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Home Appliance Hazards

Whenever you cook a meal at home or dry a load of clothes, you’re standing on your family’s first line of fire defense.

A home appliance can turn from work-saver to menace if used without proper cleaning and maintenance, attention to manufacturer recalls, and a willingness to junk a device when age catches up with it.

Trade and product safety organizations warn of a further threat: massive imports of counterfeit, substandard circuit breakers, power strips, extension cords, and batteries that can cause fires, explosions, shocks, and electrocutions.

How to use your appliances safely

The short list of appliances demanding vigilance includes stoves, clothes dryers, and space heaters. Here are keys to their safe use:

STOVES In 2003, fire departments responded to 118,700 home cooking fires that accounted for 250 deaths and 3,880 injuries to persons other than emergency workers. The main cause of kitchen fires is unattended equipment. The material that first ignites is usually oil, fat, or grease. To prevent stovetop explosions on a gas stove, immediately turn off a burner that fails to light. Let gas dissipate before trying again. If it still won’t light, dismantle and clean the burner eye. On electric stoves, promptly replace a burner or oven element that burns out.

CLOTHES DRYERS The U.S. Fire Administration says failure to clean is the leading cause of clothes dryer fires. They annually account for 15,600 structure fires, 15 deaths, and 400 injuries. The agency warns against putting dryers and washing machines in places away from outside walls such as bedrooms, hallways, and bathrooms. Besides cleaning the lint filter after each use, clean the dryer’s lint pipe at least once a year.

HEATING EQUIPMENT In 2007, heating equipment was involved in more than 66,000 home fires and 580 fire deaths in the U.S. Space heaters account for one-third of home heating fires and more than three-fourths of the deaths. Nearly half of the deaths result from flammable items such as bedding catching fire because it’s too close to heating equipment.

Watch out for recalls and phony merchandise

Recent recalls by the Consumer Product Safety Commission include some models of Bosch and Siemens dishwashers, Thermador built-in ovens, Frigidaire and Kenmore electric ranges, refrigerators bearing seven brand names but all made by Maytag, and Pensi ceiling fans. All posed a fire risk except the fans, which tended to fall to the floor.

The commission has teamed with manufacturers and trade groups to target counterfeit electrical products, including faulty circuit breakers and mislabeled extension cords with undersized wiring. Be wary of goods sold in suspect packaging or at prices that seem too good to be true.

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