Fire risks in appliances

I received the following enquiry about the safety of washing machines and other appliances regarding fire risks.

There seems to be a lot of news about washing machines catching fire and advice not to leave them unattended. We do have a smoke alarm but is there any other way of safeguarding against them catching fire?

I’m afraid fire risks in appliances are always with us if relatively rare. The advice from the Fire services is to always install a smoke alarm near to the appliance if it is left unattended. This can be impractical if the appliance is in the kitchen because of cooking activity setting them off. But fortunately you can now buy heat alarms which are unaffected by smoke. These alarms detect the heat from a fire. Presumably they will not be anywhere near as fast reacting as a smoke alarm, but in a kitchen environment they may be the only real option unless you are prepared to use a smoke alarm that has a snooze button. If triggered you can press a button which makes the smoke alarm inactive for a short period of time if you know the alarm has only been triggered by cooking. (Smoke alarm advice – Fire Service)

There isn’t much else you can do to prevent an appliance catching fire, if a fault is going to develop and cause a fire it will happen. The best you can do is to not leave any washing machine, tumble dryer or dishwasher running if totally unattended (eg. everyone in bed or have left the house) and to not ignore any leaks, or any other faults if present. Also do not overload the wall socket by plugging too many appliances in (Extension leads and cables with appliances). I was once advised by a fireman that the (old fashioned) square adapters that go into a socket should also be avoided.

Fridges and freezers: These appliances fall into the category of products that we have no choice but to leave plugged in all of the time. Clearly a fridge or freezer has to be plugged in 24/7 in order to function. Sadly fridges and freezers can and do catch fire, sometimes with fatal consequences. According to the London Fire Brigade one of the causes of fridge or freezer fires is an accumulation of dirt hairs and rubbish that gets blown or sucked into the back of the appliance and they recommend that fridges and freezers are regularly pulled out and cleaned at the back.

Another common cause is when a fault develops which causes the fire. Many of these faults become public and the manufacturers issue a safety notice. Safety notices usually involve fires although they can involve risks of electric shock or other serious issues. Therefore checking appliance safety notices and keeping an eye on new ones issued is greatly advisable. I publish any that I find out about covering all white goods appliances but I could never claim to be fully comprehensive so check out other sources such as trading standards as well. To check my current list of all appliances with known safety notices to see if you have an affect appliance go here –Appliance safety notices section covering all white goods appliances

Make sure you always register your appliances

Safety Tip Many dangerous faults, once discovered, are the subject of safety recalls or notices. The first thing a manufacture will do if they discover a serious safety issue with one of their appliances is to contact everyone on their database. If you haven’t registered, then they can’t.

The only safe thing is to not really leave them unattended but many people can’t easily do this. My own washing machine for example is in our garage which is a separate building as are two of my refrigeration appliances. We also leave our dishwasher on in the kitchen whilst we are sat in the lounge, no one could be expected to stand and watch an appliance. At the end of the day it’s a modern-day risk we all take, and the best we can do is never leave the house or go to bed while such an appliance is running. At least if someone is around they are likely to either smell or see the smoke and be in a position to try and deal with it.

Keep fire extinguisher close to appliances

For the extra cautious I would advise keeping a fire extinguisher which is suitable for use in electrical fires to hand. I have a small home fire extinguisher in a corner of my kitchen near to the door similar to those available on 4Washerhelp Find fire extinguishers suitable for use on home Appliances I also keep one in my garage close to my Freezers, washing machine and tumble dryer.

Check Appliance Safety Notices

I have a list of appliance safety notices which I update every time I discover one. I can’t promise to catch them all but here are the ones I know about so far, which includes dangerous and potentially lethal fridges, freezers, dishwashers and cookers so check them now and keep checking this section or follow me on Facebook Appliance Safety Notice Warnings

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  1. avatarD Cox says

    Please don’t underestimate the danger of washing machine fires. I was woken at 2am by friends who had just been released from hospital after treatment for smoke inhalation; they and their 2 young children had nearly died, and their possessions were all ruined, their house needed completely redecorating. What was shocking was the actual fire was TINY; the toxic smoke had come from plastic objects above the machine smouldering. The seat of the fire was no more than 6ins across and there had been no flames.

  2. avatar says

    Thanks for your input D Cox: I would never leave a major appliance on whilst no one was at home or we were in bed. Some appliances such as fridges and freezers have to be left on unattended – there’s nothing we can do about that so we have no choice but to accept the risk. We do not have to leave washing machines, dishwashers and dryers on whilst in bed or out though, therefore doing so risks serious consequences in the name of convenience, or to save a few pounds (economy 7) which is a risk I personally don’t want to take.

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