/ Home & Energy, Technology

Update: we want manufacturers to stop making fire-risk fridge freezers

fridge freezer

We’ve written to fridge-freezer manufacturers urging them to stop using non-flame retardant plastic backing in their appliances. We believe this material could pose a safety risk in people’s homes. Do you back our call?

We’ve reviewed cold-appliance safety and have significant concerns about the safety of some models of fridges, freezers and fridge freezers on the UK market.

Fridge freezers

Some fridge, freezer and fridge-freezer models use non-flame retardant plastic backing material, which we believe poses a fire-risk. While this material isn’t the cause of the fire itself, there’s a growing body of evidence that indicates the risk of a fire spreading is greater with non-flame retardant plastic-backed models.

People who already have one of these models in their homes shouldn’t be alarmed as refrigerator fires are extremely rare. However, our advice is that no one should purchase a new fridge freezer with a non-flame retardant plastic backing.

To help with the purchasing of a new fridge, freezer or fridge freezer, we’re now highlighting information about the type of backing material type on our website and noting those we have concerns about.

Check the flame-retardant models here:

Fridge reviews

Freezer reviews

Fridge-freezer reviews

Safety regime

In light of our concerns, we believe the current British Standard on cold appliances is inadequate. And following our review of cold appliances, we’ve written to manufacturers asking them to do the right thing and voluntarily end the production of these appliances.

We’re also asking them to help us bring in a tougher safety standard on fridges and freezers that will no longer allow potentially flammable backing material to be used.

It’s important that standards evolve to reflect new evidence and companies must act swiftly in the best interests of consumers.

This once again shows that the UK’s product safety regime is simply not fit for purpose and the government can no longer continue to allow it to fail. We want the government to urgently set up a new national body to take responsibility for ensuring manufacturers keep households safe.

Update: 8 December 2017

Two separate samples of non-flame-retardant plastic backing set alight after just ten seconds when we conducted our fire tests.

We also tested refrigeration backings made of metal and aluminium laminate. Not only did they not catch fire after the 30 second test, but they didn’t ignite after being subjected to an open flame for a full five minutes.

Watch our video to see how refrigerator backings can go up in flames in less than 30 seconds:

The current British Standard requires refrigeration appliances to pass a glow wire test to assess their fire resistance. This involves putting a hot wire through a sample of the fridge or freezer backing material and seeing if it catches alight. All fridges, freezers and fridge freezers on the UK market currently pass this test.

The more stringent fire tests we used for our video form part of a proposed new refrigeration safety standard that’s currently more than 12 months away from being implemented. We’re calling for immediate action to toughen safety standards on refrigeration products.

Our managing director of Home and Product Services, Alex Neill said:

‘Manufacturers must put consumer safety first and immediately stop making fridges, freezers and fridge freezers to a standard that is clearly deficient and could potentially be putting people’s lives at risk.

‘This once again shows that the UK’s product safety regime is simply not fit-for-purpose and the Government can no longer continue to allow it to fail.’

Do you want manufacturers to stop producing cold appliances with non-flame retardant plastic backing?


Morning, today we’ve shared video footage of our tests on refrigeration backings.

The video is available in the convo above.

Our fire testing found that two separate samples of non-flame-retardant plastic backing set alight after just ten seconds. We also tested refrigeration backings made of metal and aluminium laminate. Not only did they not catch fire after the 30 second test, but they didn’t ignite after being subjected to an open flame for a full five minutes.

The more stringent fire tests we used for our video form part of a proposed new refrigeration safety standard that’s currently more than 12 months away from being implemented. We’re calling for immediate action to toughen safety standards on refrigeration products.

Our managing director of Home and Product Services, Alex Neill said:

‘Manufacturers must put consumer safety first and immediately stop making fridges, freezers and fridge freezers to a standard that is clearly deficient and could potentially be putting people’s lives at risk.

‘This once again shows that the UK’s product safety regime is simply not fit-for-purpose and the Government can no longer continue to allow it to fail.’

Read more here: https://www.which.co.uk/news/2017/12/safety-alert-watch-our-video-to-see-why-fridge-freezers-pose-a-fire-risk/

Thanks Lauren. I would like Which? to look at the use of plastics in the cases of white goods. Fridges and freezers must run unattended and overnight, so it’s vital that they are as safe as possible. It concerns me that the manufacturers did not think about the possible fire hazard when introducing plastic backs.

It’s not practical to design appliances that will never go on fire but it would be possible to get rid of plastic fascias etc. that could burn or melt, allowing a fire to spread.

New and replacement consumer units must be made with a non-combustible materials and all the ones I have seen advertised recently are metal. http://electrical.theiet.org/wiring-matters/55/consumer-units/index.cfm

I think I’d be rather more concerned with why there was a fire in the first place rather than closing the barn door after the horse has left the building.

Or indeed ensuring that the surroundings don’t catch light when whatever the actual problem is fails and goes up. That strikes me as a potentially far, far greater risk.

Or even ensuring safe installation and maintenance.

But then again… it’s such a phenomenally rare occurrence at any rate why would we bother with the rest of the safety aspects when this is a far easier target, just blame the big bad manufacturers. Even if any result will likely yield minimal change to any risks.


Thanks, Wavechange. I know you’ve raised this previously, but I’ll share this with the team who worked on this fire test. That’s interesting to know that the standards changed for consumer units and now you’re seeing them being sold in metal casings – thanks for sharing that with us.

Thanks Lauren.

Coincidentally, I’ve posted a comment on the Convo “Taking our product safety concerns to parliament”. The revised IEC standard requires a needle flame test to be applied, as well as the glow wire, and I understand that BSI have proposed other more stringent requirements to be added to the standard when it is issued in Europe as an EN (and in the UK as a BSEN). Which? will hopefully be aware of this if they are now a member of the committee. Telling us would be reassuring.

I hope Which?’s publicity of the different backing types will educate some buyers into making better purchases. I don’t know whether contacting the major retailers would influence what they sell until the new standards come into effect. Those more responsible ones (JLP perhaps) might be receptive.

Thanks to Which? website I discovered that my fridge and freezer both have flammable plastic backs. I have a smoke alarm above and a heat alarm not far away and appreciate that the risk of fire is small, but I wonder how the manufacturer decided that it was acceptable to use flammable plastics.

If you are sufficiently concerned then you might replace them with Which? recommended versions. As Kenneth says (welcome back 🙂 ) the risk is very very small. We are far more at risk from smokers, candles, cookers, and other sources of fire. However, anything that can reasonably be done to reduce risk is welcome. I’m glad we have organisations that look after our interests, whether they are the international standards bodies, BSI, or Which? And the manufacturers that support the work of standards to get improvements into the market place.

Yes, Wavechange. We don’t want to alarm you at all, the risk is small and it’s good to hear that you have a smoke alarm near your fridge too 🙂

I’m not concerned about myself, Lauren, but we need to think about the safety of those living in flats and tower blocks where it would be more difficult to evacuate and a fire could put multiple lives at risk.

The risk to most things is small it’s when there is a big tragedy that some get concerned and worry you have to take precautions and reduce the risks if you are worried many accept the risk and are not concerned at all

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“Everything in life is a risk but when people intentionally increase the risk to human life+health then that is just greed .”

Does that include people who skimp and don’t buy quality products, do not maintain them properly, do not install them correctly and misuse them?

It’s not all just on the big bad companies you know. 😉

People want cheap, manufacturers provide to that need or, they wouldn’t survive as nobody would buy their products.

If people put safety concerns above all else and were willing to vote with their wallets to that effect, manufacturers would quickly get geared to satisfy that demand.

