/ Home & Energy

Update: it’s unacceptable that Whirlpool is still failing consumers

burnt tumble dryer

Our investigation shows that, one year on from announcing that some of its tumble dryers were at risk of catching fire, Whirlpool is still failing millions of affected UK customers.

Slow and poor service

In April this year, we investigated the Whirlpool tumble dryer safety issue, surveying 820 affected customers and conducting 30 mystery calls to the Whirlpool call centre posing as customers with affected machines. At that time, we found multiple failings in how Whirlpool was handling its customers.

In November, we carried out a second investigation. We contacted those surveyed in April again, as well as nearly 500 additional affected customers who had not previously been polled.

We found those with fire-risk dryers are still being forced to wait far too long, with one in five (22%) customers surveyed in April still waiting for their machine to be repaired or replaced.

A third (33%) of those who had since had their dryer repaired or replaced said they were dissatisfied with how the manufacturer had handled the situation.

One quarter (26%) of affected customers were told they would have to wait longer than six months for their tumble dryer to be repaired.

Marlon says: ‘I was contacted by email last winter informing me that it would be done in March. March came and went then another email with June as the modification month. No contact in June. Another email in August asking if I would like another tumble dryer, at a reduced price, instead of waiting for the modification to take place. After looking at the reviews of the models offered on Which, I decided I would not take up the new machine offer. So now I wait, a year on.’

One in five (22%) were told that the wait would be between three and six months.

We found widespread concern among customers, with six in ten (62%) of those we surveyed for the first time in November 2016 worried about using their tumble dryer, despite Whirlpool’s advice to continue to do so.

Potentially dangerous advice

In addition to being forced to wait far too long, we found Whirlpool giving a customer incorrect and potentially dangerous advice.

Last month, our mystery shoppers made another 30 calls to the Whirlpool call centre.

One of those callers was told that their machine was not affected. This was incorrect as we gave the call centre a model number of a dryer we knew was on the list. They even told us to throw any letters received about the safety notice ‘in the rubbish’.

On three occasions, mystery shoppers were told to contact the shop they bought the machine from for a replacement.

We also found long waits for a customer ID number that needs to be issued before anything can happen in the repair or replacement process.

Despite Whirlpool committing to reducing the waiting time for a customer ID number to 10 days, Which? found some call handlers quoting 6-12 weeks to mystery shoppers.

Which? says

Alex Neill, Managing Director of Home & Legal Services at Which?, said: ‘It is absolutely unacceptable that, one year on, Whirlpool customers are still seeing slow, poor service and potentially receiving incorrect and dangerous advice. Whirlpool’s modification programme is clearly not progressing as fast as it should.

‘Following the devastating fire caused by a tumble dryer in Shepherds Bush earlier this year, Whirlpool cannot be allowed to continue letting consumers down. It must clean up its act and sort out this mess urgently.’

Update: 12 January 2017

Today, we’ve launched a campaign to challenge Whirlpool to sort this mess out quickly. It’s now been a lengthy 14 months since the news broke that certain Whirlpool-owned tumble dryers could pose a fire-risk.

Some 750 fires have been reportedly linked to Whirlpool’s faulty dryers. Whirlpool’s repair programme is moving too slowly, so their unmodified fire-risk dryers continue to pose a potential threat to people’s homes.


In August 2016, Sharna’s home was destroyed by a Whirlpool dryer:

Last month, we took the decision to file for a judicial review of Peterborough Trading Standards’ handling of the Whirlpool dryer safety issue. As Whirlpool’s UK headquarters are in Peterborough, it’s Peterborough City Council’s Trading Standards department that’s been dealing with this matter.

This issue shouldn’t be allowed to drag on any longer and we need your help to make Whirlpool do more to prevent dryer fires.

Do you support our campaign? Have you been affected by the Whirlpool tumble dryer safety issue? What more would you like done to resolve this safety issue?

Comments

Whirlpool has admitted that their dryers have been responsible for many fires, yet the company has only issued a safety warning, not a recall. The company has said that it’s OK to carry on using affected dryers providing that the lint filter is cleaned and the machines are not left unattended – which seems questionable advice.

Here is a photo of a Hotpoint dryer where the plastic control panel has burned away, allowing flames to escape and spread the fire:

If the affected tumble dryers had been made with metal cases and doors, fires in dryers could be contained, so that they go out rather than spread. A vented tumble dryer should have a flexible stainless steel hose, not a plastic one like that shown in the photo.

Tumble dryers and other appliances have been responsible for domestic fires long before the Whirlpool brands were produced. Unless the use of plastics that burn or melt is banned, house fires will continue. The Whirlpool dryers may present the greatest risk but there is a risk of fire with other brands of dryers and other appliances.

A number of assertions have been made about tumble dryers, together with a number of ideas to improve them. I want to see assertions tested and proven or disproven, and ideas considered, by those with the experience, expertise and facilities. Then, when we have sorted out the wheat from the chaff, we might see progress that is evidence based. I have asked Which? several times whether they have any real and active involvement with BSI, and if so whether they will collate what has been said and discuss it with the committee. If Which? will not then we need to find another route to bring sensible suggestions to the notice of those who are in a position to take some action.

As far as I can see, other than publishing articles, Which? has seemingly had no impact on helping consumers. By now, those who have waited more than a week or two should have been compensated for their inconvenience and any expenses in making alternative drying arrangements. Those with affected dryers should then have either had a repair, a new Whirlpool machine offered or a payment made towards purchasing a safe dryer from elsewhere without more undue delay. However this has gone on for more than a year now, so how are Which? seen to be “making consumers as powerful as the organisations they deal with”? Just how powerful are Whirlpool?

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A company of the size of the Whirlpool Corporation could have recruited or trained many more service engineers to modify the affected machines. Perhaps they are too big.

I wonder where such a large number of potential service engineers would come from, for what would be a relatively short-term assignment?

Whirlpool and Hotpoint are currently recruiting field service engineers. Perhaps Amdea, the trade association that Whirlpool belongs to, could have asked other members if they could spare engineers to help speed up the modification work. When people’s lives are at risk it’s good to work together for the common good.

I would not imagine there are service engineers sitting around waiting for work. It has been reported elsewhere how the number of these people has declined as many appliances seem much less repairable than used to be the case. Perhaps bringing people in from their factories might provide extra labour? Replacing unsafe machines with decent ones seems the way it should be done if modifications cannot be done in a sensible time. What solution might Which? suggest?

Malcom – I read the silence from Which? on participation with BSI as a tacit acknowledgment that they have completely failed to engage even though they try to give the impression that they are influential in protecting consumers. If they were involved in a significant way they would have said so.

In view of the scale of thelogistical exercise , Whirlpool could have stopped production of new machines and turned the factory over to modifying machines on an exchange basis. I feel the the whole response to the problem has been an attempt to do the least possible and hope the authorities maintain their distance – and it is succeeding. It might be argued that such moves would be the price for their inadequate diligence when taking over Indesit although things could have been a lot worse if Indesit had had to deal with it on their own and possibly imploded in the process.

When I talked to a Which? staff member at the recent AGM I was left with the impression that there was little, if any, real engagement with BSI. I hope that proves to be incorrect. It seems an essential requirement for real consumer protection that involvement with those who develop standards for product safety, particularly given members comments on Convos, is essential.

My understanding is that Which? often discovers problems, contacts the relevant organisations and reports its findings, and then moves on until the topic is next investigated. Where Which? launches a campaign, they get more involved: http://www.which.co.uk/campaigns

I have had a member contact me with a report showing the Breville kettle does not meet UK standards. As he is an electrical engineer I am prepared that his multi-page report , with pictures.

