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Beware of appliance fires  Smart Choices Archive

Beware of appliance fires

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While you may be aware of house fires caused by faulty wiring, burning candles and kids playing with matches, many of us don’t realize that appliances are a real concern, too. During the upcoming holiday season when entertaining and having guests in your home, be watchful of any potential for starting a fire.

Older appliances may lack safety protections such as anti-tip protection on heaters and temperature shutoffs on coffee makers. Older appliances are also more apt to have parts and wiring just wear out from long use.

However, newer appliances can also offer safety hazards, too. These dangers may be because of shoddy manufacturing processes or design flaws. It pays to check recall notices issued by the Consumer Product Safety Commission.  

And of course, user error can occur on either old or new appliances. Not following instructions, not cleaning and maintaining the appliance and using extension cords inappropriately can all lead to fires.

The list of appliances that can cause fires is lengthy, including any that produce heat, such as microwaves, clothes dryers, ovens/stoves, toasters and toaster ovens and irons. More surprising, refrigerators, garbage disposals, blenders and can openers can also be hazardous.

How appliances can cause fires
This Old House magazine highlights these problem appliances: 

  • Microwaves. Grease can accumulate around the tiny holes in the “ceiling” of the appliance. To prevent a fire, use soapy water to wipe down the inside of the microwave or heat a bowl of water mixed with lemon juice.
  • Clothes dryers. Lint can be a huge fire hazard, and it can collect in multiple locations. Besides the lint trap (which should be cleaned out after every dryer use), lint can collect behind and under the machine, in the ductwork and any hoses, and even outside the home on the screen that keeps out critters. For safety, use metal ductwork and hoses, not plastic, and clean all components at least several times a year.
  • Refrigerator. Pulling out the fridge to clean can pose a danger if, as you shove it back in place, you run over and fray the power cord. Check to be sure the cord is out of the way; one way to do this is to tie a string to the power cord and attach it to an elevated ring magnet on the back of the fridge.
  • Ovens. The self-cleaning feature may cause a fire if your oven has grease or larger food particles, so be sure to do a pre-cleaning check to be sweep out large chunks and greasy spots.
  • Toasters and toaster ovens. Crumbs in the bottom of these appliances can accumulate and start on fire. Frequently check and brush out crumbs to prevent problems.

Other ways to prevent appliance fires:

  • Since most fires start at night or when an appliance is unattended, stay close by when any appliance (including your slow cooker, dishwasher, clothes washer and dryer and space heater) is running.
  • Keep combustible objects (draperies, towels, cookbooks and paper products) away from appliances.
  • Unplug small appliances when not in use (can opener, blender, fans, steamer and others) to protect from an electrical fire.
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