That’s a free market, consumer driven economy in action. You know, like the one we have.

Or you legislate and force it down everyone’s throat, irrespective of cost, inconvenience to all parties concerned, producers and consumers. Then it’s not free market, it’s as regulated economy by government et all.

But I do not for one second believe any manufacturer is putting profit before safety or, certainly not intentionally as there’s enough legislation in place in the EU to have them hung, drawn and quartered if that were provable. Which would in turn logically make me think, there’s not enough evidence for the various bodies to bring a case or, the bodies that could don’t have the cash to do it. Can’t think of another reason.

But my main point is and, I’m not having a pop at you Duncan merely using your comments to serve as a jumping off point to highlight that **CONSUMERS** put their own personal profit ahead of quality and safety as much or more so than manufacturers do in my opinion, most probably more so and in doing so drive the quality and quality down.

In my view, the biggest culprit here isn’t one party or the other.

Consumers drove quality and prices down, manufacturers let it happen. Some more than others I’d grant you.

Consumers still expect the same quality, service and durability for a fraction the cost. Manufacturers don’t get why as the stuff is so cheap.

Hence, fault on both sides but to look at it in inflammatory terms of it being a simplistic case of companies putting profit first over safety is at best disingenuous so, I feel it only right to point out that companies are simply not the only party that does so, to say otherwise would be an untruth in my view.


I agree with the sentiments. The question of consumers driving down prices is, I believe, because many consumers are not educated as to the outcome – short lives, poorer quality products that are really not cheap if you can’t repair them and have to keep replacing them. Many of us learn this from experience. This is a wasteful process, of labour and resources and cannot go on for ever. The only way to prompt a change is to introduce regulation and require certain standards to be met – economical repairability and minimum durability for example. JThe manufacturers will have, then to respond and prices will increase at the bottom end. Some consumers will bleat but the world won’t stop turning and it will be a better place, in my view.

Regulation by the mandatory imposition of safety standards avoids manufacturers marketing products that do not meet appropriate levels of safety. We accept that, even though it adds cost.

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Duncan, if it were true and supported by evidence it would not be libellous.

White goods appliances have to be safe, irrespective of price. This is particularly important with fridges and freezers, which run when we are asleep.

How on earth did we end up with fridges and freezers with plastic backs, or appliances with plastic parts in their cases? Did no-one do a risk assessment?

Blaming customers for pushing down prices is unfair because the selling price is up to the manufacturers and retailers to decide. Mr Dyson has demonstrated that it’s not necessary to sell cheap vacuum cleaners to succeed in business and I suspect he has helped prevent the race to the bottom in that sector.

The sooner the relevant standards require that white goods are able to contain fires the better.

Quite so. And Mr Dyson got a knighthood and an enormous luxury yacht on the back of his success. I bet the yacht is watertight.

Nonetheless, Dyson only has a small fraction of the vacuum cleaner market and many less expensive (and yet still effective) products are sold.

Lots of folk want inexpensive white goods. They want them to be safe too. So manufacturers must meet applicable safety standards whilst keeping the costs and prices down.

There is, however, no such thing as absolute safety.

There are certainly some rather poor vacuum cleaners, often sold under supermarket brand names, but there are many decent quality cleaners too, and I believe Mr Dyson has helped encourage consumers to spend a bit more on vacuum cleaners.

Having done risk assessments throughout my working life I know that household goods are never going to be absolutely safe*, but replacing steel with plastic for reasons of cost saving/appearance/weight reduction and compromising safety make no sense to me.

*I have friends who nearly had a fire after the hamster escaped and chewed the mains cable attached to the fridge-freezer.

We’ve had two Dyson vacuum cleaners and we’d never get another. In our view they’re simply not worth the silly cost.

wavechange – I think your hamster example nicely illustrates “the unforeseen component of risk” or, in other words, the sort of thing that a conventional risk assessment is unlikely to take into account.

Appliance manufacturers must struggle to balance fire prevention (stopping a fire from starting in the first place) and fire protection (limiting the consequences of any fire) within their parts budget for any appliance.

In your previous posts, you have reported your discovery of “flammable plastic backs” in your fridge and freezer, followed by your judgement that, given your particular circumstances, your are content that their overall contribution to fire risk is tolerable – so you won’t be rushing to embargo their use and/or replace them with safer models.

I expect that manufacturers go through a similar process when deciding what parts to use.

Now that Which? have produced information on whether or not machines have flame retardant backs, at least Which? Members can now vote with their feet on this issue.

I agree about unforeseen risks, but hopefully we learn. I had one potentially serious near miss at work and we promptly redesigned equipment to eliminate the possibility that the same mistake – caused by human error – could happen again.

I am surprised that the first manufacturer using the plastic backs did not appreciate the risk and rather concerned that prompt action was not taken when fires were reported. I appreciate that we can make use of NCAP ratings when choosing cars but I am very disappointed by the manufacturers who have chosen to use plastics unnecessarily.

I expect that, up to now, manufacturers using non-flame retardant backs will have been aware of potential hazards – if a fire starts – but will have satisfied themselves that the risks are either negligible, or acceptably low, or tolerably low.

I also expect that, in general, consumers will not have been making informed choices on this issue. But that can now change…

@wavechange I wonder if your friends contemplated the risk of having a hamster? A safety standard might have ensured that teeth were not sharp.

We all hold certain views, convinced they are correct. However many others, with experience and expertise representing a wide range of interests an many countries worldwide, are responsible for considering such matters and putting standards together. They might not be wrong in the balance they have sought to achieve in the past, nor may they be incapable of learning from experience. We can all contribute our views directly to our national standards organisation and be heard; better to say what we think directly than rely on others to do it for us, perhaps? Although I do hope Which? might set up some forum to collate relevant views, reach a consensus, and put them to BSI if it chooses to join the relevant committees.

As for Dyson, he might have designed more innovative products but judging by the huge discounts they attract, whether bought direct or through third parties, they are grossly overpriced. That is when value for money needs to be considered. The huge profits he has then made fund 30 000 acres of agricultural land and other assets, without the benefit to the country of using UK manufacture. So i’m not a fan (not can I afford his).

I think your last paragraph is more relevant Malcolm as money, or shortage of it, is often the main determinant that decides what consumers buy. Coupled with the undeniable reality that modern society has become so utterly dependent upon technology to wash and dry our clothes, our dishes, keep our food fresh for longer, provide vital communicative links and keep our homes warm and clean, all of which are now more or less taken for granted – until they malfunction.

Manufacturers are fully aware of the need to produce cheaper, inferior, and as a result, more dangerous domestic equipment with fire hazardous plastic materials to satisfy an enduring demand from a generation where both parents, often with families to support, have to work in order to sustain a reasonable standard of living, which inevitably produces an ever increasing dependency upon machines to enable them to do so.

The older generation, who have learnt through bitter experience the folly of buying cheap often means buying dear, and over the years have been able to pay off their mortgages and save a little ‘nest egg’ to cover such emergencies, and are in a position to pay a little more for something of better quality that is more durable and safe.

It all comes down to a chicken and egg situation, whereby demand dictates that manufacturers supply immediately available cheaper plastic equipment out of a well researched and knowing need, or are manufacturers guilty of exploiting a consumers dependency by making that equipment much too readily available (and therefore unsafe) in order to maintain their lucrative product turnovers and profit margins?

My guess would be the latter due to an innate human idiosyncratic need to opt for an easy ‘quick fix’ solution which most manufactures are fully conversant with.