What is interesting is the lack of response to this when forwarded to agencies one might think should be interested.

Trading Standards is the obvious first port of call but as many of us have discovered they don’t always take action. Is it possible to explain in simple terms why the kettle does not comply with the current standard?

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I am not sure why I was thinking kettle but I will plead fatigue!

” Breville Toaster Model VTT629: Serious Electrical Safety Deficiencies
1. Background
This four-slot you toaster was purchased for general domestic use after reading good reviews on its
performance in the Which? Magazine and also on Amazon. The Breville brand originated in Australia
but it is understood that in the European market the brand was owned by Jarden, a US company
who have recently sold it to Newell Brands, also in the USA. The toaster in question was
manufactured in China.
The VTT629 model was purchased from Amazon but it appears to be one variant in a range of very
similar looking toasters being sold in various outlets (e.g. John Lewis) (Photo 1). The different
versions have different model numbers with the same VTT prefix and have external cosmetic
differences but their overall appearance and functionality suggest that they are based on the same
internal design and are therefore quite likely to also exhibit the issues highlighted in this report.
The issues described in this report were discovered as a result of a problem caused by the
manufacturer’s fitting of a very short power cord to this toaster, only 65cm long; this is sufficient if
the appliance is located on a modern kitchen worktop with nearby power points but the cord was
not long enough to reach a low level socket near where the toaster was to be located in our house.
This itself is bad practice on the part of the manufacturer since it results in the use of extension
cords with plug/socket connections hanging in the air. The designers of the toaster had allowed for a
longer power cord because some moulded hooks on the underside of the toaster allow excess cord
to be stored safely out of sight where a nearby socket was available. Because of this issue I decided
to replace the existing cord with a longer one.

2. Safety Issues
Before replacing the power cord I made some checks on the performance of the toaster (particularly
its power consumption) so I could be sure of obtaining a cord of the correct electrical rating.
I initially used a plug-in watt meter (consumer standard) to monitor the power and found that with
both pairs of slots in use it was drawing 1800W (at an indicated mains voltage of 243V). This came as
a surprise as the appliance wattage shown on the rating plate on the underside of the toaster was
1650W (Photo 2). It appears that the 1650W rating is based on use of the appliance on a 220V
supply as is common in continental Europe; since European law now requires all domestic appliances
to be suitable for all countries in Europe I suspect this wattage rating is in breach of European law. In
fact in the UK at the maximum possible supply voltage of 253V the appliance will draw over 1800W,
well above the rating plate figure.
More accurate measurements of mains voltage and toaster element resistance values using a
professional quality multimeter suggested a worst-case power consumption is as high as 2000W, i.e.
a maximum current consumption of 7.9 amps. However when I dismantled the toaster to replace
the power cord I discovered that the existing power cord had 0.75mm2 cores and was therefore
rated at only 6 amps (Photo 3). This means that in the worst case in normal operation the maximum
current in the power cord could be exceeded by around 30% (it did become noticeably warm in
operation).
A potentially more serious issue is the fact that the plug fitted to the toaster cord has a 13 amp fuse;
it is not widely appreciated that the purpose of the UK plug fuse is to protect the power cord, not
the appliance. With a 13 amp fuse under certain fault conditions (for example a knife dropped into
one of the toaster slots and short-circuiting one of the elements) a fault current of 12A could flow
without blowing the fuse: this would result in the power cord rating being exceeded by 100% which
could constitute a serious fire hazard. The correct fuse rating for a 6 amp power cord is 5A but this
would have blown in normal operation of the toaster so could not be used.

3. Legal Aspects
The safety of UK domestic appliances is governed by the European ’Low Voltage Directive’ which is in
turn represented in UK law by the ’Electrical Equipment (Safety) Regulations 1994’ which reference
many other more detailed UK documents and standards covering different aspects of the
requirements. The European CE Mark is intended to act as a certificate that the above regulations
have been fully complied with.
The manufacturer of the product, Breville are primarily responsible for ensuring that anything they
put on the market adheres to the law. I suspect that the CE marking (which has to be overseen by an
independent certified laboratory) was subcontracted to the Chinese manufacturer of the product:
there have been many instances reported in recent years of electrical equipment entering the UK
with fake or otherwise invalid CE marking.
To me this looks like a major failure of safety regulation. It appears that Breville have been seriously
negligent in their duties towards consumer safety and should be required to implement a recall of all
products affected by this issue (this is certainly what would happen in the car industry). There should
also be an investigation of the bodies who are supposed to be regulating consumer products
electrical safety to see whether there is adequate oversight of what manufacturers are doing.”

I cannot comment on the legal side but my guess is that the size of the cable is the problem as it is a mismatch for the fuse and power. But I know nothing about electrics.

I am told that CE does mean Chinese Export but I feel this is untrue.

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Thanks Patrick. I have been concerned about inadequate mains leads since I discovered an Asda kettle with a very thin flexible cable in one of the rental properties owned by a friend. In use, the lead became slightly warm. Since then, I have seen plenty of examples of thin flex on kettles on display in shops. Kettles are normally rated at 2.5 – 3 kW.

Using a plug-in watt meter is OK but measuring the resistance with a multimeter is not, simply because the resistance of the heater (element) increases with temperature.

Here is a link to another Convo where it is stated that a 13 amp fuse is OK for a flexible cable with 0.75 square millimetre conductors rated at 6 amps. https://conversation.which.co.uk/home-energy/plugs-two-pin-british-amazon-electrical-appliances/#comment-1318459 This post was written by a Fellow of the IET. Here, 6 amps is the continuous rating and under fault conditions the current could be very much greater, but not for long enough to cause overheating. If I was replacing a cable I would always use one that was more substantial.

Most people are unaware that BS1362 fuses are available in ratings other than the common 3 and 13 amp sizes. The available ratings are 1, 2, 3, 5, 7, 10 and amps. Two suppliers that I have used are RS Components and CPC Farnell. Here are all the sizes shown on one page: https://www.tlc-direct.co.uk/Manufacturers/Telco/Plug_Top_Fuses/index.html Fitting the correct fuse will give maximum protection and minimise damage to electrical goods if a fault develops.

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At one time, nichrome wire was used in toasters and kettle elements. I don’t know about current practice – excuse the pun. One of the benefits of nichrome is the low temperature coefficient of resistance compared with other metals but there is still a slight increase in resistance with increasing temperature, decreasing the current. Patrick’s electrician will have overestimated the power used by the toaster by making a resistance measurement and the plug in wattmeter will probably give a more accurate figure.

I called in on a friend this morning and checked the fuse in a recent Russell Hobbs hand blender rated at 300 watts. I was not surprised to find a 13 amp fuse in the factory fitted moulded plug, despite the thin cable. I will fit a 2 amp fuse.

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Kettles (safety) are covered by the international safety standard issued in the UK as BS EN 60335 parts 1 and 2-9.
Power / current: the power at nominal supply voltage should be within 5% or 20W (whichever is the greater) of the declared power
or if current is declared (as on my kettle) then it should be within 5% or 0.1A of that declared.
The official European voltage (including the UK) is 230V, not 220V.
Given the (in)accuracy of measuring wattage with diy meters the power is not far off.

As for the connecting cord, the standard gives 0.75 sq mm as suitable for up to 10A (2300W) providing the length does not exceed 2m. I looked at my kettle (13A) and that has 1.0 sq mm conductors; the standard allows that size for up to 16A if <2m.

My experience of kettles is they generally have short cords – mine is around 600mm.

It seems that the kettle in question on these matters will comply with the standard.

0.75 sq mm 3 core can be used up to 10A, and 1.0 sq mm up to 16A, providing they do not exceed 2.0m in length.

