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Following the U.S. recall of the washing machine models WPGT9350, WPGT9360 and WPGT9150 in September by the manufacturing company GE Appliances, who received 71 reports of internal washer components burning or catching fire, we got to wondering; just how common are washing machine fires?

A wire on fire

If you asked most people which household appliance is the greatest fire hazard, there probably aren’t many who’d reply “washing machine”. More likely candidates have surely to be the cooker, the microwave, or, the one we’re most often warned about, the electric blanket. But it would seem that it is actually your washing machine which is most likely to catch fire.

An investigation run by Which? found that, of the almost 12,000 fires which occurred between 2011 and March 2014, and which were caused by faulty home products that combined water with electricity, the largest percentage were caused by washing machines. While irons were the cause of fire in only 1% of cases (92 incidents), washing machines were thought to be responsible for 14% of fires (1, 723 fires). Other appliances statistics were that electric blankets were at fault in 2% of fires (236 cases), microwaves were responsible 4% of the time (427), and cookers only 9% of the time (1,080). In fact after washing machines, tumble dryers were the next most likely candidate for causing a fire (12% of fires resulting in 1,456 cases).

So what can you do to prevent a washing machine fire?

The first thing to consider is whether your washing machine is reliable. Some brands of washing machine haven’t got particularly good reputations, but what’s worse than buying a branded washing machine with a less than fantastic consumer report is buying one that is unbranded. While a washing machine from an obscure or unknown manufacturer may be cheaper, you have a lot less security when it comes to issues like its quality, potential customer support, and whether it meets safety regulations.

Once you have your washing machine it’s important to clean it regularly. Powerful motors with fast moving parts that get very hot, when combined with stray fluff or lint, are very bad news. Areas to check and clean are the drain pump propeller (bad news if this becomes blocked), the filter (ideally this should be cleaned out after each use), and the condenser unit if your machine is a washer-dryer. If you don’t feel confident checking your machine over yourself then booking a service might be something to consider.

Other top tips for preventing a potentially disastrous fire are to;

  • Never leave your washing machine unattended while it’s in use (a pain we know but at least then if the worst happens and it does catch light you’re there to raise the alarm).
  • Keep an eye out for product recalls.
  • Make sure your machine is PAT tested.
  • Don’t ignore minor faults because these can turn into major faults over time. For example, what started off as a small leak could end up shorting out the electrics.

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