While we cannot always prevent a fire from starting [the unpredictable hamster contingency] we can install warning systems and try to stop a fire spreading. Having heat alarms in domestic areas containing appliances seems an elementary and economical way of providing a warning, and having fire extinguishers in sensible locations can provide a first line of defence if a fire starts. By “sensible location” I mean not adjacent to the possible source of a fire. It costs nothing to think through and plan for what to do in the event of a fire. Modern homes have half-hour fire resistant doors on the escape route which should be closed to contain a fire before the fire brigade arrives.

Hamsters are not the only problem. A relative who works in security is frequently called out to mostly larger type rural homes with rat infested lofts that have chewed through cables. Unfortunately, there is not much he can do to fix a faulty security system until the owner has contacted the local pest controller to get rid of the rats.

From the London Fire Brigade website: “We have been lobbying for five years for all new refrigeration and freezing appliances to have a fully fire resistant backing as standard but the current proposals would still allow a large hole at the back of the fridge or freezer which would leave the highly flammable insulation inside exposed.” http://www.london-fire.gov.uk/news/LatestNewsReleases_gaping-hole-in-fridge-freezer-safety.asp#.WiqX-q2cZE4 After all this time, appliances with plastic backs are still being sold.

London Fire Brigade are listed as belonging to the BSI Committee which has put together additional proposals to those in the IEC document. Presumably by “lobbying” they mean they have contributed their advice? If Which? would tell us what is being proposed by BSI then we will know whether, if adopted, the current “holes” will be plugged.

I know that LFB is listed but we have no record of what was submitted or resolved. Why should Which? tell us what is proposed by BSI when they could do that themselves.

Seems to me that while inflam. plastic backs are undesirable, they are unlikely to be subject to starting a fire by spontaneous combustion. The risk they represent therefore seems to be very small indeed.
Fridges /freezers are subject to leaking refrigerant, gas/liquid, and would suggest that an investigation into this aspect of fire risk would be more worthwhile. Refrigerant used in recently bygone days was traditionally Freon, which I don’t think is inflammable. However Freon was banned on environmental grounds years ago and replaced by other refrigerants. These may well be flammable, and in gaseous form could well collect in poorly ventilated areas after leaking from the fridge, in effect bombs waiting to go off if a spark is applied. Worth investigating, I believe.

IEC 60335-2-24, the international standard that forms the basis for other countries’ standards (including EU/UK) has been amended, including clarifies tests for appliances using flammable refrigerants.. This may be pertinent to your concerns. Flammable refrigerants have been used for many years now, but are in very small quantities.

As you infer, the history of fridge/freezers with regards to fire is very good, and needs to be taken into account when debating possible risks, and in avoiding raising panic reactions. I am all for making improvements where they are seen to be necessary (of course) or desirable, and it seems the revised fridge/freezer standard will do this.

I’m not sure about ‘very small quantities’. If a fridge contains a mole of cyclopentane (about 70 g) this would produce over 22.4 litres of pure gas at standard temperature and pressure, or a little more at room temperature. The explosive range of cyclopentane is between about 1 and 9%, so there could be a rather large quantity of explosive gas/air mixture produced. We were quoted 50g for the refrigerant charge in a small fridge in an earlier discussion, so that would reduce the potential amount pro rata.

It’s fairly unlikely that a leak and a spark would occur together, and I understand that spark-proof thermostats were introduced after a door blew off a fridge, but a fridge or freezer could be a bomb in a house fire.

Is there any evidence to show that this is a significant problem? Risk is about what is likely to occur, i would have thought, and includes experience of what has occurred.

I agree and was only trying to provide factual information. In an earlier Conversation we were told that the amount of refrigerant was similar to that in a disposable cigarette lighter, which is not true. I measured 3 grams and the highest amount I have seen quoted is 5 grams.

There is no doubt that refrigerant could accelerate a fire. I would have preferred the we stayed with chlorofluorocarbons, which help extinguish fires, and recovered these when fridges and freezers were scrapped.

Here is yet another photo of an appliance where plastic has been destroyed in a fire, allowing the fire to spread:


The warning about flammable plastic fridge/freezer backs has received considerable attention thanks to the London Fire Brigade and Which?. Now we need them to look at what I believe is a greater risk.

…actually the posted link says “Luckily it was in an enclosed space so the fire put itself out”, so arguably the fire did not spread.

Nonetheless, I accept there might have been less smoke and heat damage, it if had been all metal dryer had caught fire. But who, these days, still has all metal dryers – the one my friend retired a few years ago was ancient and performed very poorly. compared to it modern (plasticy but non-Indesit) replacement.

Or, if the couple involved hadn’t chosen to use a dryer in the first place, the fire could never have started.

Back in the 60s and 70s it was common to put polystyrene tiles on ceilings. They were responsible for making fires worse, especially if painted. We learned from experience and I doubt that anyone would now put polystyrene tiles on ceilings. Maybe we will learn that appliances with plastic in the casings are not a good idea.

I’m fortunate in having a garden to hang the washing and an airing cupboard to dry it inside, but dryers are more or less essential for those living in flats.

Perhaps putting these points to experts in the field will provide information to help this topic progress. Simply posting occasional pictures of fires with indeterminate causes illuminates the problem but does not get us any further forward. A number of possible improvements to products have been made over the years in these Convos by “interested people” and should be put (maybe they have already) to those with good knowledge of the topic and in a position to make changes that are sensible. If they reject such changes then we should find out why.

As has been said many times, plastics used in household electrical appliances must be resistant to heat and the spread of flame. Plastics are suitable if they resist appropriate conditions, having other desirable properties that make them particularly useful. It may be in the light of events the degree to which plastics must be assessed needs raising; it already is proposed for the backs of cold devices. So demonising plastic will be counterproductive; promoting better heat and fire resistant plastics would, in my view, be far more productive.

Which? have hopefully now joined one or more BSI committees and, equally hopefully, will take an active part in contributing to their deliberations. As they are financed totally by consumers (us) they should consider and pass on our suggestions and concerns and let us know the responses.

However, manufacturing is of course a global concern and governed by international standards set by agreement among a whole range of countries; each participating state has a standards body using intelligent, knowledgeable and experienced people drawn from most relevant sectors of society, whether manufacturers, consumers, fire authorities…… All proposals for amending standards need to be properly scrutinised and agreed by these committees. I doubt there is a worldwide conspiracy to suppress significant safety issues.

As I have said repeatedly, I am hoping that Which? will take this up. It’s encouraging that they have raised concerns about use of plastic backs in fridges and freezers, which is probably a less serious issue. Why don’t you contact BSI rather than push me to do this?

“As has been said many times, plastics used in household electrical appliances must be resistant to heat and the spread of flame.” In the photo I posted, it is clear that the plastic has melted and in other photos, the plastic has burned, allowing fire to spread. From what I have read, the relevant standards do not refer to plastic in the cases of appliances. Am I correct in my interpretation?

Metal consumer units were phased out in favour of plastic ones, but these have been deemed a fire risk and new/replacement ones must be made of a fire resistant material such as metal. All the ones I have seen are metal. I wonder why this has been done, on the basis that consumer units cause fewer fires than white goods. I wonder if the relevant committees communicate with each others and share expertise.

Although fire protection/prevention was a major factor in changing back from plastic to metal for electrical consumer units [fuse boards/circuit breakers] – especially since they are increasingly installed in garages – I guess earth continuity and impact resilience might have played a part.

I can see that metal-cased consumer units are stronger, but don’t understand the point about earth continuity. Have I missed something?

I agree with most of what you say Malcolm and I am all too aware that in order to regain any consumer confidence when purchasing new safer products, it is necessary for manufacturers to update and change their protocols, which can be a long and tedious process requiring constant pressure.

