your products up, let alone be around for the entire duration of a wash or dry cycle.

In fact, around half of the 125 tumble dryers, two-thirds of dishwashers and more than 80% of the washing machines we’ve tested include a ‘time delay’ function.

These can come in useful if you’re running a busy household – and can be a good money-saving aid if you’re on an energy plan where the cost of electricity is cheaper at night, such as Economy 7.

Is there a safety risk?

But you could argue that this type of functionality implicitly encourages the use of appliances without you being present – despite official government guidance to ‘never leave electrical appliances on at night, unless they are designed to be left on’.

So should we heed this general advice – or make the most of manufacturers attempting to make our hectic lives easier?

A new appliance is unlikely to break down in the first couple of years (even less likely if it’s from a brand that scores well in our member-wide reliability survey) – but they can get less reliable over time.

Catastrophic breakdowns, which cause fire or burst pipes, are very rare but there is some small risk attached to using any high wattage appliance.

Some items appear to be more hazardous than others. Regional fire authorities routinely issue stern fire risk warnings against leaving tumble dryers unattended, for example.

Reducing the risk

You shouldn’t let fluff build up in your tumble dryer, so regular maintenance is a must. Clean all lint filters every time you use the machine to maintain good airflow, wipe the drum with a damp cloth regularly, and check the vent outlet and hose of vented dryers.

The heat exchanger in condenser models needs washing out about five times a year, more often for heavy users. Some machines have a light that shows when this needs doing.

Meanwhile, a lot of today’s appliances are controlled by electronic software designed to turn off a machine if it detects something is wrong, such as overheating. You can also choose washing machines and dishwashers fitted with devices that cut the water supply if it breaks down – reducing the risk of you being greeted by a flooded kitchen.

And you should always have working – and regularly tested – smoke alarms.

Clearly it’s not practical to baby-sit our appliances. I’ve been known to pop out to the shops during the middle of a washing cycle. But when do you use yours? Are you comfortable leaving your appliances to run their course while you’re sound asleep in bed or out and about?

Comments
Member

Sage advice but really should we have to pay so much attention to products that we have paid a lot of money for on the assumption that they are going to work?

Smoke alarms are tested to ensure that the battery hasn’t run out, last time I looked, washing machines were plugged into the mains.

I always leave the washing machine on when I go out. It’s a good way to combine doing 2 things at once, put the washing on, go food shopping. Put the washing on, go and fill up the car etc etc.

I really don’t think that the consumer should assume any kind responsibility for the core function of a product. If a product fails to do what it says then surely consumer law is there to protect them. Yes I don’t want my house burned down either, but I do not want to live in fear that every time I use a washer / dryer, my house is going to burn down. That is what insurance is for.

The issue is that Beko makes rubbish washing machines/fridge freezers, why should we all have to carry the can?

When I lived in Düsseldorf, my landlord made me sign a disclaimer saying that I wouldn’t leave the washing machine on whilst I was out of the house. A bit annoying yes but the washing machine was really old and he couldn’t take that risk.

With new products, you’ve paid the money to ensure that they pay enough attention to Quality Assurance. If they haven’t then surely the law is there to protect you?

Member

In an ideal world perhaps one would not leave major appliances running when everyone is out of the house or in bed but we do not live in an ideal world. The electricity supply industry justifiably would like to even out demand between day and night while I am probably not alone in having a dishwasher whose ‘Economy’ cycle takes longer than the standard cycle. Hence, we turn the washing machine and dishwasher off at the mains plug when they are not in use, but do often use them unattended.

I am sure the insurance would not cover for all the hassle, and family momentoes which would be lost, if the house was burnt down, but the consumer should be sensible considering the age and condition of the appliance. ‘Which’ can help with the provision of data on appliance reliability, particularly if ‘fires’ or overheating are involved – for example this was a significant issue with early colour televisions – and help seek out data where house fires might have involved overheating appliances.
Perhaps fire brigades could be encouraged to provide/publish more data than the standard ‘due to an electrical fault’ when reporting on house fires resulting from electrical failures/overheating.
Overall, as is regularly emphasised, the problem confirms the potential value of smoke alarms.
Finally, with regard to Dean’s last comment, it is important that the quality level being assured is adequate. I doubt if any of us know the quality standard being applied by any individual manufacturer/supplier and I can believe that in the past a failure of the automatic defrost system would not be the most obvious source of a fire risk to anyone trying to judge adequacy of the safety related criteria for a fridge.

Member

Before the introduction of flat screen models, TVs and monitors were a considerable fire hazard, mainly due to the high voltage needed for the CRT. I have had to put out a TV fire and have seen several examples of TVs and monitors that have severely overheated but not gone on fire. I still have a smoke detector above my TV, even though it is no more likely to burst into flames than other electrical appliances.

Member
Maciej Jablonski says:
12 January 2015

All needs to be practical.
We won’t stop driving cars, though
2 out of 1000 suffer some sort of injury on the roads every year.

Without all the safety devices fitted in cars it would be 10 times as much.

Simply be reasonable, try not pushing your luck. Fit the smoke alarm (there are models designed for kitchens), do not stupid things, and if it is not inconvenience run devices when you’re at home.

Member

The fire authorities and Government give the advice to switch off when unattended wisely, based on a relatively small but very important number of terrible accidents.

The irony is that buying very expensive appliances is not safeguard (I had a Which? best buy very expensive top model LG washer which blew up 4 times in it’s first 18 months (before I scrapped it) each time blowing circuit breakers and fuses all the way back to the distribution board and turning it’s own innards into blackened smouldering charcoal).

Even more ironic is that even relatively cheap. older, appliances are less likely to fail in such a way because they were built with higher quality components in the days when products were designed and then costed up, rather than a price being fixe and the product made to that cost regardless of safety, life span, functionality etc.

However, no matter what you have, it can never be totally safe to leave unattended and we, the consumer, MUST take full responsibility if we choose to take such a risk.

Today’s society is full of people wishing to say “it wasn’t my fault”, including manufacturers (and credit to Beko that they have NOT said this as far as I know), so the consumer cannot afford to say the same I’m afraid.

Member
AM says:
3 May 2013

Hi – can you tell me what model washing machine this was? I have a LG F1443KDS which nearly burnt our house down but Trading Standards say it’s a one off problem but looking on the web I see other LG machines have caught fire so need help to prove that it’s not an isolated case so chance of LG sorting this & then no-one else put at risk. Many thanks.

Member

WM1444TDS, bought 2008 and scrapped 2009 after 3 explosions which turned all the innards to cinders

Member
LG owner says:
9 August 2013

@Am We have the exact same model (LG F144KDS). It caught fire a couple of days ago, and almost burnt our house down. I would like to hear more about your communication with LG.

[Sorry, we don’t allow contact details. Thanks, mods.]