/ 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

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.

Wilfred Lakie says:
19 March 2019

Yes I agree that these fridges should be fireproof. However will those companies who manufacture fridges etc not increase the price of the product saying they have been forced into the change.

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.

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?

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?

Hi Malcom, I think that one reason, not probably the main one though, is that manufacturers use it as a means of gathering personal data and ask too many questions these days. They should be resricted to a set list of relevant questions.

I registered a kettle with Russell Hobbs about three years ago and decided to give a different email address to the one I would normally use. I was not prepared to provide personal and lifestyle information, so could not register the product online. I phoned and declined to give more information than necessary. I made it very clear that my contact details must only be used to contact me if a recall was necessary and not for marketing or other purposes. About two years after registering I received the first email (marketing + a competition) and have received others since.

I’m not suggesting that all companies misuse contact details or other information but it’s difficult to know which ones behave responsibly. I agree, Ken, that only relevant information should be collected.

The point I was making was that by not registering their appliance they could not be informed about a recall. The “full recall” Which? keep demanding is simply not possible. I believe that AMDEA who register on behalf of many manufacturers do not require more details than are necesary for a safety communication.

I consider that compulsory registration at the point of sale is an essential part of enabling full safety information being distributed and, if necessary, a full recall. This is not just for your own protection but for those of the occupants of your house and of neighbouring properties

I had a look at registering a couple of products via Amdea and the first one asked me for my birthday. 🙁 Amdea covers a restricted range of products and is not done at the point of sale, so many products go unregistered. Registering with Amdea would not have helped me with any of the recalled products I’ve owned, which include an e.on smart energy display unit, a Nokia phone battery and a Martindale socket tester.

I don’t know if Amdea shares information with the companies it represents, but others have alleged that it happens. When I register products I go to the manufacturer and make it very, very clear that my contact details must not be passed on or used for marketing. That usually works.

I am supportive of a full recall system based on the DVSA system for cars. It works well, even if a car changes hands after purchase.

For those who don’t know about AMDEA it seems to me that it offers a way to get people to register in the absence of any other initiative. Until such an initiative happens then registering appliances through them (and I believe that you do not need to receive marketing guff) is surely worthwhile to protect yourselves and your neighbours.

https://www.amdea.org.uk/our-purpose/campaigns/register-appliance/

“Register my appliance
This consumer safety initiative aims to encourage more people to register their appliances, to improve ownership data in case a safety repair is needed.

The AMDEA Register my appliance web portal ….. register all of the appliances they have acquired within the last twelve years. ………………access to the product registration pages of over 60 leading brands of domestic appliances,..

All AMDEA members are backing this drive ……. an essential element to facilitate the recall process.
AMDEA works to promote the initiative nationwide, with support from organisations such as Electrical Safety First, Trading Standards and the Fire Services, including the 46 fire and rescue authorities across England and the Fire Services in Scotland and Wales.

Representing over 85% of all small and large domestic appliances sold in the UK……..

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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…… 🙂

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.

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.

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.

KenT says:
1 April 2019

Lint and fluff getting into everywhere that it shouldn’t was a problem with our Indisit dryer several months before it became publicised.On examination I found that the so called drum bearing was so cheap that it should not be considered as a bearing at all. All of the weight of the clothes,drum and belt pulling downwards was on a spindle similar to a wheel axle from a Meccano kit protruding through a hole in the back panel and held in place with a small cast iron support and two screws.Cast iron is quite soft so all the weight rotating the spindle soon acted like a cutter in a downwards direction, cutting beyond the support and continuing down the back panel, it had travelled about 2.5cm (1inch) when I examined it. The drum was tilting to the rear allowing lots of fluff to escape from the upper part of the door seal and travel in all directions. I bought a kit on line and replaced the bearing, door seal and belt. I had no further problems but knew that it would occur again. It was now seven years old so when I was offered a new machine for £60 I accepted it. I checked the bearing and found that it was of an improved type but I will keep an eye on it down the line.
I cannot believe that the manufactures were not totally aware of the bearing being the cause of the drum imbalance and why were they just putting a cage around the motor housing? If this was known to them why was the old bearing still being sold on line, has it been upgraded if so when? Why is such a kit required anyway i found that if my bearing had remained good I would not have had a problem. I am only commenting on my personal findings but I suspect that the same bearing is in many different models.

KenT
Further to my comments on 1st April, I would like to add a few more.

When I ordered a replacement bearing kit from a well known on line spares company the label stated that it was suitable for many different names of dryers, so it was very widely used.

As the spidle cut through the bearing and the galvanised steel back panel it appeared that the steel was harder than the spindle and it gradually cut a narrow groove through the spindle. At the time that I found it, there was less than a millimetre left. I was very lucky it would have broken within a few weeks.

Clearly this bearing was/is not fit for purpose. How long was it in use?
Were some of the early modifications still using it? Will the problems occur again? Were the bearings replaced at all on the early modifications, I heard that a box was being fitted around the motor housing to keep out the fluff but did they stop it from occurring?

I presume some body other than the manufactures has gone much further than me and can satisfactorily answer these questions.

Hi Ken – Thanks for reporting your experiences. From an engineering point of view, having the drum of a front-loading washing machine or tumble dryer supported from one end is not good because it puts a lot of load on the bearings, so they need to be good quality.

The problem of lint accumulating in the casing of tumble dryers has been reported several times on Which? Conversation. There was a service engineer’s blog that demonstrated the problem, but that is no longer online.

From Which? press office today:
“Which? response to the OPSS review of the Whirlpool tumble dryer modification
4 April 2019
Caroline Normand, Which? Director of Advocacy said:

“This review is fundamentally flawed and appears to favour business interests over people’s safety. It sends an alarming message that companies failing to deal with potentially dangerous products will not be made to take responsibility……

From what I read so far , on the face of it I can only agree. However Which? give no link to the report they are commenting on. They should. Then we can have something first hand to discuss.

All I can find is this:
https://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-statement/Commons/2019-04-04/HCWS1490/

@ddalton, Daniel, do Which? have a copy of the full report and a link to it?

A relevant press release by Which?: Which? response to the OPSS review of the Whirlpool tumble dryer modification. https://press.which.co.uk/whichstatements/which-response-to-the-opss-review-of-the-whirlpool-tumble-dryer-modification/

Press releases are mainly for the press but it would be helpful to include links to key documents in the notes for editors, particularly if we are going to encourage more people to get involved with consumer issues.

In this case the most relevant link would be: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/whirlpool-tumble-dryer-review

It seems a considered report. Risk is presumably regarded as sufficiently low; little can be made risk free. It is reassuring, perhaps, that whirlpool will be monitored for action and improvement, but I wonder just how effectively this will be done?

I thought it disappointing that compulsory registration was not mentioned to ensure, in future, all customers can be advise of a product problem. Probably outside the reports brief, but surely must be a priority.

From the OPSS review: “As part of the review, OPSS purchased 28 used tumble dryers from online sales sites. It was not possible to verify the history of the machines but 20 of them appeared to have been modified at some point, presumably in consumers’ homes. Examination of these machines revealed some discrepancies between Whirlpool’s specifications for the modifications and the condition of the machines as found. This included two units that did not have a pin designed to prevent lint accumulation. Because the origin and usage of the dryers is unknown, it is not possible to draw firm conclusions on the reasons why a modification may be outside its specification.”

In view of the uncertainties about the history of the dryers and whether they had been modified, surely it would have been better to examine dryers where this information is available – such as ones in use in homes.