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International Standards recognise the limits of supply voltage. In the UK this is 230V +10%-6% (216 – 253V)and all electrical appliances have to perform and be safe within this band. The safety standards carry out testing based upon what appliances will be subjected to in practice. When data is quoted at “nominal” voltage – such as conductor area in connection cords – it takes into account maximum voltage.

Standards do not ignore “real life” – quite the contrary. Many of the tests that are part of safety standards are done under the extreme conditions a product may (rarely) see, including high voltage, short circuited components, stalled motors and so on. They are very much based on “real life” possibilities that may never actually happen.

Patrick T told us that the flexible cable became warm in use and I have seen examples of this, including the one I mentioned above. I don’t support the use of barely adequate cables or other components in household goods, but it is an effective way of achieving greater profits.

Meanwhile, back on topic, there is still no requirement for tumble dryers to be able to contain a fire.

Thee safety standard for domestic electric appliances BS EN 60335-1 requires “Parts of non-metallic material shall be resistant to ignition and the spread of fire” and goes on into details of tests, including those for “unattended” appliances.

The question of whether an appliance can or should “contain” a fire (difficult for some such as a vented dryer) is one, as I have suggested before, that is best put to the Standards Authority (BSI in the UK’s case) either directly (I’ve given contact details) or through Which?, or a fire authority (the London Fire Brigade is seemingly represented on the relevant committee). We can exchange comments on Convos until the cows come home, but if action is deemed appropriate it can only be achieved by pursuing through those who can consider, investigate and recommend changes to the International committee.

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Am I correct in saying that there is no requirement to contain a fire, Malcolm? Either the standards don’t cover this or there is a significant problem with non-compliance. I would be interested to know why the need to contain a fire is debatable when achieving this could save people losing their homes, even their lives.

There are various approaches to containment of fires in vented tumble dryers, the additional danger being flames and heat emerging from the exhaust. To avoid setting the house on fire, one approach would be to have a similar arrangement to the flue on a solid fuel stove. I believe that plastic and foil vent tubes are commonly used in the UK, though I would love to be proved wrong.

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As I keep repeating Wavechange these are questions that need directing at those who put safety standards together. Talking does not achieve progress (why, after 14 months, are so many people still waiting for repairs by Whirlpool? Lots of talk from Which?, HMG and others but action….? Where is it?).

I have emailed CENELEC and BSI about tumble dryer safety issues to find out their views and what amendments might be contemplated (will I hear back? I’ll report). But why are Which? not doing this in the interests of consumers? Or maybe they are, in conjunction with BEUC, and keeping it quiet. Perhaps they might give us a hint.

If you think that is the best approach, Malcolm, I suggest that you do it rather than keep pushing me to take action. 🙁 As I see it, the current Whirlpool problem provides a good opportunity to look further and make appliances safer. My suggestion to BSI would be to require appliances to be manufactured with all-metal cases or an alternative that has been proven to be effective at containing fire. I have little doubt that this suggestion would go straight in the bin, so I’m not adopting this approach.

I would like to think that Which? would get involved in improvement in the design of appliances to make them safer, but it remains to be seen if that is within their remit. On the other hand, it seems likely that Which? will continue to be involved with the Whirlpool issue, given the number of recent Convos.

Duncan – Thanks for the information about the vent hose material. I am familiar with what you describe. I would be interested to know if current vent hoses used in the UK are made from flammable plastic and if not, whether they could survive flames passing through them.

I am not familiar with INCIT because IT was not a sector i was involved in, but it looks like the kind of organisation necessary, and works through IEC and ISO. I was thinking of organisations such as the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC), International Standards Organisation (ISO), CEN and CENELEC in Europe, supported by others such as the Underwriters Laboratory (UL) in North America.

My direct experience of standards preparation has been extremely positive. The organisations routinely monitor and update standards through working committees that consist of a broad spectrum of knowledgeable, innovative and open-minded individuals drawn from relevant organisations.

wavechange, thanks for the suggestion but I have already taken, and continue to try to take, action through the standards organisations and Which? when there are proposals that seem to warrant discussion. i am simply suggesting that you might also find that worthwhile. We both want improvements and someone has to push through any appropriate channels. Why let ideas just get lost in a Convo?

Which? should communicate consumer problems – such as safety issues – to the appropriate authorities. That is a way to improve “design”. I doubt it has any remit to directly become involved, nor would I imagine it has appropriate expertise. Involvement with the Whirlpool issue unfortunately seems not to be getting any action for consumers stuck waiting a year for repairs, not any form of compensation.

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Duncan – While following up one of your early posts on tumble dryers I found a US company offering various solutions to the problem with fires affecting vent hoses. I have seen the manual for a US dryer and that made it very clear that plastics must not be used. I checked three UK-based providers of spares and all they offered was plastic hoses.

I would be interested in finding information about the requirement of US appliances to be able to contain fire.

There are a couple of North America standards for electric dryers (rotary and static) – CSA C22.2 No 112-2015 @ $290 and UL 2158 @ $897 (the domestic dryer standard from BSI is £182). I haven’t been able to look at the detail in these, just a summary of changes since the previous edition and a table of contents for UL’s, which includes in the testing load fire containment and base fire containment. It also has a long section on polymeric materials (plastics) . UL issued a document a few years ago about containment of fires in dryers and as I said elsewhere I have passed this on the BSI and CENELEC to see if they will provide comments.

I looked at the UL website after learning about the requirement for appliances to contain fires and learned about the cost of obtaining a copy of the relevant document. I find it very sad that documents that relate to the safety of the public are not readily available to everyone.

A relatively small proportion of the public would make use of the documents in my view, particularly since so many standards are interlinked so a good deal of expertise is required to interpret them. Hence I feel that those who have a real and worthwhile interest could be served through an organisation they might belong to, whether a library or another one that has an online subscription such as Which? The cost of preparing many standards is recovered from very few sales, which probably accounts for the pricing necessary to sustain the institutions that look after the process. Industry, for example, already makes a huge free contribution to standards preparation by way of their experts contributions, research development and testing to support content, and so on. i would not like to see the taxpayer burdened any further.

I don’t know whether the fire containment is a compulsory or voluntary requirement. Perhaps someone with access to UL documents, or is familiar with the legislation in the US and Canada, could enlighten us.

In the case of standards related to household products, we – the consumers – are indirectly paying for these standards through buying goods made by the company, so once again I reject the argument regarding cost. I have also suggested how standards could be made freely available online using a different funding model. Essentially, the companies that produce goods that have to comply with the standards would pay for them.

I don’t want to be part of a dumbed down world where someone decides that things are too complex for the general public to understand.

Standards apply to many more things than “goods” as a glance at all the categories in the BSI shop will show. These all need funding. But I think we’ve taken this debate as far as we need; time will tell how access to standards will develop.

Many things are complex, and we will not all understand them. That is why we have knowledgeable people whose jobs are to look after such matters.

Until we see an end to homes being burned down because appliances fail to contain fires I will not have much respect for these knowledgeable people. We have many well educated people who are able to understand standards – if they have access to them.

Would you agree that it should be a requirement for appliances to be able to contain a fire?

I would ask experts about the practicality and effectiveness of any measures proposed so I can hopefully make an informed decision. That is why I have asked BSI and CENELEC. There are many situations where risks exist and we have to decide on how best to tackle them. Away from appliances for once, two-way roads where traffic has closing speeds of 120 mph, separated by just a few feet, with inexperienced or weak drivers, seems a nonsense proposal, and there are accidents caused by it. Should we ban such roads – it would certainly save lives? Trees at the side of roads cause fatalities – we could chop them down or put crash barriers in place – should we? We rely on people with knowledge and information to make judgements based on risk in all walks of life. I believe that whatever good ideas we think we have – and we all have them and hold them dearly – they need properly evaluating to ensure that they are sensible in practice.

