Don’t rush into buying a new fridge, freezer or fridge freezer this winter, even if your current model breaks before Christmas or you spot a bargain in the January sales.
That’s because our tests reveal that certain refrigerator backing materials can cause an existing fire to rapidly spread.
Watch what happens in just 30 seconds of fire in our video below:
Inadequate refrigeration safety standards
Despite posing a potential fire risk, inadequate safety standards mean that manufacturers can currently sell refrigerators with non-flame-retardant backing.
Read more about fridge, freezer and fridge freezer safety.
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.
All fridges, freezers and fridge freezers that you can currently buy pass this test.
But you can see in our video above what happened when, instead of the glow wire, we put a naked flame up to the backing material.
Which? refrigeration fire tests
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 on manufacturers to implement tougher testing immediately and voluntarily.
As our video shows, two separate samples of non-flame-retardant plastic backing set alight after just 10 seconds. To pass the tougher testing, they should be able to withstand an open flame for at least 30 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.
We’re currently conducting more fire tests across all refrigeration brands – look out for the results of our investigation next year.
Fridge and freezer safety advice
At Which? we aim to recommend the best products for you to buy. With this in mind, we continually monitor and vary the assessments that underpin our reviews to take account of changing standards and areas of concern.
We’ve already raised concerns about the safety of more than 250 fridges, freezers and fridge freezers currently on sale in the UK. These models have non-flame-retardant plastic backing, which could create a fire risk in people’s homes due to its potential to accelerate the spread of fire.
We no longer recommend you buy a refrigerator with this type of backing. And no product with this backing is eligible for our Which? Best Buy recommendation.
Alex Neill, managing director of Which? home and product services, said: ‘Manufacturers must put consumer safety first and immediately stop making fridges, freezers and fridge freezers to a standard that they know is clearly deficient and could potentially be putting people’s lives at risk.’
What about the fridge freezer, fridge or freezer I already own?
If you already own one of these models and are not planning to buy a new one, it’s worth bearing in mind that refrigerator fires are rare. Our 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.
And the material used in the backing allows an existing fire to spread – it isn’t the cause of fire itself.
Broken product safety system
As well as petitioning manufacturers over refrigeration safety, we’re calling on the government to urgently set up a new national product safety regulator to take responsibility for ensuring manufacturers keep households safe and get dangerous products out of people’s homes quickly before there’s further tragedy or loss of life.
Peter Vicary-Smith, chief executive of Which? said: ‘The product safety system isn’t fit for purpose, and its over-reliance on a local approach to a national problem poses grave risks to consumers.
‘The government must now take urgent action and create a new national body that has all of the tools it needs to get unsafe products out of people’s homes.’