/ Home & Energy

Is your Whirlpool tumble dryer a fire-risk?

It’s been three years since we first published our concerns with Whirlpool’s tumble dryer safety fault affecting five million of its machines in the UK, yet we still have serious concerns with the company’s handling of the issue.

Our concerns centre on two key aspects of the modification programme, rolled out by Whirlpool in response to the safety issue:

Firstly, we were extremely disappointed to learn that, according to the company’s latest estimate, there could still be up to 500,000 at-risk (unmodified) machines in homes across the UK.

This means thousands of people with potentially dangerous products that they use every day in their homes.

These machines need to be found. Whirlpool must identify and make safe these fire-risk appliances as a matter of urgency. Do you agree the company should be doing more to reach affected customers?

Modification concerns

Secondly, since we first uncovered concerns with the modification in April 2018, we’ve heard from Whirlpool customers who have told us that they have experienced issues with their supposedly made-safe, modified dryers, including fires and smoke.

In some cases, the customer has provided evidence to us suggesting that the problem was caused by the same issue that the modification was designed to stop.

It’s worth emphasising at this point however that, given unmodified machines are an established fire-risk, we would still urge people who are yet to have their dryer modified to contact Whirlpool and arrange to have the fix applied to your appliance.

We’re publishing the concerning stories that people have told us they have experienced involving modified dryers producing flames, smoke or burning smells, because we want the regulator, the Office for Product Safety and Standards, to look into these cases as part of its ongoing inquiry and to swiftly establish whether the modification is fit for purpose.

Nine months on from the launch of the inquiry, we’re yet to see any progress. Should it really be taking this long to resolve a serious safety issue?

Check your machine

In the meantime, if you’re unsure about whether your machine requires the fix, you can check using the free-to-use Which? tumble dryer checker tool.

If your dryer has a green sticker on the inside of the door towards the top (either on the door itself or the door rim) or on the machine’s back panel, it’s not part of the safety alert or has already been repaired.

If it doesn’t, you can check whether your appliance requires the fix by entering your machine’s model code into our tumble dryer checker tool.

We’d be keen to hear from you if your model is one of those that requires modifying to understand what more Whirlpool and the regulator could be doing to reach people.

If your appliance has already been modified and you see any signs of smoke, burning or fire when using it, you should report it immediately to the manufacturer.

If this is something that you have already experienced, I’d be hugely grateful if you would be willing to share your story in the comments below.

If you would prefer to do this confidentially, please contact us at conversation.comments@which.co.uk

Comments
Member

I support the action that Which? has taken regarding Whirlpool products, which are sold under various brand names.

Those browsing the Which? reviews will see the there are warning related to these brands, for example:

Hotpoint brand alert
At Which? we’re committed to giving you all the information you need to make an informed choice about the products you buy and this includes telling you about how companies handle safety issues with their products. We have identified that this product comes from a group of companies that we believe has previously handled a product safety issue poorly (though the issue affected tumble dryers only).

Many of the fridges and freezers sold under brands owned by Whirlpool have plastic backs, which will be phased out in favour of safer materials such as metal and laminates: https://www.which.co.uk/reviews/fridge-freezers/article/fridge-freezer-safety Some brands have acted faster, or never sold appliances with plastic backs.

Member

The Indesit dryer “problem” has been a shambles right from the start. Peterborough Trading Standards were, I believe, responsible for approving Whirlpool’s approach to dealing with millions of suspect dryers. It was an impossibly ineffective plan that should never have been sanctioned. Presumably PTS were also involved in approving the “remedy”. I wonder how much expertise and testing went into agreeing it was effective?

The government wrote a couple of letters but otherwise seemed to keep out of it.

Whirlpool seemed to just hope for the best and had no sense of urgency.

We need action now. Whirlpool should contact all owners who had dryers “repaired” to see if there were problems. Which? have shown the need for this by contacting a small proportion and finding problems.

A long winded report can follow – no doubt like all such reports it will be too long after the event.