Back to your question. I would like to know more about the causes of fire in tumble dryers, how the fire spreads, what materials would help, whether a fire could be truly contained (certainly in a vented dryer for example) and see the results of tests. But I am not an expert and even given this I would have no more than a better informed position that, as a scientist/engineer I would find helpful. If it were effective it would be a marketing advantage perhaps.

Unlike some, i do not have a cynical view of experts – whether in industry or academia, and would allow them to make decisions based upon their long-standing knowledge and expertise. Are we better placed than experts – lawyers, doctors, industry……- to make decisions? Constructive comments certainly, which is my route.

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Well said Duncan. Ever since I was a child I have had to put up with people saying that things will be too difficult to understand. 🙂

If US appliances are now designed to contain fire, I would be interested to know how well it works and how this has been achieved.

duncan, I am sure from your posts that you are one of those people who would understand standards and make informed commentsand for whom access would be beneficial. Many would not; that is not in any way to put down their abilities but like some can understand a fix things, some cannot – their abilities lie in different fields.

I’d be a little wary about living near you if you built a nuclear reactor though, with respect; I’d want you to know you were a fully qualified accredited expert and even then I’d prefer it if I was a long way away – nothing personal as you sound very nice. 🙂

I have not said that “things were too difficult to understand” but many people will not have the background to understand technical standards. 🙂 We presumably all want to see the safety of products improve so lets work towards that through whatever route works shall we?

I’d like Which? to be an active participant in this and a conduit to those bodies who can take action on the ideas that are generated.

Update on my recent comments .I advised Whirlpool on their free phone hotline 0800 1510905 extension 2 that I was today applying through the small claims court for a full refund of my original costs as despite going on the website to take advantage of the reduced price for a new machine that I was constantly told that none were available and to re apply. Within 10 minutes was contactedand my new machine will be delivered and fitted on the 17th January, also confirmed via email

Good for you Susan. Perhaps if more people had threatened to exercise their legal rights with their retailer in the first place, instead of being pushed from pillar to post, we might have had more action. Which? advised against this and here we are, 16 months later…………………………

The involvement of BSI in tumble dryer fires was discussed in the House of Lords earlier this year: http://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-question/Lords/2016-06-27/HL779/

To the best of my knowledge, there is still no standard that requires domestic appliances to be able to contain fires.

The “standards” for safety are not “voluntary”, they are mandatory. They don’t provide a “benchmark”, they provide the minimum standards for safety that appliances must be tested to, to allow them to be put on sale in the EU (by carrying a CE mark to show compliance). BSI do not have an involvement in tumble dryer fires directly of course, but they are one of the responsible organisations who look at any emerging safety problems and ways of tackling them.

I’d hope Which? might reply soon on their role in standards development.

Baroness Neville-Rolfe may be aware that a CE mark is simply a declaration of compliance rather than an indication that a new product has been independently tested.

A CE mark is a declaration that the product complies with the relevant standards required by the EU to allow them to be put on sale. Non-compliance (fraudulent claim) is a serious legal offence, which is why countries have authorities to police the system.

Many products will be independently tested; this is essential if they are to carry the national mark, such as BSI’s Kite Mark, or the European ENEC mark. Look for these on products and literature. However, none of this stops criminal companies which is why we need an effective Trading Standards operation to police the system.

The British Standards Institution is a private organisation and as such is exempted from Freedom of Information requests. I believe that this is very wrong.

As I have said many times on these pages, British Standards should be available online to the general public. The production and maintenance of standards is funded by industry but in the case of household products the funding comes indirectly from the public.

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I don’t know, Duncan. I have just checked the cost of buying a copy of a scientific paper from the British Library at Boston Spa. An encrypted download would cost me £33.42, or about £39 by snail mail, which is cheap in comparison with British Standards.

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A copy of the following document currently costs £182
BS EN 60335-2-11:2010+A1:2015. Household and similar electrical appliances. Safety. Particular requirements for tumble dryers
In order to make effective use of a standard it is necessary to refer to other documents.

I believe the public should have easy access to documents that lay down safety requirements and should be invited to make an input into improving these standards.

Thanks for looking at the costs of documents in the US, Duncan.

It won’t happen, so you need to find an alternative. Have you also asked Which? for them to arrange access, as I have done (assuming you are a Which? member)?

“should be invited to make an input”. It is organisations that make an input (internationally as well as in the UK) to standards, and these organisations appoint experts to contribute to the relevant committees. Those organisations represent many different interests, including consumer interests. Anyone can make representations to their particular organisation on a matter of concern.

Consumers are represented and Which? is one of the organisations listed as a member of that group for electrical domestic appliances. If they are an active participant, as I hope, then they should listen to, collate, consider and put forward those items that they regard as appropriate. Those who consider Citizens Advice has a valid role as a filter to decide what goes to Trading Standards might see this approach as appropriate. Perhaps ask Which? what they do in this regard – I’ve had no response so far. If they have no participation then maybe they could advise which other consumer body should be approached to represent our interests. You can, of course, approach the BSI committees directly through their secretaries.

These aren’t free then either? Do you think they should be? Should Which? reports all be free to all as well – in the consumers’ interests? I would expect these are far more relevant to many more people than are international standards.

I have mentioned my support for open source publication of scientific papers several times, Malcolm. This allows everyone free access to information and simply requires a different funding model. There are still traditional journals that have to be paid for but we are moving in the right direction. If you or a member of your problem had an unusual medical condition that you wanted to find out about, open access journals would make that easy.

I have also suggested that Which? should make all safety related information freely available. Which? currently makes information about ‘Don’t Buy’ smoke alarms freely available. I would prefer everyone to be told about the ‘Best Buys’ too. Do you think it’s right that Which? should withhold information related to safety?

“Do you think it’s right that Which? should withhold information related to safety?” Do they? Have you some examples? I sincerely hope not. I would expect them to report any demonstrable safety concerns to the appropriate authority.

I have given the example of smoke alarms, where I feel that the report on these important safety devices should be freely available and not restricted to subscribers.

I have learned that in the US, new appliances are required to be able to contain fires. Hopefully the recently formed Working Group on Product Recalls and Safety will debate the need for similar legislation in the UK. https://www.gov.uk/guidance/product-safety-working-group

Interesting feedback from the US Consumer Products Safety Commission (2011):
“Maintenance indicators could be used to remind consumers to clean inside the dryer chassis and dryer duct. Counting dryer loads is one easy method that can be translated to an indicator to remind consumers when a task needs to be performed—check and clean the exhaust exit, exhaust duct, and inside the dryer cabinet.
An “abnormal operations” indicator could provide consumers with information about a potentially
hazardous condition. Normally, clothes that do not dry may be the only indication to a consumer that a
dryer is not operating correctly. The dryer can enter into a high-limit cycling mode due to a number of
conditions, including: dryer overload; a blocked exhaust duct; or a blocked lint screen. Feedback on the
status of the high-limit thermostat would be a valuable indicator that service of the dryer system is
necessary.”

It is very disappointing that Which? do not seem to be represented in the membership of this working group.

I presume that any recommendations that relate to products will go through BSI to CENELEC for consideration as we subscribe to a “harmonised standards” principle that applies throughout Europe.

So we have Margot James MP as a Consumer Minister. I wonder just how much attention consumers will receive? Perhaps I am being unfair. I wonder what Which? think.

The GOV.UK website says:

Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, Minister for Small Business, Consumers and Corporate Responsibility

The Parliamentary Under Secretary of State supports the Minister for Climate Change and Industry.