I am also aware of the difference between fire resistant and fire retardant and the above video in the header clearly illustrates the difference between metal and plastic and the duration of time it takes each material to burn. If it is possible to produce a fire resistant plastic, manufacturers would need to way up the difference in cost between that and metal. In any event, safety is paramount, and if it means paying a little more to ensure that safety, then the onus surely rests with the manufacturers to take the initiative and produce equipment that is reasonably safe and fit for domestic purpose.

Standards, as we have witnessed in recent years show little sign of improving without the pressure exerted by consumer bodies and their associates. It is vitally important therefore, to keep that pressure ongoing until manufacturers accept that people are more important than profits and anything that is instrumental in achieving that goal is to be welcomed, even if it means posting more pictures of yet another appliance fire.

Well it was just a guess, Wavechange. I thought there could be benefits in having a completely earthed enclosure.

When viewing properties I have sometimes seen the door of the consumer unit hanging open or missing and was thinking it might be safer to have a fully-earthed and fairly indestructible box.

Beryl – Hopefully the publicity is resulting in manufacturers phasing out fridges and freezers with fire-retardant backs. The most expensive fridge-freezers listed on the Which? website – £1999 – don’t have flame-retardant backs.

John – I’m fully in favour of metal consumer units in garages and I don’t see a problem with having an external plastic casing for cosmetic reasons in the home. The new regulations require that cable entries are sealed to prevent fire spreading via cavity walls, which makes good sense.

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wavechange, I encourage others to contact BSI with their specific concerns and suggestions because I have done the same, and met with a positive response. We can rely too much on “others” to do things for us. I think we have to take responsibility for ourselves and make our views known where it matters.

I, too, hope Which? collates all the information that commenters provide but I see no need to just leave them to it. I hope they will tell us how they are working with BSI.

Duncan – I know the type of fusebox you mean, but with modern consumer units I don’t think there is any chance of touching the mains unless you dismantle the unit. With the old type the instructions were to turn off the main switch first and sometimes there was an interlock to ensure that this was done.

Unfortunately many people live in flats that do not have (secure) outside drying space and with the weather we have had recently even I, an avid “peg out” person, have had to resort to the tumble dryer.

I wonder how mankind managed to survive through to the 1900’s at times. Nigh on two millennia and more without tumble dryers or indeed most of it without electricity at all.

How did we possibly survive and evolve without these things, how did we possibly get by?

Sorry but no, regardless of circumstance and you can argue contrary if you like and tell me that for two millennia mankind didn’t cope, you cannot say that a tumble dryer is a necessity to live.


Perhaps you could offer Carole some practical suggestions about how to dryer her washing, assuming you have experience of living in a flat.

Early municipal flats had ‘drying grounds’ with rows of washing lines [as well as pram sheds]. Unfortunately, naughty people stole or interfered with residents’ washing and it had to come indoors. After that local councils saw that few were using the washing lines so they turned the areas over to car parking space.

When I lived in a private flat there were no drying facilities [and it was banned on the balconies]. I had a twin-tub washing machine with a very fast spin-dryer; I could iron things straight out of the dryer and air them on a rack over the bath. This would be difficult for a family with children and a number of bed sets to launder every week. Those without access to a private garden or yard do need a tumble dryer, especially in the winter months when even the indoor atmosphere can be damp.

I remember when I was growing up our kitchen was frequently festooned with garments hanging down from a pulley-operated drying rack above the boiler, and there were clothes horses at strategic locations adorned with table cloths, towels and underwear in various stages of becoming dry or ironable. Personally, I think a tumble dryer is the answer – and more essential than a smartphone.

Actually I have a house with a good sized garden but have a young friend living in a bedsit with no drying facilities – guess who does their laundry for them.

We use a clothes horse in a warm kitchen or bathroom, and there are still, I imagine, those ceiling mounted drying racks on rope and pulleys. Our tumble dryer is used occasionally but most often we dry outside on a rotary line, or inside on a clothes horse (for “we” read “mrs r”).

where there are (were) rows of terraced houses it seemed common practice to sling washing lines between them across the street to hang out your washing – in cooperation with your neighbours on the other side of course.

Carole, as your friend is in a bedsit, they probably don’t have a great deal of space.

But I have only had a tumble dryer for 5 years and before that I used an older version of this dehumidifier that is still going strong for over 10 years now:

Clothes hung on a clothes horse dry overnight and I still dry delicates this way.

It still picks up dust in the air and needs periodic cleaning, but it is better than wet washing hanging around for days when it cannot go outside. The extracted water can be used in an iron to keep it free from limescale.

“Perhaps you could offer Carole some practical suggestions about how to dryer her washing, assuming you have experience of living in a flat.”

I shouldn’t have to.

And sensible suggestions have been made that are cheaper, more environmentally friendly and so forth.

But if building/renting codes/regulations etc. preclude natural drying I think you might direct attention to addressing that issue more than the *forcing* of their use which should not be required.

As after all, is that not putting cramming more homes into a space over health and safety concerns?

They are more convenient sure but, not required or should not be and they are not a “right”, they are a choice.


I’m glad you are helping your friend, Carole. In flats, drying, bathing and cooking can cause condensation, especially if ventilation is inadequate, and an unhealthy atmosphere. As Alfa suggests, a dehumidifier is a way of removing moisture from the atmosphere.

When the weather is unsuitable for drying outdoors I use an airing cupboard and sometimes a bathroom with an extractor fan for clothes drying. I don’t own a tumble dryer.

When I lived in flats I mostly used local laundrettes, usually for both washing and drying.

These days, I live in a house that is large enough to permit the use of clothes horses for drying.

I do understand that large families in small flats would have difficulty with the above arrangements.

Earlier this year, I discovered I’d had a “near miss” fire in a failing (and faulty) DVD player. To me, that shows that, any electrical appliance has a small chance of starting a fire.

Hence, the more appliances we use, the more likely we are to suffer a fire. So, where practicable, we should supervise all our usage of appliances – and leave all items safely switched off when not in use.

As discussed here, some appliances, including fridge-freezers and central heating boilers do need to be on 24/7, but even those may sometimes start fires.

From all of this, I think responsible householders must consider both fire prevention – how they minimise the risk of fires starting at home – and fire protection – or what steps they will take after a fire breaks out.

I wonder if it would have been easy to redesign the DVD player to reduce or remove the risk of fire.

One of the problems with PVRs and smart TVs is that they are designed to remain switched on. Another is that they are designed to remain on standby. Another problem is that the wall sockets for TVs etc are often inaccessible, hide behind the TV.

Our DVD player packed up and the thing we missed most was the permanent time displayed in standby mode.

We have just bought a new all-singing-dancing player, but we can’t get the time to stay. The manual does say if this is on or that is off….etc. During the setup phase, it wanted us to accept wording that translated as “spying on us” which we declined. I’m not sure, but I think that is what is preventing the time from permanently displaying.

We are awaiting a reply from Panasonic on how to display the time in standby mode.

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Thanks Duncan, will give it a go.

If switched-mode power supplies are properly made I’m not aware of a safety problem and have never experienced a problem with the small ones used as mains adapters and chargers. The problem is the dangerous and counterfeit products that come into this country and there have been many fires due to dodgy phone chargers.

I’ve had one catch fire. It was of Chinese manufacture.

I would hope that this is a very rare occurrence with familiar brands. I tend to use my iPhone and iPad chargers (both made in China) with other products that need a USB charger.

Unfortunately it’s not possible to identify whether an adapter or charger is safe just by looking at them and sometimes well known companies have bought and distributed substandard chargers.

This wasn’t a well-known make, W; it was from a small Chinese company and used to power LED lighting.

Thanks Ian – I had wondered. It does not bear thinking about what could happen if a small fir goes unnoticed.