I’d suggest two immediate actions need to be taken.
1. Institute a proper product recall system for electrical domestic appliances. It’s taken far to long already since it was mooted 3 years ago. It won’t help Indesit owners much but would help new purchasers. Compulsory registration at the time of purchase.
And 2. Reorganise Trading Standards so national issues like this are dealt with by a central national trading standards unit with the strength and expertise to do jobs like this properly. And provide the funds necessary – protection for consumers in my book comes before spending £ billions on HS2 or repairing the Houses of Parliament.

Member

Daniel’s introduction says: “If your dryer has a green sticker on the inside of the door towards the top (either on the door itself or the door rim) or on the machine’s back panel, it’s not part of the safety alert or has already been repaired.” If it has already been repaired, might it not be at risk, in the same way as those machines that have gone on fire after modification?

Member

Hi Wavechange – that’s a really good question. You’re right to point out that we do still have questions about modified machines. However at this stage, we’re still urging people who are yet to have their dryer modified to have the fix applied to their appliance if required. The reason for this is that the unmodified machines are an established fire-risk; getting the fix is better than having an unmodified machine.

However because our research has suggested that the modification may not have been effective in every case, we want the Office for Product Safety and Standards to swiftly complete its inquiry into Whirlpool’s modification and establish whether or not the fix is fit for purpose.

Member

Thanks Daniel. I agree that it is worthwhile having the machines modified. This will ensure that the company has contact details for the owners of machines and that they will have been inspected, providing an opportunity to remove accumulated lint from inside the machine and hopefully reducing the risk of fire, even if it is not adequate in all cases.

Member

https://www.gov.uk/government/news/new-research-to-encourage-more-shoppers-to-register-their-household-appliances
New research to encourage more shoppers to register their household appliances
The Office for Product Safety and Standards (OPSS) is to examine why less than a third of shoppers have registered their large appliances with the manufacturer………………….
Registering products enables customers to be more easily contacted if a fault has been identified and this research will look at how to boost registration rates……………………
OPSS wants to better understand the reasons why some people do not register their devices in order to develop mechanisms to improve rates. Ideas such as making registration mandatory will be tested on almost 5,000 product purchases……

In Whirlpool’s case the problem is that most owners never registered their appliance so we they cannot be contacted directly, therefore a “full recall” is impossible. If they do not respond to calls to have their dryer checked after 4 years of this problem being publicised, how likely is it to happen now?

The OPSS seems to be starting on this general problem of registering appliances as if no work has ever been done, and without any urgency. Meanwhile hundreds of thousands, millions, of appliances are being purchased with no means of contacting most owners should a problem arise. Compulsory registration seems such an obvious choice you wonder why they are faffing about with “research”. Any research should be directed at the registration and recall system mechanics – the data base and who manages it . We have a system for road vehicles. Why not copy it? At least AMDEA run a seemingly effective system for those customers who do choose to register electrical appliances; another model to copy perhaps?

Member
R White says:
22 February 2019

As an electrical and electronics engineer I am disgusted with the very poor quality of the equipment and appliances which are on the market.
The biggest problem as I see it is that as everybody wants these labour saving devices the manufacturers are finding ways to continually make them cheaper, and cheaper is not safe in many cases. I only buy the highest quality equipment which is always more expensive as it is made to a much higher standard and lasts longer. Many appliances are just “badged “ machines and it is anyone’s guess who made them. The CE mark I find is no guarantee of quality.
All my domestic appliances are over thirty years old except the microwave oven (replaced recently) and the vacuum cleaner which was not quite 30 years old and replaced 4 years ago.The washing machine previously 26 years old was replaced just over 3 years ago. I check and when it is necessary repair them myself.

Member

The reasons why many modern products are less durable and often not economically repairable could easily be demonstrated in a documentary. Making products easier and cheaper to assemble can make them very much harder to repair.

Having dabbled myself I am well aware that well built electronics protected from voltage spikes, ingress of water and vibration can last for decades, yet in domestic products, faulty circuit boards can result in products being not economically repairable.

The problem of badge engineering has come up many times on Which? Conversation. Companies can buy and sell brands, so surely it is time for the ratings plate and marketing information to provide details of the manufacturer.

My Philips microwave is about 30 years old and in daily use, having needed only a mechanical repair and replacement bulbs.