Responsibilities include:

small business (including the Small Business Commissioner, Groceries Code Adjudicator, Pubs Code Adjudicator)
enterprise and British Business Bank
retail sector
consumer and competition (including energy retail markets, competition law and Companies House)
deregulation and regulatory reform
labour markets including trade union and employment law
corporate governance
local growth
Insolvency service
Land Registry
Ordnance Survey
postal affairs
Royal Mail
EU structural funds
national minimum wage

Counting cycles is not the best solution, in my view. Towels, for example, produce a great deal of lint. I would prefer some form of interlock that requires users to service the filter before each cycle, which is hardly an onerous task. A high-limit switch is not a thermostat but a safety device. If they do cycle the contacts can weld and the last line of defence is the thermal fuse.

I have passed a report from the Underwriters Laboratory relating to dryer safety to BSI and CENELEC (the European Committee for Electrotechnical Standardisation) to see what they make of it and whether amendments to the EN standard are under consideration.

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Thanks Duncan. It will take a lot to convince me that any type of plastic that is currently used in heat hoses or casing parts can contain a fire.

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PVC is polyvinyl chloride and the monomer used in its manufacture is vinyl chloride. Some plastics do indeed produce some very dangerous fumes, including fire retardant plastics. I have just receive a Christmas card from a retired firefighter who had to retire early because of smoke inhalation.

I have been looking at my the extractor hood above my hob. It is not in line with the vent in the outside wall and there is a short length of wire-reinforced plastic hose. I assume that this was supplied with the Bosch extractor hood but cannot be sure because I inherited it with the house. I tested a sample of the plastic and it burned producing smoke. I’m not concerned because I don’t deep fry anything, but here is another example of inappropriate use of plastic that could help spread fire.

Just for interest, some information on pvc and its fire properties: http://www.pvc.org/en/p/fire-retardant-properties

Whatever the author of the article may believe, hydrogen chloride produced by PVC in fires is a very serious problem. PVC is one of a family of halogenated plastics that don’t burn readily but produce toxic fumes. It’s not just the basic plastic but additives such as plasticisers that contribute to the danger.

I wonder how many people read their dryer’s instructions, or remember them. Perhaps they should be printed on fire-resistant plastic and stored in a clear holder on the front of the machine. Particularly relevant are cleaning requirements and the sort of articles not to put in the drier – particularly those contaminated that could spontaneously combust. Whenever I treat furniture with oil I lay the rags out flat outside to dry off as the oil can oxidise in a way that causes combustion – much worse in a heated dryer if you’ve got oil on clothing. Given the circumstances this is a bit poignant (is that the word?):
http://docs.hotpoint.eu/_doc/19511812601_GB.pdf

Both myself and my friend had one of the whirlpool dryers .Then one Monday morning I got a text message from my friend saying hers was smoking when her husband looked into it the wires were melting made contact with the frim .And was they was to turn it of and a engineer would call soon .myself being disabled was straight on the phone saying I could not do anything if mine caught fire on which they said if I paid £ 90 they would get a new one to me within the week .So I took them up on that to feel safe .My friend had to pay for the work to be done as it was out of warranty but at least she is safe now .

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Thanks Duncan. I have seen an a US instruction manual that clearly indicated that metal (but not aluminium) is essential for tumble dryer vents.

Here is another example, with a couple of videos, highlighting inappropriate use of plastic in fridges and freezers: http://www.london-fire.gov.uk/news/LatestNewsReleases_Fridgefreezerdelayputtinglivesatrisk.asp#.WEshXbTA5E4

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I do hope common sense will prevail. Had the Whirlpool dryers been built with all-metal cases, a lint fire could have been contained. Homes and lives could have been saved.

There are a great many benefits to using plastics, so I’m interested in knowing more about why these fires occurred and, in particular, whether the plastics used meet the requirements of the Standard that specifies non-metallic materials that are resistant to burning. Rather than close my mind to solutions I’d like to explore the problem and find methods to improve safety. So input from plastics experts would be valuable.

I neither make domestic appliances nor plastics components so I have no axe to grind. I have repeatedly suggested that a suspect Indesit dryer should be examined against the standard to see if it fully complies. Doing so would either expose weaknesses in the Indesit product, or changes that need to be made to the standard.

I am a plastics enthusiast, Malcolm, but they need to be used in an appropriate way for appliances to be safe. If an appliance is reliably able to contain fire – for example being enclosed in an all-metal case – then it probably does not matter how much plastic is inside or outside, but obviously that would need to be confirmed by tests under standard conditions.

Another example of inappropriate use of plastics was in Bosch dishwashers, also marketed under the Neff and Siemens brands. I remember the publicity when over half a million of these machines had not been modified and many would still be in use. As I understand it, the problem was a faulty connection behind the plastic control panel. For many years it has been possible to use low voltage/low current electronics for control purposes, so the risk of fire in control panels could have been avoided by good design. The mains switch presents a challenge but that could be safely inside the metal case and operated mechanically from the control panel via a rod – a system that has been widely used in commercial electronics for years, albeit for reasons other than fire containment.

The current standard also requires that plastics used near electrical items are non-flammable. I don’t know if it was an amendment that was prompted by such a problem – amendments to standards are regularly made – without trawling through the superseded versions.

Here is a photo of one of the affected dishwashers: https://www.google.co.uk/url?sa=i&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=images&cd=&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=0ahUKEwjvycmqx-nQAhVBfhoKHS7yCwwQjRwIBw&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.saferproducts.gov%2FViewIncident%2F1170827&psig=AFQjCNG_n-A3nGmO8xlE8hYHrdEmry5oTw&ust=1481456948032440

In this case the fire either did not spread or was put out, but these machines were responsible for people losing their homes in fires.

I fully appreciate that standards are updated but the evidence is that this has been inadequate. Mistakes will be made, as in the design of the machines in the Whirlpool portfolio, but had the cases been designed to contain fire, disasters could have been avoided.

“The current standard also requires that plastics used near electrical items are non-flammable. ” This is certainly worthwhile but my point is that this is enough. If the US has a requirement for appliances to contain fire, should we not do the same in the UK and Europe?

Edit: The link I have posted refers to a US website, but the dishwasher looks very similar to those sold in the UK.

After learning that in America, new appliances have to be able to contain fire, I have started to look at what is happening there. Here is a 2011 report that makes some references to the use of plastics: http://library.ul.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/40/2015/02/UL_WP_Final_Reducing-Injury-and-Damage-Related-to-Electric-Dryer-Fires_v2_HR.pdf

To quote from the conclusion of this 2011 document: The fire containment testing included in the revised version of UL 2158, Electric Clothes Dryers, will impose new requirements for appliance manufacturers seeking UL certification now through the effective date of March 20, 2013, when all UL Certified electric clothes dryers will need to have demonstrated compliance with the fire containment tests. In addition to the lengthy review process required to assess compliance with the revised Standard, research by UL and others has shown that a significant number of current clothes dryer designs are unlikely to pass the recently added fire containment tests without some product modifications.

The document contains various references to plastics and polymeric materials, and it is suggested that they may need to be replaced by metal.

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I am not sure why the document refers to both plastics and polymeric materials without defining these terms, though everyday thermoplastic and thermosets can contain a substantial amount of other components, some of which will contribute to the toxicity of smoke produced by a fire.

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I know nothing about US law and I’m going to focus on the practical issues. I am well aware that the design of household goods has improved in many ways over the years. The only time I have had to deal with a fire in an appliance was in an old CRT TV with a line output transformer with wax-impregnated windings. As was normal it was in a metal case to protect engineers from the very high voltage, but this did not fully encase the transformer and the two valves and was perforated for cooling purposes. Modern equipment does not use wax-impregnated components and flat-screen TVs have no requirement for very high voltages.