The problem is that we just don’t know whether a product that appears to work fine would fail safely if there was a problem. I had an Energizer battery charger (4xAA) that I had used for years and one day it went off with a loud bang when I plugged it in, with ‘flames’ momentarily appearing from both sides. I dismantled it and saw that some circuit board tracks and component leads had burned away, causing considerable damage to components. The inside of the case was coated with black copper oxide, but there was no melting or burning of the case and I concluded that the charger had failed in a safe way. From memory, the safety device was a thin track in the circuit board and a better design (such as a proper fuse) might have meant a less dramatic failure.

I’m particularly wary of Christmas lights and last time I checked to make sure the power supply was a known brand.

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It was near the the part of the circuitry that had been destroyed, so not for screening. It’s easy to identify power supplies and chargers that contain transformers because of the greater weight and size, and they usually run slightly warm.

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I thought that a capacitor might have failed but they were intact. Some of the ‘print’ on the circuit board had gone and I remember that part of the wire to a diode/rectifier had been also been burned away, though the plastic was intact and the type number still visible. I have never seen that happen before. Sometimes low value MF or MO resistors are used as inexpensive fuses in small chargers and power supplies.

People need to check their home insurance to see whether they are covered for fires starting in tumble dryers. Insurances companies have introduced several new T&C’s such as following manufacturers guidelines with regard to filter cleaning after every use and never leaving the tumble dryers unattended.

Clauses may invalidate part of any claim if you are negligent. Mine requires me to have my boiler checked annually or claims for resultant damage may be affected – a good idea.anyway. If a tumble dryer is declared as unsafe to leave unattended, but that is ignored, then an insurance may not pay out – just as not maintaining your car by running on illegal tyres for example. Cleaning filters is in my maintenance instructions; you ignore instructions at your peril.

Part One: my take on this.

Fridge freezers should withstand the kind of fire that might occur due to a fault, and that includes the materials used. Non-metallic materials should be resistant to the type of overheating/fire that might arise. Safety standards should deal with this so that products that reach our homes are “safe”.

In themselves, existing safety standards take time to be updated as amendments need to be tested for efficacy and appropriateness and agreed by all those states involved, before publication. Furthermore there is inevitably an overlap when both new and old standards have currency while designs and manufacture are changed, and existing stocks moved, unless the safety change is so critical as to require complete withdrawal immediately (very rare).

When deficiencies are found there is nothing to stop these changes being implemented by manufacturers before the standard is amended. Manufacturers could be listed that already produce products with properly “fire-resistant” materials. We have no need to wait for a change in standards if, indeed, compliant products are already on the market.

Nor is there anything to stop retailers only stocking those products that already comply with the main features of a proposed standard. To do so requires knowledge of which products would comply, so as Which? have done, and others, product testing may be required.The backing of fridges and fridge freezers is one contentious point, and one material that seems to figure in poor fire resistance is the use, as described by LFB, of twin-wall polyethylene/polypropylene board. This should be simple to identify visually without testing, so retailers could be asked to act responsibly and not sell such products.

Blaming “standards” is not the answer (see part 2) when action need not rely on the minimum requirements of the standard being the only criteria for what retailers choose to sell.

Part 2: I am concerned about the time line in the fridge-freezer fire debate, and the seeming lack of information interchange and actions between the interested parties, including us.

Which? Issued a first (I believe) press release “Stop making fire risk fridges, says Which?” 21 September 2017 followed by another on Dec 8th. This seemed to be presented as a scoop. However, this has all been known since Oct 2012 when the London fire Brigade issued a report.

Claims that the “government” have ignored this seem untrue. The UK Representation to the EU Brussels wrote to the EC expressing great concern about this very issue in March 2016. (“United Kingdom Formal Objection to a harmonised standard under Article 11”) The letter began “The issue of concern to the UK is that a common construction of household refrigerating appliance uses highly flammable materials particularly in their backing panels which if it catches fire is likely to spread quickly and lead to serious injury to persons and damage to property and in extreme cases has caused death.”. It included the LFB report.

The letter also includes “. UK industry have also accepted the recommendation of the Coroner and support revision of the standard. The UK National Standards Body, supported by UK industry, have presented the fire risk concerns, using the London Fire Brigade Report as a basis, and put forward a proposal to the IEC for revision of the standard. The issue and UK proposal have been discussed since 2012 in IEC, unfortunately there has not been adequate support for the UK proposed solution; partly due to an alternative solution having been put forward.”. The letter was formally published by the EU in Oct 2016.

Why did the Which? Press release, and published articles, not include any reference to this and the information it contained?

There is also a claim that “this British Standard is clearly deficient and inadequate”.
Read more: https://www.which.co.uk/news/2017/09/stop-making-fire-risk-fridges-freezers-and-fridge-freezers-says-which/ – Which?. It is not a British Standard but a European standard, based on an international (IEC) standard that BSI contribute to through CENELEC and implement when the EN is agreed. As the above letter makes clear, BSI (as the National standards Body) have submitted proposals for revisions – in 2016. I believe these include restricting severely the plastic permitted on backing.

“The current British Standard requires refrigeration appliances to pass a glow wire test to assess their fire resistance.” True, but what is not said is that the revised IEC standard requires a flame test to be applied to these materials.

We do not need a revised standard to be up and running to see that better fridge / fridge-freezer safety is implemented as soon as possible, as I suggested in Part 1.

What concerns me is that it seems we were not told about formal actions already taken with regard to flammable backings, nor actions formally taken by BSI to improve the proposed new standard. I want to see those involved cooperating, not seeming to undermine the efforts of those already dealing with the problem, and making relevant information known rather than suppressing it (might that dilute the scoop?).

Is it too much to ask for a fair, balanced and complete report to be given by Which?, rather than one where the suspicion is relevant information is either excluded because they do not know about it or, worse, because they do know but choose not to reveal it?

However, i will ask for my post to be totally removed if I have misrepresented the situation. I can only go by what I read and am told 🙂

Well said, Malcolm. I found Part 1 so gripping that I had to immediately go on to read Part 2. I can’t wait for the next instalment. [Sincerely : this is not irony.]

Ideally, the UK should be in a position to introduce its own superior regulations as to product manufacture, components and materials if it considers the available controls are inadequate or insufficient for public safety. So long as we remain in the single market for the free movement of goods across Europe this cannot be the case because it would be deemed a barrier to free trade within the single market and a form of protectionism. I was a ‘Remainer’ at the time of the referendum on leaving the EU but I have come round to the view that compliance with the wishes of 27 other countries is altogether too complicated and not necessarily in our interests. In practical terms, unfortunately, we might have no choice but to continue to abide by European regulations in order to enjoy reciprocal trade and not be at a commercial disadvantage when exporting UK-made products. Imports [and the cost of living] would also be affected if manufacturing costs to meet the ‘UK specification’ meant higher prices for our appliances. Overall, I think ‘safety first’ should prevail and we should not accept standards that – of necessity – are the lowest common denominator.

Part 3 John 🙂 I believe in the good intent of those who put standards together, but I also recognise frustration with the time it can take for them to be fully implemented. It is a bit like changing the law; as many stones have to be unturned and examined to ensure that the result is as good as possible. However, nothing to stop products being made to higher standards, including those of amended standards before they are even published let alone fully implemented,

International trade is made possible by harmonised standards – essentially most countries working to the same ones, or very similar ones. Otherwise each state would have to test any imported product to their own particular standard, which would make trade a nightmare. Not just in the EU, but elsewhere.

