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  Washing Machine Fires

What is the real risk of a fire in your washing machine?


Washing machine fires are more commonplace than many people might think them to be, from what we see in the news wires we’d roughly estimate that there are about one a week, perhaps slightly more, across the UK.

However although the headlines will often cite a fire attended by the local fire brigade the severity is often omitted from the reports.

Most turn out to be a burnt out motor or control module, maybe a capacitor or similar goes and blows making a bang and a bunch of smoke but it’s not about to burn down the house. Although it will give the occupier of the house a really good scare in many cases we expect.

It may strike you that we are being not so serious here about washing machine fires and, you would be in part correct as most turn out to be little more than an overly dramatic failure of some kind and we say that with good reason based on facts and experience.

  What Can Go On Fire In A Washing Machine

Simplest answer; not much!

A typical washing machine fire although this one severeThe reason we are quite relaxed on this is as manufacturers generally do not build a washing machine with flammable material. There’s not really much in one to burn other than some plastics and they need something to set them alight and to fuel any subsequent fire.

Then washing machines tend to be full of water, even when off there is still water in the sump and pump, some may argue a self-extinguishing feature.

They should be fused and connected to a protected electrical circuit.

So, all in all, the danger than washing machine poses, at least in terms of a fire risk, isn’t large.

On top of that of course almost every home in the UK has one, we reckon that there are about at least 22-25 million washing machines in daily use across the UK making the few instances that we do see statistically at least, almost inconsequential.

In any event the point being that based on these facts the number of fire instances are very low when it comes to washing machines.

Subject them to a high level of heat however, under the right conditions and sure, like most things you can get a fairly dramatic event to take place. But, the conditions have to all line up and the actual chance of it is extremely low.

Things that actually are reported as a “washing machine fire” commonly include the following:

  • Control module burns out
  • Motor burns out
  • Motor capacitor burns out
  • Mains interference filter burns out

Anything other than these are uncommon.

You occasionally will see an element constantly heating, even when the machine is empty of water however this is a fault and should be noticed by the user. Aside which the heater will usually bend up due to the excessive heat and no water to cool it, hitting the drum, bursting and causing a heap of damage in the process. Or, it’s in water so can’t go on fire.

All the common ones, you might get a bit of flame, some smoke, perhaps even a bang and a fright but in general that’s about the worst that can happen.

We would stress however that these components that commonly give rise to claims of a washing machine fire are all isolated from everything else other than the motor, which will be attached to the outer tank that will normally have water in it.

This means that even if one of those does go up in spectacular fashion that the chances of fire spreading, assuming the installation is correct and so on, is so remote a possibility it’s unbelievable.

  Unattended Use

Let us clarify our interpretation of “unattended use”. By this we mean that there is either nobody in the home or, the washing machine is in use when there is nobody that can see or hear it, primarily use when in bed to in outbuildings.

We do not recommend unattended use, we never will despite the electricity companies wanting to have you run appliances through the night. Which, by the way, you only save money doing if you are on the appropriate tariff and have the meter to allow it, if you don’t have one or both there is no point at all, you save nothing.

We would stress that these are machines and all machines will at some point fail. Just like cars, PC’s and every other mechanical device, they will not run forever and they will fail, this is a certainty. All that is in doubt is the “when”, not if.

We ask people to think what the effect will be when that happens? Even if it’s not a fire, which with a washing machine is a minute risk, but the likes of a leak, the door burst open and floods the kitchen or something like that, where does that leave people?

The short answer is that unattended use is a really bad idea in our estimation and, at least if someone is around and the worst happens, you have a chance to do something about it and/or limit the damage. If you are not there or nobody is, there is no chance, any problem can spiral out of control.

And we don't recommend the use of delayed start functions either, despite such features being fitted to many washing machines.

  Common Sense Safety

Of course by now you will have read our fire safety tips that apply to all appliances haven’t you? If not, jump over to that article here and read that as well as this one if you have any concerns.

Most washing machine safety is simple common sense though.

Put it on a proper supply with a good socket. Make sure the circuit is protected by an RCD or suchlike. Don’t use it in damp conditions and so on. It’s mostly all straightforward common sense stuff.

It would surprise many people just how many washing machine as well as other appliance faults we see being as a direct result of faulty mains supplies. So much so that many manufacturers now have fault codes installed in the electronics to detect over and under voltage conditions along with any other irregularities that can be detected internally. However, this can only take you so far.

Again, like other appliances do not install outdoors in unheated areas such as garages, sheds and so forth as there is a high risk of dampness and this will affect the machine, it’s performance and can be a major safety risk, including a potential shock and fire risk.

Washing machines are not designed for outdoor use.

Neither are they designed for use in other areas subject to or can be subject to high levels of damp, like bathrooms.

Doing either is just asking for trouble.

  Fire Safety Recalls

There are specific issues but they tend to arise from safety recalls as manufacturers, in a bid to avoid getting sued, will issue safety notifications if there is an issue and, we publish them then leave them up for a long time in order to try to make people aware.

If you do have a washing machine or indeed washer dryer that is subject to a notification then get it registered and sorted as quickly as you can.

If you see one and know of someone that has or may have and affected machine please let them know.

Trouble is, nobody seems to care unless there’s a problem and as many washing machines are never registered with the manufacturer or anywhere else, there’s often no way to get in touch with owners of affected machines.

In our experience these tend to be related to a single component, often a batch from a supplier that has a specific issue and given the low likelihood of any danger these are normally more the manufacturers covering themselves than much anything else.

  Stay Safe With Your Washer

Most of this will be, to most rational and reasonable people just plain common sense.

It surprises us though that there are as many people that ignore one or a number of the most basic points of safety when it comes to not only washing machines, but many appliances.

Following these simple points and ensuring that you use your machine correctly will almost guarantee that you will never have any issues of encounter a washing machine fire.

Ignore them however and it is entirely at your own risk.

washing machine unnattended
Following your recommendations it would seem that you also would argue that fridges and freezers should be off when out. They have much the same electrical components and are used continuously.Obviously any electrical device is a risk but picking on a washing machine over all the others?
Jenna doran
Washing machine fire risk
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