My aim is not to discredit manufacturers in general but to focus on obvious weaknesses. I would love to promote good safety features in design of household goods. We could do with input from a field service engineer who has first hand experience of good and bad design.

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Indeed. I have watched arcing too several times. In the early days of colour TV when voltages of 25.5 kV were used, Which? published an extraordinary statistic about the number of fires.

Meanwhile, back with white goods, ventilation used to cool motors and other components obviously limits the ability of cases to contain fire. Many appliances had an open base allowing air to enter and feed the fire. The risk of fire spreading obviously becomes greater if the appliance has a plastic control or lid, allowing the casing to act like a chimney, drawing in more air from the base. Manufacturers of smaller electrical goods have developed alternative ways of cooling, and perhaps they could be used in the design of white goods.

I would be interested to know how new US appliances are designed to contain fire and how effective this is in practice.

This is the document I passed to BSI and CENELEC a few days ago for comment. I don’t know how this is implemented in North America, nor its impact. I am hoping our standards authorities might reply.

We cannot even make a Freedom of Information request to BSI because it is a company. This must change, in my view.

You can ask them a question by email. Why is an FOI necessary/ Are they withholding information?

I have never made an FOI request but am well aware of examples where they have been used very successfully obtain information that should have been public knowledge. That information was not provided when simple requests were made. I very much agree that an email would be the the best approach, Malcolm.

I have no reason to suppose that BSI is withholding information but I do not understand why an organisation that has an important role in public safety should be exempted from FOI requests. I believe that the role of BSI should NOT be performed by a commercial organisation.

In the previous Convo about the Whirlpool problem the introduction mentions a petition for the affected machines to be officially recalled. At present, Whirlpool has only issued a safety warning that indicates that affected machines can continue to be used under supervision. London Fire Brigade has asked for a recall and MP Andy Slaughter made the petition after a major fire in a tower block in his Hammersmith constituency.

Here is the petition: https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/169835

A “recall” only works if all affected customers can be contacted, which they cannot. I’m also not sure what it means – those customers who have contacted Whirlpool are still not having repairs carried out. So what do we think a “recall” means?

What needs to happen is for customers to be instructed not to use a suspect machine – either by direct contact or through the media – and for Whirlpool to be given a deadline (not too long) for either repairing, replacing, or providing a cash settlement to all affected customers so they can dry their clothes safely. Compensation for any unreasonable time without a machine, inconvenience and expenses, should also be included. We (well they – I don’t have one of these dryers) need action, not petitions.

We needed action this action a year ago, but for many it has not been forthcoming. I have signed the petition and am very grateful that an MP is prepared to take action.

I, and others, have been pressing for action for months from, among others, Which? and Trading Standards. The Government’s BEIS have twice written to Whirlpool. So “grateful that an MP is prepared to take action.”. Just what “action” do we expect? I don’t think we should hold our breath. Perhaps we should ask Nigel to approach Whirlpool in the USA; he seems to have contacts.

Consumers or retailers could boycott Whirlpool products of course until a satisfactory resolution is achieved. Perhaps we should form a “Consumers Union” that takes direct action collectively on issues that are agreed to be important. Seems the only way to change things. Can be misused of course by those in charge.

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I could not get Duncan’s link to work but I think this is the relevant page since it mentions dryer fires being classified as electric fires. 🙁 https://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billTextClient.xhtml?bill_id=201520160AB1411

It seems vague and although the need to get users to clean the lint filter is highlighted, it does not consider the possibility of using some form of interlock to ensure this is done before the machine can be started. There is reference to the recent fire containment standard but I have not been able to track this down to find details of the new requirement.

Thanks for posting the link to the dryer instruction leaflet, Duncan. I’ve seen something similar but forgot to post a link or bookmark it. It looks like we have some catching up to do in the UK.

That’s interesting duncan. Just back from a pre-Christmas turkey dinner so I’ll look at it tomorrow. I wondered whether the UL requirements or recommendations were mandatory. If a new safety requirement is included in an EN standard there is a changeover period to allow existing products to be sold but then the requirement is mandatory throughout all 28 EU states – a product can only be sold legally if it meets the Standard. I don’t know whether it works this way in the States.

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Here are details of the recent update to UL 2158, the US standard for clothes dryers: http://www.intertek.com/standards-updates/ul-2158-electric-clothes-dryers/

I am very disappointed. Testing appears to involve simulating various fault conditions, but containment of an actual fire is not tested. In my view, properly designed standards should include testing of whether a dryer can contain a fire deliberately started in accumulated lint in the internal ducting or started within the casing.

I wonder how many of the experts that produce and update standards have worked as field service engineers on current appliances. In theory you could teach someone to drive by explaining the theory but it is generally agreed that practical experience is also necessary.

The testing involves using cheesecloth – very flammable apparently – in the drum in a defined amount, and wrapping cheesecloth around the exterior of the casing. The drum contents are ignited with a gas torch and one test is to see whether the external wrap catches fire. That seems a very practical test to me, bearing in mind that testing has to be repeatable under consistent conditions for it to be used in a compliance standard on a pass or fail criterion.

The standards committees I was involved in included “practical”and experienced people. The testing specified in standards involves practical repeatable testing using specified conditions and equipment to simulate the kind of safety problems likely to occur in practice under abnormal conditions.

The fact remains that tumble dryers and other appliances are causing house fires. That demonstrates to me that the current standards are either inadequate or there are compliance problems – or both.

I wonder if the tests involve setting light to lint that has been allowed to accumulate to the extent that it comes close to the heater. My understanding is that this is a common cause of tumble dryer fires. I acknowledge that this is not the easiest test to carry out under standard conditions but it could be of value.

In some cases there will be fires that cannot be blamed on poor design. For example, I know someone who nearly had a fire when the pet hamster escaped and gnawed the mains cable of the fridge-freezer.

Please don’t assume that I don’t value standards, Malcolm. Nothing could be further from the truth, but when tumble dryers have been causing house fires for decades I believe more should be done to tackle the problem.

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I smiled when I saw the highlighted statement that drops of solder are not considered to be molten metal but I wonder if the low temperature alloys used for electrical/electronic construction would cause ignition rather than charring.

We need to understand exactly what causes tumble dryer fires – or indeed those in any other household appliances – and the proportion of each occurrence against the 13 million or so in satisfactory operation. Unfortunately we can never guard against every occurrence – hamsters included – as appliances will always be misused, have an inherent defect in individual examples, have been inadvertently damaged. I have some faith that those who put standards together and continually amend them are acting in our interests and have the abilities to do so.

The picture of a vast quantity of accumulated lint in the dryer shows either a dreadfully faulty drier of inadequate design or one that has somehow been abused. I doubt that any of the remedies suggested in the Convo could deal with it; redesign seems the necessary course of action but what bothers me is that this can have been around for so long without detection. I think more facts are needed to make rational decisions on progress. One difficulty with standards is predicting long-term problems, although accelerated testing does a lot in this regard. That is one reason standards are regularly reviewed so that problems that come to light can then be examined and mitigating measures incorporated.

Presumably the significance of some molten metal is that it happens at and represents high temperatures and can spread fire, whilst solder melts at a much lower temperature.

It is necessary to read standards in full and with their supporting standards to understand why they are written in the way that they are. I haven’t asccess to these so can only offer a view.

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Duncan mentions the possibility of taking action against companies that have failed to act promptly where a safety issue is known. It was the same with the risk of fire with large numbers of Bosch/Neff/Siemens dishwashers, where machines manufactured between 1999 and early 2005 were affected.