Electrical standards largely emanate from the International Electrotechnical Commission as IEC documents. For cold household appliances this is IEC 60335-2-24, in Europe EN 60335-2-24 and in the UK as BSEN 60335-2-24. Europe can add to the requirements if it chooses, as can other states – Australia and New Zealand are in process of doing just that.

For us to continue to trade we will need to use the same standards. Working with the EU is not, in my view, hampering safety but if we do so choose after Brexit we could, I imagine, unilaterally increase the requirements of a standard when we adopt it. But my money is on EN standards being amended to suit the requirements of all the EU, plus UK.

Referring to safety standards as ” the lowest common denominator” is not the correct interpretation for “minimum standard” of safety. It means that safety must be of a standard no less than that specified in the standard, and can be greater. So, for example, a maximum touch temperature is specified for safe handling, but it of course can be lower; a minimum safe clearance is specified between parts of different polarity, but the distance can be greater; the time for a fire alarm to sound must not exceed a particular value, but can be less.

I hope I’m not wrong.

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The difference in quality of non-domestic goods can be amazing, though some of the differences are not apparent without dismantling them. When buying goods for work I knew I did not have the protection of the Sale of Goods Act but in most cases the companies could not be more helpful if a problem arose.

I’m glad you mentioned the differences that can be seen by dismantling appliances. That is something I have urged Which? to do as part of its product assessments to give us clues on repairability and durability.

I would like to see BSI etc to inspect products that have caused fires in order to establish if improvements could be made to reduce risk. I have mentioned several times that the tests are only carried out on new tumble dryers, despite the fact that in some cases lint can accumulate unseen within ducts. This seems to be the cause of the fires in the Whirlpool brands and can be overcome by modification of the dryer.

BSI is an “umbrella” organisation that provides the facilities for committees to work. It is for the organisations those committee members belong to to do the work on which standards develop. For many this is their “day job” anyway; a manufacturer, for example, will want to eliminate flaws in their design, if they exist, just as much as anyone else.

I would expect Whirlpool to have carefully examined the indesit dryer design before implementing a modification. I would be interested to know exactly where the design fault lay, how the modification was intended to work, and how it was tested.

It’s not just the Whirlpool dryers that have caused fires and I first learned about the problem in the early 70s. My view is that current testing of dryers should be extended to look at used models on the basis that some accumulate fluff and lint within the ducting and in some cases within the appliance case.

I’d expect manufacturers to do that as part of their product development. As far as a standard is concerned the essence is controlled and repeatable test procedures to ensure comparable results. An accelerated test programme using “standard fluff” to check for accumulation in unsafe places would be one way of dealing with that.

My concern that has never been answered is whether anyone has checked that these Indesit dryers met the standard in the first place, and what 3rd party checks were made on the proposed modification(s) before they were implemented. That should have been Peterborough Trading Standards job, I believe. I think they have dealt with this ineptly. They could, for example, have required Whirlpool to have products tested by an independent laboratory against the standard, and the modifications verified independently. Maybe they did? BSI’s own laboratories could have provided the test facilities required.

We can only speculate what has happened regarding the Whirlpool tumble dryers and since we have had various Conversations related to tumble dryers, perhaps it is best to continue discussion there.

I would be interested to know why no-one questioned the introduction of non-fire retardant backs on refrigeration equipment. Currently the Which? reviews list 19 brand names affected.

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I have come across apartment buildings in the UK that have communal laundry rooms but, as you say, they are not common and in many cases the landlord has ripped them out and converted the space into one more letting unit.

People here seem to prefer to go the launderette for big washing loads and leave them for a service wash and collect later. When I was working I used to take all my shirts to a dry cleaners for laundering because I didn’t have the time to do the ironing. It was more than paid for by the overtime I earned while not doing the washing and ironing.

I found Kenneth’s comment (earlier) about how mankind survived for thousands of years without the tumble drier interesting. We didn’t invest in our first Tumbler until we had the children – around 30 years ago – and coping then was fairly easy, AIRI. But as a child, growing up in relative poverty, I do remember always noticing that the clothes I put on (especially Sundays – when the clothes hadn’t been worn for a week) were damp.

How much putting on damp clothes contributed to my chest issues (I had pneumonia and countless colds and also caught the lethal strain of ‘flu H2N2, that left me in no doubt as to what the difference was between a bad cold and ‘flu) I’ll never know, but I suspect the short answer is that mankind chose to live in or migrate to warmer climes, where tumblers were – largely speaking – unnecessary.

But it might be interesting from a statistical standpoint to compare risk factors associated with Tumblers vs. damp-induced ailments and mortality.

Good evening everyone, as a little update for you – Gorenje has announced that all fridges, freezers and fridge-freezers will now be made with aluminium backs.

Gorenje was one of many refrigeration brands to have our Best Buy recommendations removed as a result of our concerns over non-flame-retardant plastic backings. We will review this decision in regards to Gorenje when plastic-backed Gorenje appliances are no longer available.

Alex Neill, managing director of Which? home products and services, said:

‘This is a welcome step but it is unacceptable that many big brand manufacturers continue to sell fridges, freezers and fridge freezers that have flammable backing material. ‘The Government’s response to date has not met the scale of the challenge and real change is needed – starting with an independent national body with real powers to protect families from further tragic consequences.’

@ldeitz, I’m glad to here about Gorenje. Have the other makes with plastic backs been checked for the fire resistance of the material in accordance with the safety standard? Have they been checked with the new test given in the latest documents? Do you know whether the BSI initiative to further modify the safety standard has been accepted by CENELEC?

Sorry for the delay, Malcolm. We ran tests towards the end of last year: https://www.which.co.uk/news/2017/12/safety-alert-watch-our-video-to-see-why-fridge-freezers-pose-a-fire-risk/

I shared the news of our test with you all at the end of the year. We explained in the news story that the current British Standard requires refrigerators to pass a ‘glow wire’ test to assess fire resistance. This test involves putting a hot wire through a sample of the appliance’s backing material and seeing if it catches alight. But the more stringent fire tests that we used in our video form a part of the new standard, but that is yet to be implemented.

We’re calling on manufacturers to implement tougher testing immediately and voluntarily. We’re currently conducting more fire tests across all refrigeration brands.

@ldeitz, thanks Lauren. I did see the original announcement. Did Which? check all fridges etc with plastic backs to see whether the materials used met the existing standard, and whether they would meet the revised standard? Or was the suggestion not to buy any with plastic backs precautionary until they had been tested?

Hi Malcolm, I’m not sure I know what you mean. We tested the plastic backings, which meet current standards. The standard is being revised, but not implemented yet so there are plastic backed fridges on sale which would not stand up to the more stringent fire test. Our view is not to buy any plastic backed fridge, freezer or fridge-freezer.

Hello Lauren, I’m glad they all meet current standards. What I was interested in was which of those would not meet the new standard.

I could assume that it would be all with a plastic back, but let me check with the testing team 🙂 I know that we’ve been carrying out further testing and all plastic backed models are also Don’t Buys

@ldeitz, thanks Lauren. What I am working towards is whether any products with plastic backs meet the new standard and whether that is then adequate protection. I would expect that the standards authority should be asked to justify what they have produced. I also believe BSI – maybe others – have proposed more stringent requirements than the IEC standard introduces; are Which? aware of that and do they agree with the proposals?

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In the case of the fridge and freezer backs, it looks as if the problem could be with the standard rather than with compliance, Duncan, but that needs to be confirmed. Maybe time to look at the plastics used elsewhere in appliances. It’s not just cheap products made down to a price that use plastic rather than metal. A friend has one of the affected Gorenje fridge-freezers and that was not cheap.

