What’s the problem with plastic-backed fridges?

This follows a recent review of refrigeration appliance safety and a growing body of evidence from the London Fire Brigade which indicated that the risk of a fire spreading is greater with non-flame retardant plastic backed models.

Which? has stopped recommending the purchase of any fridge, freezer, or fridge freezer with non-flame retardant plastic backing, removing best buys from dozens of models across its sites.

Which? believes, based on the evidence, that non-flame retardant plastic backing material presents a safety risk due to its potential to allow an existing fire to spread - it isn’t the cause of fire itself - and future models should not be made in this way.

Consumers who already own a refrigeration appliance with a non-flame-retardant plastic-back should be reassured that the likelihood of a refrigerator fire is extremely low. 

Which?'s July 2015 research into government fire data found that only 7% of fires caused by faulty appliances were caused by fridge-freezers, fridges or freezers.

How do I minimise the risk?

To minimise the risk of fire in your kitchen, you can take the following precautionary steps:

1. Refer to your appliance manual to ensure recommended distances are kept between your refrigeration appliance and the wall and to ensure there are no other obstructions which can restrict airflow.

2. Make sure the vents are not blocked and clean behind your refrigeration appliance regularly to prevent dust building up.

3. Plug your refrigeration appliance directly into the wall rather than using an extension lead, and ensure the sockets are not overloaded with too many plugs.

More fire safety advice

What is Which? doing?

We monitor and vary the assessments that underpin our reviews to take account of changing standards and areas of concern.

Because of this, Which? is taking the precautionary approach of only recommending those appliances with metal backing - either metal or aluminium laminate - or flame-retardant plastic backs.

No non-flame-retardant plastic-backed products, even if they otherwise performed well in our product tests, have retained or been awarded our Best Buy recommendation.

How can I find out if my fridge or freezer has a plastic back?

First check if your:

has been reviewed by Which?. If so, the material of the back panel will be listed in the technical specifications section of our review.

If not, or if your model hasn’t been reviewed by us, we recommend contacting your appliance's the manufacturer. But, there is no need to be concerned if you own an appliance with a plastic back.

Can I claim a refund from my retailer if my fridge has a plastic back?

Whether your fridge has a plastic back or not does not affect your statutory rights. If your fridge is not of satisfactory quality, fit for purpose or as described, you're entitled to return it to the retailer that sold it to you for a repair or replacement, and in some cases a refund.

Because the risk of fire is extremely low and your fridge, freezer, or fridge freezer meets existing standards, it is very unlikely to satisfy this criteria.

But, we do recommend that you register your appliance with the manufacturer. This makes it much more likely you’ll be contacted in the event of an issue with your model of fridge, freezer or fridge freezer.

Did you buy your fridge or freezer online recently?

Your online cancellation rights are more generous than if you bought your fridge, freezer or fridge freezer from a high street shop.

Your right to cancel starts the moment you place your order and ends 14 days from the day you receive it.

If your order consists of multiple goods, the 14-day period runs from when you get the last of the batch.

This 14-day period is the time you have to decide whether to cancel, you then have a further 14 days to actually send the goods back for a full refund, but depending on the retailer's own policy this may not include the cost of delivery or the cost of sending the fridge, freezer or fridge freezer back.

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