By Ben Slater
Fridge backs and fires. Find out about the differences between metal and plastic backing and how to use your fridge safely.
Your fridge is one of the most hard-working appliances in your home, but one that you probably don’t think about too much once you’ve plugged it in and turned it on. That said, your fridge is one of only a handful of electrical appliances that is constantly switched on, so it’s worth being in the know about the latest on fridge safety.
Fridge backing material can increase the spread of fire
There has been a growing body of evidence from the London Fire Brigade to indicate that the backing material used on fridges can increase the spread of fire. Its tests have shown that if the insulation present in all appliances is not protected sufficiently by a flame-resistant backing, then it can ignite readily and lead to a rapid fire developing.
We’ve conducted fire testing on non-flame-retardant plastic backing and metal and aluminium laminate backing. Watch the video below for our findings.
At Which? we aim to recommend the best products for you to buy. That includes fridges. 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 are therefore taking the 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 fridge Best Buy recommendation.
Read more advice on how to buy the best fridge.
Should I worry if my fridge is non-flame-retardant plastic-backed?
If you already own a fridge with a non-flame-retardant plastic-back you should be reassured that the likelihood of a refrigerator fire is very low. Our July 2015 research analysing government fire data found that only 7% of fires caused by faulty household 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.
How can I tell if my fridge is metal or plastic backed and if it’s flame-retardant or non-flame-retardant?
It can be extremely difficult to work out whether or not your fridge has a flame-retardant back or not. Some plastic backs can look like metal but not be flame-retardant, while other plastic-backed models may have had flame retardant sprayed on them that’s invisible to the naked eye.
One way to find out the back of your appliance is to check if your fridge is one of those featured in our Which? reviews. If so, the material of the back panel and whether or not it’s flame retardant should be listed in the technical specifications section of our fridge reviews.
If not, or if your model hasn’t been reviewed by us, we recommend contacting the manufacturer of your appliance.
However, as we have said above, if you own an appliance with a non-flame-retardant plastic back, the likelihood of a refrigerator fire is very low, and the material used in the backing allows an existing fire to spread - but it isn’t the cause of fire itself.
More fridge safety tips
To minimise the risk of fire in your kitchen, the London Fire Brigade recommends taking the following precautionary steps:
- 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.
- Make sure vents are not blocked and the area around yours appliances are 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 are not overloaded with too many plugs.
- If your white goods start 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 that 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; a smoke alarm will wake you up if a fire happens while you're sleeping. You should fit a minimum of one smoke alarm per floor and fit enough alarms to cover all areas where a fire could start, making sure they are tested regularly.
- Fit a heat alarm in your kitchen - this will give you early warning of an increase in temperature caused by fire but won’t be set off by cooking fumes.
- Register your appliance - by registering your appliance, you'll be informed if the manufacturers identify any issues with the product you have bought.
To find out more about how we approach product safety in general, read about our stance on product safety alerts and recalls.