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Home & garden.

27 September 2021

Fridge freezer safety

Our advice on fridge freezer backs and fires. Find out more about how to use your fridge freezer safely.
Lisa Galliers
Checking rear of fridge
Following our campaign against fire-risk fridge freezers with plastic backs, new British safety standards were introduced to make these appliances safer.

Fridge freezers with flammable plastic backs don't meet these new standards, so manufacturers can no longer make them. While this is positive, it remains legal for retailers to sell any plastic-backed models that have already been made.

Video: flammable plastic vs aluminium-backed fridge freezers

All fridges, freezers and fridge freezers need insulation to keep cool. This insulation is flammable, so it's essential that it's sufficiently protected in the event of a fire. Before the new regulations, the backing that protected this insulation was made from either plastic, metal or aluminium laminate, depending on the make and model of the appliance. 

Our tests revealed that plastic backing can be highly flammable. Watch the video to see what happens to a plastic-backed fridge in a fire.

See all the best fridge freezers.

How can I tell if my fridge freezer is metal or plastic-backed?

Fridge backs

It can be very difficult to tell whether or not your fridge freezer, fridge or freezer has a plastic back or not. While most appliances now have metal backing, there could still be some with a plastic backing, so it's worth knowing what to look for.

One way to find out is to check whether your fridge freezer, fridge or freezer has been reviewed by Which?. If so, the material of the back panel should be listed in the technical specifications section of our fridge freezer reviews

Should I worry if my fridge freezer is plastic-backed?

Those who already own an appliance with a flammable plastic back should be reassured that the likelihood of a refrigerator fire is very low. Our March 2018 research analysing government fire data found that only 8% of fires caused by faulty household appliances were caused by fridge freezers, fridges or freezers. It's important to note that the material used in the backing can allow an existing fire to spread – it isn’t the cause of fire itself.

If you've bought or acquired a second-hand fridge freezer, check our tool below to see what type of backing material it has. 

If the model you're looking for isn't in our tool (or for any reason you can't see our tool, or it's not working for you), and it's a second-hand appliance, we recommend contacting the manufacturer. 

Please note: products made since the new safety standards were introduced in July 2019 might not be listed in the tool. 

More fridge freezer safety tips

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

  • Refer to your instruction manual to make sure you keep the recommended distance between your refrigeration appliance and the wall, and that there are no other obstructions that can restrict airflow. 
  • Make sure vents aren't blocked and the area around your appliances is kept clean to prevent the build-up of dust and grease. 
  • Plug your refrigeration appliance directly into the wall rather than using an extension lead, and ensure the sockets aren't overloaded with too many plugs. 
  • If your appliance starts making a strange noise, don't ignore it. If you suspect there might be a problem, always unplug it and contact the manufacturer or a qualified repair technician. 
  • Don't be tempted to put your fridge freezer in the hallway: if a fire does break out in your home, you need all escape routes to be clear. 
  • Fit smoke alarms: white goods are often left switched on 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and a smoke alarm will wake you up if a fire starts while you're sleeping. You should fit enough smoke alarms to cover all areas where a fire could start – a minimum of one per floor – and test them regularly. 
  • Fit a heat alarm in your kitchen. This will give you early warning of a temperature increase caused by fire, but won’t be set off by cooking fumes. 
  • Register your appliance, so you'll be informed if the manufacturer identifies any issues with it. 
  • Be careful with refrigerant, which is used in fridges, freezers and fridge freezers to extract the heat from the device. In modern appliances, it's used in very small quantities but it's highly flammable, so be careful when transporting a refrigerator and don't plug it in if it looks damaged in any way. To reduce the risk of refrigerant leaks, don't defrost the appliance using anything sharp. 
  • Be careful if you're thinking about using a big refrigerator in a small room. The proportion of refrigerant to normal air could get too high in the unlikely event of a leak, so will make the air more flammable. Common advice is that the room needs to have 1 cubic metre of space for every 8g of refrigerant used in the appliance. You can find the amount of refrigerant on your appliance's rating plate (your manual will tell you where this is).

Our research

In September 2017, we called on manufacturers to immediately stop producing refrigeration appliances with flammable plastic backs. In the apparent absence of any action from the then newly created Office for Product Safety and Standards (OPSS), we started conducting fire testing on refrigerator backings.

We tested backing samples from more than 100 appliances, across every refrigeration brand we had on our website. We applied an open flame to each sample, and any product that was unable to withstand the flame for 30 seconds we deemed unsafe and made it a Don’t Buy.

Hundreds more products also became Don’t Buys because the manufacturer either confirmed, or our own research indicated, that their backing was identical to a product we tested and found to be unsafe.

Following our campaign against fire-risk fridge freezers, new British safety standards designed to make these appliances safer were introduced on 11 July 2019.

Fridge freezers with flammable plastic backs don't meet this new standard, but it's legal for retailers to sell any plastic-backed models that were already been made.