Whirlpool issued a safety notices that indicated that affected machines can continue to be used provided that the lint filter is cleaned each time the machine is used and the machine is not left unattended. That has been challenged by the London Fire Brigade and could be the basis for a prosecution. Maybe Whirlpool should lose its licence to sell goods until they have addressed the ongoing problems.

Enjoying a pre-Christmas drink in the local micro-pub I overheard a discussion about tumble dryers. One of the group of three was an experienced firefighter who will be retiring soon. He was well aware of the Whirlpool issue and shared my concerns about use of plastics in the casing of tumble dryers. I was told that the base of most dryers is open so that when the plastic burns or melts the casing acts like a chimney. I also learned that plastic hoses are still in widespread use in vented tumble dryers.

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That seems likely, Duncan, but I think it was John who pointed out that plastic might be chosen for the sake of appearance. I believe that the industry has a lot to answer for.

Yes, Wavechange – that was a long time ago in one of the first Conversations on this subject. I think there is also a practical point though, and that is that plastic lends itself far better to a flexible vent pipe. Since many tumble dryer owners only deploy the vent pipe when they operate the machine and then dangle it out of the window or an adjacent external doorway the flexible qualities of plastic are more suitable. A thin corrugated metal pipe would be more prone to damage with repeated uncoiling and temporary placement in a window or door opening. Ideally the machine should be attached to a fixed metal vent pipe that is taken out through the wall in a permanent fixture with a shuttered cover plate [the vanes only opening when air is being emitted]. For people who live in flats and some other forms of housing [for example, tenanted property] putting a hole through the wall might not be an option. I believe there must be a safety-engineering solution to this problem but the manufacturers have not put enough energy into finding it.

These are important practical points. Perhaps we could look at how other safety issues have been dealt with.

At one time, unflued gas water heaters were used in homes. I don’t remember them but recall a row of unflued Ascot heaters in the laundry room at a static caravan site in the early 70s. They were generally safe if properly installed and serviced, but have been phased out because of the danger of carbon monoxide poisoning. Mains distribution boards with RCDs and circuit breakers have replaced fuse boxes. Cars design has evolved to include a requirement for many safety features. Perhaps vented tumble dryers should be phased out unless they can be installed with permanent metal flue. Duncan posted about a manufacturer’s installation instructions earlier. Unless this can be done, condenser dryers and heat pump dryers seem better solutions, and I prefer the latter design because it does not contain a high temperature heater.

I see reasons why any tumble dryer should have a low temperature heater; nothing special about heat pumps. That would reduce the risk of a fire caused by the dryer. it would not banish the risk of fires caused by misuse – clothes overheating if the drier cycle is terminated before it has completed, or drying contaminated clothes. Drying times would presumably be much longer. Would that be acceptable to the consumer in exchange for enhanced safety or should it simply be made mandatory through the Standard? However this is not the only (and may not be the main) cause of fires.

Solutions to make dryers safer need to be properly tested and shown to be practical and effective. I referred earlier to work done by Underwriters Laboratory in America on materials and fire containment in dryers. This kind of investigation is necessary to see if good ideas can be turned into practical solutions. I have written to UL to see how their recommendations have been implemented by manufacturers and whether they have been effective in practice. I have also written to BSI to see whether the IEC have given consideration to the UL approach and whether amendments to the standard are being considered. Will they respond? I’ll let you know.

However, rather than simply complaining about the lack of progress I would rather Which? followed this line; improvements to dryer safety is the outcome most of us want. The Whirlpool issue is only part of the problem. @patrick, are Which? actively pursuing the UL approach and talking to the relevant committee in BSI?

There are various benefits of heat pump dryers. As far as I know, they are the only low temperature dryers currently available and retailers offer a good range of models. Because of the low temperature, stopping the dryer mid-cycle is NOT a fire risk. A blocked lint filter would decrease the efficiency of the dryer but should not be a fire risk.

Despite the lower temperature, drying performance is satisfactory and heat pump dryers are more economical to run. The cost will come down as their popularity increases.

We need to get on and make all appliances able to contain fires. My view remains that all-metal cases are the best solution.

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The air circulating system of a tumble dryer should be separate from the casing, Duncan. Earlier we had an example of accumulation of lint in a casing but something must have gone wrong. Neither the casing nor the circulating system needs to be totally sealed, just closed enough to ensure that a fire that starts will have insufficient oxygen to continue and spread.

In a vented dryer any volatile chemicals that come off the clothes will be expelled through the outlet duct or hose. With a condenser dryer these chemicals would circulate and – as you say – could cause an explosion, the ignition source being either the powerful electric heater or static electricity.

Thanks for the link. Here is one from Consumer Reports: http://www.consumerreports.org/cro/2012/08/truths-and-myths-of-dryer-fires/index.htm
The video stresses the importance of a metal vent duct to contain fire.

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I have little sympathy for Whirlpool because of their approach to tackling the problems with modifying dryers and the way consumers have been treated. I have more sympathy with them in inheriting a problem from Indesit, and making public the problem after discussing the problem with Trading Standards for around 3 months. What puzzles me is since this problem apparently had existed for 11 years, why no one had done anything about it or investigated it much earlier as a possible problem. No authority (fire?), no consumers’ organisation, no trading standards…….. I must have missed something in this story.

When there is a problem with commercial products, informing the public could be costly and releasing information could impact on profits. Maybe the company has been accumulating information for years. That’s a speculation and I have no evidence to support it, but we have seen examples of this in the case of agricultural pesticides and suppression of adverse drug trials. Had information been publicly available earlier action could have been taken. I strongly believe that companies should be required to make all concerns known to a body that is independent from the commercial world.

If these products were exceptionally prone to fire then that would be public knowledge in the 12 years since they have been made, both by the consumers who were concerned enough reporting them, by fire authorities investigating fires, and perhaps even by vigilant testers. I do not see that manufacturers can suppress information about fires if they were well above the norm. So the question I asked was why was this only apparent after 12 years? Did it take that long for all these defective appliances to suddenly go up in flames?

I do get the discontent over this but, some perspective from the other side.

First off let me start by telling you I am no fan of Whirlpool not they of myself, let’s just leave it at, we don’t see eye to eye on a range of issues. Believe me, if they do something wrong I’m the first one on the soapbox!

But to state that, “it’s unacceptable that Whirlpool is still failing consumers” is really untrue.

Attention grabbing headline maybe but, not actually factually correct in my view.

Whirlpool bought the problem, I suspect without prior knowledge of it even existing. They identified it and took quite a bold move to do something about it. That decision has cost them dearly.

Does anyone really believe that had Whirlpool not bought Indesit that Indesit would have done anything? I mean, after all, they didn’t for over a decade and I wouldn’t think they had any plans to do much of anything about it.

So Whirlpool roll into town, find that there is a potential issue and do what they can to fix it.

They initiate the largest recall the industry has ever seen bar none at a monumental cost to the company, estimates so far run to £200 million spent and at least two to three times that to spend over the next year or two. Plus the damage and fallout from the press on top.

Since it’s a lot of the regulars here, keep in mind what I’ve said elsewhere about the decline in repairers.

Even if they brought every independent on board, their own staff and a few others then ran 24/7 it’d take over a year to modify them all.

They simply have not the capacity to go faster. Nobody does. Even the entire industry combined couldn’t move faster.

Give everyone a new dryer I hear people cry.

Well, see there’s a finite amount sold every year so production schedules (as many will know) are set many, many months in advance often a year or more. The bought in components ordered, raw materials, production scheduling all done and so on.

You can’t just flick a switch and hey presto there’s thousands and thousands of more machine available.

