Hundreds of fridges, freezers and fridge freezers currently on sale in shops across the UK are potentially unsafe, new Which? research reveals.
We’ve named 250 refrigeration appliances Don’t Buys after our research proved that their plastic backs may dramatically accelerate the spread of flames in the event of a fire.
These Don’t Buys account for 45% of the fridge, freezer and fridge freezers we carry reviews for, suggesting the proportion of potentially unsafe appliances in shops is worryingly high. Never before have we issued our Don’t Buy warning on such a massive scale.
Yet the manufacture and sale of these products remains completely legal, thanks to flawed current safety standards that won’t be replaced until 2019.
Stop making and selling fire risk fridges, freezers and fridge freezers
We’re calling on manufacturers to make product safety a priority and immediately stop making fridges, freezers and fridge freezers with plastic backing. Retailers should immediately stop selling these products to keep them out of people’s homes and ensure consumers aren’t unknowingly spending hundreds of pounds on potentially unsafe appliances.
Watch our video to see why we’re so concerned and how quickly plastic backing goes up in flames compared to metal/aluminium laminate backing.
What if I already own one of these Don’t Buys?
If you do own a model with a flammable plastic back, be assured that refrigerator fires are rare. Our March 2018 research into government data found that only 8% of fires caused by faulty appliances were caused by fridge freezers, fridges or freezers. And although flammable plastic backing accelerates the spread of flames, it’s not the cause of fire itself.
If you’re buying a new model, we’d suggest you check the backing of all the fridge freezers, fridges and freezers we have information on by using our checker tool below.
As long as we’ve reviewed the product in recent years and have information on the backing, it will be in our database. We can’t test everything, though, so if you can’t find information on your model, we recommend contacting the manufacturer.
You can minimise the risk of a fire starting in the first place by following both the safety instructions in your user manual and our tips on fridge freezer safety.
Eighteen refrigeration brands currently have appliances with flammable plastic backs in the shops, according to our research. The likes of AEG, Gorenje, Hisense, Hotpoint, Indesit, Smeg and Zanussi are all responsible for at least ten (and in some cases many more) potentially dangerous plastic-backed appliances.
German brands, Bosch and Liebherr, also have one flammable-plastic-backed Don’t Buy each – the Bosch GCM34AW20G chest freezer and the Liebherr UIK1550 integrated fridge. Bosch told us that its Don’t Buy chest freezer was discontinued in November 2017 but as of March 2018 it was still available to buy in some retailers.
We’ve only found 14 brands that use a flame-retardant metal or aluminium back on every one of their fridges, freezers and fridge freezers we’ve reviewed. These include Beko, Miele, Samsung and LG.
You can see the full list of brands in the table below.
Price doesn’t guarantee safety
Buying an expensive fridge, freezer or fridge freezer doesn’t guarantee that it won’t have a flammable plastic back, just as buying a cheap model doesn’t necessarily mean it has a flammable one.
We subjected the Smeg Fab50LWH, which costs £2,000, to our fire test and the results prove it has flammable plastic back. The same is true for the AEG SCE81864TC and the Hotpoint XUL85 T3Z XOV, which cost around £1,300 and £1,100 respectively.
You have to question why such expensive products have flammable plastic backs, when we’ve tested Best Buy fridge freezers that cost around £300 and don’t have backs that accelerate the spread of fire.
Don’t be fooled by flame-retardant plastic
Four manufacturers told us that some of their appliances had ‘flame-retardant’ plastic backs, when we first requested information from them. They were Hisense, Lec, Hoover Candy and Currys PC World.
But we tested a ‘flame-retardant’ plastic sample from each of them and not a single one was able to withstand an open-flame for thirty seconds in our tests. Any appliance that has an identical ‘flame-retardant’ plastic back to those ones we have tested has been made a Don’t Buy.
Watch how so called ‘flame-retardant’ plastic backs go up in flames in our video.
At Which? we continually monitor and vary the assessments that underpin our reviews to take account of changing standards and areas of concern.
We first highlighted serious concerns about the safety of some models of fridges, freezers and fridge freezers on the UK market more than six months ago.
Since then, and following a lack of government action, we’ve been conducting fire research on refrigerator backings.
We requested information from manufacturers about their refrigeration appliance backings. Then we tested backing samples from more than 80 different refrigeration appliances, across every refrigeration brand that we carry reviews for.
We applied an open flame to each sample for thirty seconds and any product that was deemed to be unsafe because it failed to withstand the flame, which would leave the flammable insulation exposed, has been made a Don’t Buy.
Hundreds more products have been made Don’t Buys because the manufacturer either confirmed, or our own research indicated, that the backing on these products was identical to a product we tested and found to be unsafe.
Following this investigation, a number of manufacturers have committed to replacing plastic backing. The following manufacturers have told us they’re either in the process of discontinuing plastic-backed appliances, or are upgrading to different backs: Bush, Currys PC World (which owns the Currys Essentials, Kenwood and Logik refrigeration brands), Electrolux (which owns the AEG and Zanussi brands), Gorenje, Hisense, Hoover Candy (which owns the Hoover and Candy brands), Ikea, Lec, Smeg and Whirlpool (which owns the Hotpoint, Indesit, KitchenAid and Whirlpool brands).
You can find out whether a specific model is in the process of being upgraded in our product reviews, or by using the tool above.
Our Don’t Buy recommendation relates to the plastic-backed version of any upgraded product. It will remain a Don’t Buy until the plastic version is no longer available to buy in shops. We’ll continue to test the flammability of refrigeration backs.
Manufacturers also reiterated that their products comply with current safety standards.
Demand action on dangerous products
Peter Vicary-Smith, chief executive of Which? said: ‘People will rightly be outraged to learn that manufacturers and retailers are selling potentially unsafe products that could be putting their lives at risk.
‘If manufacturers and retailers fail to act and leave plastic backed fridges, freezers or fridge freezers on sale, the Office for Product Safety and Standards must step in and take action.’
Dangerous products in Britain’s homes are putting millions of people at risk. Enough is enough. The UK’s product safety regime needs urgent reform to protect our families and friends. Sign our petition and take a stand against unsafe products.