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This is why it is important to understand what the standards require. It is not a “hot wire” test, but a “glow wire” test where the wire is heated to incandescence. Non-metallic materials (which includes plastics) are subject to differing tests depending upon their function. Glow wire tests are made according to IEC 60695-2-1 and range from 550 – 850⁰C. Others are subjected to a needle flame test – more stringent still – to IEC 60695-11-5.

These are not “low value” standards. They do apply high concentrations of heat applied locally. They do test plastics. This conversation should not be misled by inaccurate allegations.

The IEC standard has been changed to include a more stringent test, provided by a needle flame to another IEC standard – probably IEC 60695-11-5. BSI (and maybe other EU standards authorities) have proposed additional requirements to those given by the IEC. Which? should be aware of this but have not so far informed us, as I said on other occasions.

Duncan – There are plastics that are fire resistant and there are plastics that will withstand much higher temperatures than most of those we are familiar with. What matters here is what plastics are used in appliances, not what is theoretically possible.

All the samples of plastics from appliances and a few other products in my home were easily ignited and continued to burn when a flame was removed. Why could this happen if these materials are considered to be safe?

Malcolm – You can keep quoting tests and standards, but how do you explain the photos I have shown of appliances where plastics have burned and or/melted?

Once more, with feeling…

I’d be far more concerned with what caused the heat/flame in the first place than the consequences off the back of that.

To me, this is treating the symptoms, not the disease.


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Mains-powered electrical products can go on fire for a variety of reasons and by good design we can reduce but not eliminate the risk. That’s why it is important to be able to contain a fire if it does start, otherwise there could be needless damage to property and risk to life.

Your home tests on plastic slivers are not a realistic way to test plastics, or any other material. As I said earlier, I can make metal burn if I so choose. If you look on the Which? Whirlpool video you will see a tumble dryer involved in a fire where the plastic is intact.

There has been information posted here saying plastics are not tested, quoting wrong figures, that mislead. So it is necessary to put matters straight. Consult the standards to see the facts.

The plastic in your photo has deformed and may well have been subjected to a substantial fire. But how many have resulted in this out of the 16 million in operation? If you want everything totally risk free it will not happen. But given experience, designs and materials improve.

Nevertheless I want to see products improved, just as the revised standard for fridges and freezers is doing. I have said before that there are working groups looking at the fire problem with household electrical appliances, looking at the problem in the round, not just one aspect. I’m happy to see their properly considered recommendations. Nothing stops any manufacturer producing improvements – they do not wait for standards to change. Sensible changes can be made at any time providing they still meet the standard.

I have no axe to grind on appliances but have provided the facts about standards to inform the discussion and about what I understand is happening to improve products. If you feel so strongly that your views must be followed then you need them to reach those who make the standards. I’ve several times given links to those, and pointed out yesterday how individuals can comment on draft standards/amendments and make their views known directly to BSI.

wavechange, I quoted standards because some comments made were quite wrong, and need correction. Plastics are tested. Test temperatures are substantially higher than those assumed. False information misleads people.

Rather than berating my efforts you might like to obtain a fascia from a scrap appliance and carry out some tests. I expect that someone in your nearest recycling centre might be able to oblige.

I think one of the problems here is a lot of the tests look a bit artificial to us laymen – irrespective of whether or not they have engineering merit.

Because fridge freezers don’t often self-ignite, this is a bit like researching spontaneous combustion in human beings.

However, as regards making these appliances withstand (and not aggravate) the hazard of kitchen fire (however caused) it does seem obvious that the casing (even at the back) should be designed to protect the appliance from the fire, so that it cannot add fuel to the flames.

So long as Which? can get us the information to inform our customer choices, and so long as some makers already offer metal backs, we can vote with our feet (and wallets) on this issue.

If we don’t do this, attempts to improve the fire safety provisions of IEC standards may be doomed to fail, because it will be possible for some to counter argue that there is no consensus in favour of those improvements.

I am not losing any sleep because I have a fridge and a freezer with plastic backs, but I am disappointed that the manufacturer has chosen to use this material rather than steel or another material that would not ignite in the unlikely event of a fire.

Anyone who would like to find out about the glow wire and needle flame tests can see examples on YouTube. I was familiar with them when my team was working on novel bioplastics, though our testing focused on physical properties and was carried out to ASTM standards by three commercial labs in the UK, US and Belgium. I think I understand a little more about standards than some might imagine.


With appliances they are different in different regions and, all too often there are lifestyle differences also.

In the US refrigeration is predominately larger and to be blunt, more archaic than the product sold in the EU. There are crossovers of course but, not as many as people might think.

Even through the EU there are differences from market to market, region to region and it most certainly not a case of one size fits all.


The tests I saw by the LFB on YouTube were, to my mind totally bogus and *NOT* representative of most real world situations but more the very extreme of them. A prolonged source of heat as shown there has to have a cause and, that has nothing whatsoever to do with the backing.

With that amount of heat/flame whatever was around the unit was probably already a raging inferno rendering this test pretty much a waste of time, in my opinion.

Other than perhaps, a PR exercise to get you all fired up, pardon the pun. 😉

So to my mind, this is all largely a storm in a teacup that will make little to no advance of safety for anyone.


Tests need to be done in a controlled and consistent way to achieve meaningful results. That is why they are described in such detail, not just in standards but in, for example, science and engineering. In the case of materials used in appliances, for example, there are a whole series of such tests described on the different components that have different functions.

Not only do some manufacturers offer metal backs but I understand that BSI are seeking to improve the EN (European) version of the IEC (international) standard in this respect.

Tests are, in a sense, artificial. You have, for example, to try to devise reproducible and consistent devices that can sensibly represent the sort of heat sources that might occur under abnormal conditions in the appliance. So there are a variety of “glow wire” tests – electrically heated elements that produce a range of high temperatures, and gas flames of particular shape and temperature. This means that when used correctly they will produce similar results in any test laboratory. No good just putting a match to a random piece of material.

Has anyone doubted this, Malcolm? Occasionally we see problems such as the Whirlpool dryers that show either lack of compliance with safety standards or that the standards are inadequate to ensure adequate fire protection. It’s obvious to me that it would be valuable to have a test for fire containment. It’s no help to be told that this is being looked at when this could have been done decades ago.

I think this is old coals being raked.

The only way to mitigate as much risk as possible is to mandate that all homes must have sprinkler systems installed, as they have done in California now I believe.

Other than that it’s picking a bit here and bit there often not solving the actual problem and, also not addressing any future fire risks as barring Mystic Meg weighing in, nobody can see potential future issues. Doing that, in one fell swoop, solve the majority of problems.

The cost to homeowners is irrelevant apparently as nobody seems to have discussed the cost impact for consumers or manufacturers so, obviously that appears to be of no concern in the scope of the conversations I’ve seen here.

There again, what cost do you put on life?

And if people have to pay thousands of pounds for safety then so be it as a sprinkler system also protects against the bulk of user abuse, stupidity etc as well from anything, including dodgy chargers and all sorts.

Seems to me that’s the more logical road to go down.


Indesit dryers were a special case as we know. The incidence of reported fire, minor or otherwise, in household electrical appliances is very very low and from a variety of causes including abuse, misuse, lack of maintenance. These are (2015/16)
Tumble dryers 0.005% (5 in every 100 000)
Fridges/Freezers <0.001%
Dishwashers <0.003%

As Which? say of fridge-freezers – “Consumers who already own a fridge freezer, fridge or freezer with a non-flame-retardant plastic-back should be reassured that the likelihood of a refrigerator fire is very low. Our July 2015 research analysing government fire data found that only 7% of fires caused by faulty household appliances were caused by fridge freezers, fridges or freezers. And the material used in the backing allows an existing fire to spread – it isn’t the cause of fire itself.”