Everyone in that whole supply chain has to be able to fulfil the requirements and, bottom line is, they can’t. All it takes is one outside source to say “no” and you’re stuffed.

Refunds, a total nightmare to administer and verify or you’re open to fraudulent claims and before anyone says anything, it can and does happen. That’s even before we get into the whole thing about recession and depreciation for fair use if they went down that road.

And the best of it is, all this because people don’t clean the filter.

There’s nothing to go on fire in a tumble dryer of any note, only what you put in it and what builds up in it therefore this can happen to any tumble dryer at all save perhaps heat pump ones as they don’t get hot enough and, take hours to dry which people also complain about.

Every single day the repairers attend warranty calls for people that swear they clean the filter/s regularly and, those are usually the ones that will be found to be full of stuff. Then people kick off when they get charged for it.

Funnily enough a thing we joke about here in the office every other day is that all the machines that have a problem are “maintained in accordance with the manufacturer instructions” when they go wrong. Our standing joke being that, the ones that are mistreated must all be good then so they must be brilliant products.

K.

If you look back at my comments on the various Whirlpool Convos you will see I have said exactly the same – and as I said in my previous comment I sympathise with Whirlpool’s predicament having inherited the problem. I have also said that elsewhere there are not the resources to repair quickly. However, they have advised owners to use unsafe machines, against fire authority advice, they have not compensated owners for the inconvenience of long-delayed repairs, they have not offered owners compensation. to my knowledge, to help towards buying another make of dryer, and to my knowledge there are plenty still on the market. Perhaps they did not do enough due diligence when buying Indesit? I also criticise Trading Standards in Peterborough for not being more robust in dealing with Whirlpool. No one (well not many) seem happy with their performance.

Rather like VW, I expect the US would have required a much better and consumer-focused approach including appropriate compensation.

Compensation for what?

The machines work and, if maintained correctly, will do as intended barring normal run of the mill faults.

Unlike VW people were not lied to or misled in any way here and Whirlpool gained no benefit either, unlike VW.

K.

I was under the impression that many thousands of these machines were a fire risk, should not be left unattended, and that one or more fire authorities have said they should not be used at all until they are repaired. If that is true, then that is why I suggest compensation, for people who may have to make other arrangements to dry clothes for example.

If these machines have, as it seems, a design defect that over the years has allowed a build up of lint in places where it might catch fire, and if you have been using one of these for a number of years, I don’t see how suddenly starting to clean the filter is going to prevent the existing excessive lint from possibly igniting.

We also need to approach this problem positively and look at how future tumble dryer construction can be improved, and whether testing could simulate any problems with lint building up in unsafe places. Low temperature heaters – presumably why you feel heat-pump dryers are safer – could be used in any dryer, albeit with longer drying cycles.

They are a fire risk if they’ve not been maintained and the thing is full of lint yes.

If not and maintained correctly as instructed then no, they’re not.

Our standing advice is that no appliance should be left running unattended as in, in outbuilding (which gives a heap of other dangers), when in bed, when out and so forth as, simple common sense dictates that is potentially dangerous.

But, like being told not to leave your car running to heat up on winter mornings as it’s dangerous, inefficient and someone might nick it, many people still do it regardless.

If the lint is not allowed to increase and reach the heater through correct use then Whirlpool are correct, it should not be an issue.

If people ignore that, it is.

The LFB I disagree with here and that is unusual as the advice they are giving is in my opinion way OTT. What the motive is for that I have my suspicions but from a technical standpoint I feel it wrong.

And you’ll note that no results on the investigation into the one that caused that in the London tower block other than, the fire started in the dryer.

Tell me please Mr LFB, what was the fuel and how did the dryer actually cause that? As yet, no details other than scary pictures of a burned out dryer and the assertion that the dryer was to blame yet no explanation of how that is.

Dryers get hot. There’s not really any way round that.

Things that get hot will all too often have the possibility that they might, due to grease, fluff, detritus and so on in or on them be the catalyst to an ignition. To leave such things running unattended is, to my mind, somewhat crazy.

Worse with these things, people put them in cold damp conditions and then walk away.

By the time a problem is noticed the place is often razed to the ground.

Importantly, that isn’t a problem with the product or its operation.

Now they all have overheat safety stats and also a cool down phase that you have to run or you’ll blow the one-shot safety stat. People don’t bother to follow the instructions, open the door “to see if it’s dry” it pops the stat that’s there to protect them then complain bitterly about the design, they should be able to do that.

If you accept that argument and shift the safety to accommodate that user behaviour then the stat trips later, meaning more risk of ignition. Which flavour would sir prefer, convenience or safety?

That’s another chuckle for me with these fires, every single one of those dryers has a safety stat, as soon as the temp gets over about 105-130˚C that stat will cut all power to the element and, it will blow if you open the door too soon it’s that sensitive. So for them to continue like a raging inferno it can *only* be what’s already it it on fire. Then after that the wiring will melt (by design) as well as the mains filter tripping the mains so long as it’s on an RCD and cut all power.

The redundant safety is actually pretty good.

I think about the only way you’d improve it is to build in a fire suppression system. Good luck with that as it will make the machines a non-standard size and hike the price about 3-400%.

Another top daft thing people do is go do some DIY and such then throw overalls in the dryer, covered in flammable residues. We’ve seen that a number of times, car bodyshop staff, painters etc are good at doing that and the clothing goes up. Not a fault with the dryer again.

People continually dry plastic backed mats and such, not a problem with the dryer but a fire about to happen.

Unsuitable to dry items another top one, they go on fire, low ignition point!

My point is that in the absence of solid hard evidence and with the odds massively in favour of these instances being down to user error in one form or another I do not accept that the dryer is the problem or at least, it is not the conclusion I would jump to with no evidence to support that claim. As, to date and I’ve seen a good number of tumble dryer fires over the years, I have not seen one that was caused by the machine without one or more of the above turning out to be the actual reason for the problem.

Heat pump dryers are safer but they come with a whole heap of other troubles.

You see the filters that people don’t clean, well if you don’t clean them religiously on a heat pump dryer you’ll either fry it, blow the stats or it’ll operate worse than it does out the box.

And when it does break, expect a big bill as they’re all a complete nightmare to repair with multiple complete assemblies that are all hideously expensive.

The biggest single problem with tumble dryers I’ve seen across countless thousands of service calls is the user, you can’t repair that and you can’t design it out entirely either.

K.

Maybe heat-pump dryers are the way forward on grounds of improved safety. More complicated but established technology and no high temperatures, unlike condenser and vented dryers. I accept that people should clean their lint filters but accept that it does not always happen. I don’t know what happens if the lint filter of a heat-pump dryer is not cleaned. It will become less efficient but would it become a fire hazard?

We have moved forward in so many ways. When I was a child I had an electric radiant heater with bare elements behind the bars. I was aware of the dangers if I touched the elements or knocked it over. It was replaced by a new-fangled fan heater, which I still use in the garage – nearly 60 years later. Somewhere I have a spare non-resettable thermal cutout.

My issue with heat pumps are legion. 😉

They are energy efficient at point of use but, in production not. They are heavier so need more energy to move. They are extremely sensitive to maintenance as in, don’t do it the efficiency goes South fast. They take an age to dry.

As components are more expensive and, not maintained especially, the compressor will overheat and burn out, they get scrapped a lot. Negating any perceived benefit at any rate.

But even if you use the manufacturers optimistic projected ten year lifespan and compare typical use then energy over the life you’ll find that owners don’t save anything financially and more likely a big cost and, in terms of environmental impact it’s a negative.

In high volume situations they can make sense, not all but much, much more than they do in a normal domestic setting.

But the advert says…

K.