Member

CE Marking, and certification marking like the Kite Mark, are not quality guarantees in the sense of high quality, but denote compliance with all the requirements of international safety standards. To manufacture consistently to meet such standards requires quality control in the producer and this is usually met by having a quality system documented, and used (checked by independent auditing) to ISO 9001. “ISO 9001 is defined as the international standard that specifies requirements for a quality management system (QMS). Organisations use the standard to demonstrate the ability to consistently provide products and services that meet customer and regulatory requirements.

I agree with your (R White) strategy of buying high quality goods; they generally work out cheaper in the long run as they last longer. Not guaranteed of course, and durability research still needs to be done, but I’d avoid cheap appliances; they are cheap for a reason, but suit many people.

Member

The CE scheme is self-certified, a manufacturer can put a CE mark on their products if they think they comply. There are no independent tests. Some years ago a Swiss laboratory did do some tests and reckoned that something like 60-70 percent of CE marked items did not actually comply with the regulations.

Member

My previous washer/drier died because the door switch failed. It would’ve been easy and cheap to repair except that lack of surge protection meant it took the main control board with it and that was going to be nearly the price of a new machine to replace.

Putting electrolytic capacitors near a source of heat is another common method of built in obsolescence.

My Matsui microwave must be as old as your Philips and has not needed any repairs at all.

Member

Some fridges and freezers have capacitors next to the compressor and failure can sometimes result in a fire. A friend had a small air compressor go on fire because of a capacitor failure, which burned away the plastic enclosure.

Which? is publicising the need for fridge and freezer manufacturers to move away from using flammable plastic backs, which can help spread fire. It’s not just the backs, and if the same plastic is used above the compressor, allowing the fire to spread to insulation and plastics inside the fridge or freezer.

I agree that failure of electrolytic capacitors is accelerated by heat and it’s one reason why low energy lamps can fail prematurely. Unlike compressor and motor capacitors, they are not a cause of fire, as far as I know.

Member

ALL tumble driers are a fire risk. When I did a project on house and car fires for Which? in the late 80s we asked various fire brigades about the most common cause of house fires and they all said tumble driers (fairy lights were second). Fit a smoke detector wherever the drier is and NEVER leave it running whilst you’re either out of the house or asleep.

Member

It’s very common advice not to leave appliances (other than fridges and freezers) on when in bed or out of the house. I’ve stayed with friends who put the dishwasher on at night, and don’t have a smoke or heat alarm in the kitchen.

Back in the early 70s my parents bought a tumble dryer and having read that these dryers could cause fires I suggested that it was consigned to the garage, which was unheated but dry. I was aware of the importance of cleaning the filter after each use.

Member

Useful advice with a focus on safety from Which? for users of tumble dryers: https://www.which.co.uk/news/2019/02/10-things-you-should-never-do-if-you-own-a-tumble-dryer/

Choosing a heat pump dryer rather than a standard condenser or vented model will mean that there is no high temperature heater that could set light to fluff or to hot fabrics inside the machine. I wonder when it will be recognised that heat pump dryers are safer.

Member

You can design a dryer with a conventional heater to run at a lower temperature. It will, similarly, take longer to dry. More than one way to skin a…… 🙂

Member

You’ve brought this up before, Malcolm, but I’m not aware of any dryers designed in this way. On the other hand there are currently 73 heat pump dryers including 18 Best Buys listed on the Which? website. A conventional heater operating at similar temperatures to those in heat pump dryers would not set light to lint or to dry clothing. It would be cheaper to manufacture and there would be less to go wrong, but it would consume considerably more energy than a heat pump dryer.

Member

You’ve also mentioned this before. But that is par for the course with Convos as so much information is lost in the past. A heat pump dryer will probably save around £50 a year on energy. if used regularly. This needs to be offset against the cost difference between a heat pump dryer and a condenser one. Our dryer gets used quite infrequently, particularly when we have weather like today, so energy saving would not figure too highly.

Member

I often pay a bit more for products that I consider better in some way and if I was in the market for a tumble dryer would choose a heat pump model because I believe the fire risk would be lower. I don’t own a tumble dryer at present because in poor weather I can use the airing cupboard and spare bathroom for drying.