Read more: https://www.which.co.uk/reviews/fridge-freezers/article/fridge-freezer-safety – Which?

There are 5 times as many fires from cooking appliances, resulting in more than 10 times as many fatalities, than from other electrical appliances. Perhaps we should be looking at a way to handle the effect of fire from any cause, as the Welsh have done by requiring sprinklers. And perhaps looking at all the flammable materials that surround such appliances – ban wood in cupboards, worktops, perhaps.

I know that every fire, like every road accident, can be a tragedy and should be mitigated by a realistic approach. Degree of risk is part of that. We could avoid many head-on collisions by abolishing 2 way roads without a central barrier., As there is no epidemic I’m prepared to see what the experts of the many disciplines who are involved in standards find and decisde to implement. We, and particularly Which?, can help that process if we wish by feeding in information and constructive proposals to the relevant committees – CPL/61### at BSI in our case.

I am. totally in favour of reducing the risk of a problem of any kind in a product. Reputable manufacturers will do this off their own bat, by continuously improving products; they don’t need to wait for standards to be revised.

Those standards should ensure the “less reputable” manufacturers either up their game or can be held to account, through their distributors if necessary, if they do not observe the required safety measures. We do not know how the incidence of product failure is distributed between brands (I’m sure somewhere there are statistics) but we do need an effective policing system to check on them. However stringent the standards some may treat them without due respect. Maybe part of Which?’s product tests should be to look at whether standards are being met. I realise that would prevent most products being resold on ebay, but a price worth paying.

Has anyone made their constructive proposals known to BSI, who examine and amend standards with their EU colleagues, and have they responded to you?

We really are going over old ground. All products sold must meet standards though manufacturers have the option to exceed them. Dangerous phone chargers are well known but I don’t know if any manufacturers of white goods come into this category.

Cars offer a wide range of safety features, some of which are mandatory, yet we don’t even have a requirement for white goods to contain fire.

I have no feeling for whether there is a significant problem with lack of compliance with standards. Maybe that’s worth checking, but my priority would be to look at the relatively small number of cases where there might be a problem with adequacy of standards. Some time back, Which? reported on an expensive smoke detector that performed poorly in tests: https://www.which.co.uk/reviews/smoke-alarms/devolo-home-control-smoke-detector
I might not want a sensitive smoke detector in the kitchen but in a bedroom for example, I would prefer to have an alarm that responds promptly to fire.

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I don’t know much about the design of US machines but recall the requirement for metal flues for vented tumble dryers. At the time we discussed this I checked three spares suppliers in the UK and each one offered plastic vent hose, which might not be useful if burning lint is being ejected.

I do wonder what is happening in other countries.

BSI responded to Which? publicly on smoke detectors.
They had not themselves approved some models but were concerned that Which? discussed their test results with them and invited them to join the relevant committee. I don’t know whether Which? did. That is the obvious way to progress rather than simply criticise international standards. Cooperation among all interested parties is far better than sniping.

“All products made must meet standards” : legally, where EU regulations exist (and a vast number of products are covered), they are required to meet all the regulations to be put on the market. That does not prevent some dubious manufacturers from putting non-compliant products on the market, just as you can buy non-compliant drugs or other fake stuff. Standards and regulations cannot stop that happening but what they do is give those who police products the ability to check compliance (or otherwise). We need that system properly funded and manned if we are to give better protection to consumers.

In my view any company that plays a part in the sale and distribution of dangerous or sub-Standard products should be penalised. That includes Amazon. But we don’t (2 pin plugs, fake chargers…….)

I have read that several times Malcolm. Five months after Which? raised concern about poor performance of this smoke detector we have heard no more information and it seems to be still on sale. I was assuming that BSI would take some sort of action other than issuing a press release, even if just to refer the case and let us know.

If BSI is not the appropriate organisation, who should Which? have contacted regarding their concerns in this case. Was Which? wrong to contact BSI?

Which? should cooperate with BSI. Have they discussed their results with BSI and joined the committee to make constructive contributions to work on standards? I do hope so. As has been said before standards allow a range of time for the fires to trigger the alarms; that is inevitable in any practical design. The question is whether the range allowed is adequate to allow action to be taken.

BSI do not police products on the market – not their role. Trading Standards do that.

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Thanks Duncan. Incineration of waste is another example of how all consumer plastics can be destroyed in fire. I’m disappointed that Which? has not apparently done anything over this or one or two other relatively minor concerns I have made. Which? has supported concerns by the LFB about plastic-backed fridges and freezers so maybe the answer is to contact LFB again. It’s a case of finding the right person to talk too. I do remember our earlier discussions.

I’ve posted the main part of this in response to duncan on another Convo so sorry to repeat it:
Safety standards have been developed internationally over decades by people from many disciplines and they no doubt have a good deal of knowledge, expertise and experience to draw on that goes into these documents. They are finalised by consensus after approval, modification, even rejection by the standards organisations groups of appropriate people in participating countries, not on a whim or by political or vested interest pressure. At least, that has been my experience.

So what I am saying is that we should respect the integrity of those doing this work and realise that, while we may hold particular views, we may not have sufficient background or information to be able to declare them as superior to others. We can, however, make our considered views known. BSI accept such input from individuals, and Which? should be able to collate and summarise constructive proposals for submission to the relevant committees.

There may well be a need to revise the way plastics are used in the light of experience with fires.However there are working groups already examining this very issue and that is the correct way to approach a problem. There may be revised tests needed to ensure that where plastics are appropriate the correct types are used, their placement is examined, for example. This has already been proposed by BSI over and above the revised IEC document requirements. The fire design of appliances has been commented on before and, as far as I know, is with the relevant bodies being examined.

My suggestion was that we ask, through Which?, for our specific concerns, about materials for example, to be put to the standards organisation, perhaps best done through BSI, to get their side of the story, and understand what is current work is underway.

Incidentally, the IEC standard on fridge freezers and BSI’s response to it, with proposals about the plastic backs among other issues was in hand well before Which? raised this issue, to the best of my knowledge. If that is correct it is one of the reasons I want Which? to be directly involved with standards preparation by joining the relevant BSI committees (I do know they were invited) so they can be up to date themselves with what is developing and keep us informed as well.

Who approved the use of flammable plastics in backs and elsewhere in the cases of white goods in the first place?

Plastics used in domestic appliances are, according to the standards, to be resistant to ignition and the spread of flame. They do not say “flammable plastics”. Under particular circumstances plastics may burn, and where they are used appropriate tests are specified to see if they comply with this requirement. The IEC document now, i believe, requires a more stringent test and, as I have said before, BSI (maybe other EU standards organisations) are proposing other more rigorous measures as well for the CENELEC version of the standard. This was all proposed, as far as I know, before the present discussions, and known to Which? but not seemingly passed on to us.

As for the use of plastics , as I said earlier, I suggest Which? ask those who construct and amend standards to give their explanation.

I have found no evidence that plastics used in the cases of white goods must be tested to establish if they will burn and melt and it’s obvious from the photos I have posted that this can happen.

I was an avid electronics constructor when I was young. When I built mains-powered items I always used a metal box to avoid the risk of fire. I still have power supplies that I built in the early 70s and they are in folded aluminium, die cast aluminium and steel cases. Whether the advice came from a magazine or book, or I worked it out for myself, I cannot remember. I do remember grudging the extra cost of metal boxes compared with plastic, but I always used metal.

Let’s get rid of cheap and inappropriate plastics and use a bit of common sense in the manufacture of white goods. Why not join me in condemnation of demonstrably poor practice?

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Yes, screening is another very important consideration