old plastic backed fridge

Why plastic-backed fridges and freezers are dangerous

Whether you’re someone who’s just always looking to make your home safer or you happen to be looking for a good deal when it comes to buying a new fridge and/or freezer, you may have come across information suggesting that plastic-backed fridges and freezers aren’t safe. So is this true?

Well, yes, it is true and the team here at Repair Aid is going to explain why you should either look at changing from a plastic-backed fridge/freezer if you own one or why you shouldn’t even buy one at all.

A dangerous fire hazard

A couple of years ago, the UK consumer watchdog Which? were involved in performing research into plastic-backed fridge freezers. After investigating over 500 of the most popular refrigeration units available on the UK market, they found that a staggering 45% had been made with plastic that could potentially create a fire risk. Even more shocking was that there were models with plastic backing that were being billed as flame-retardant – and yet the investigation found that these materials could even speed up and spread a fire.

Bizarrely, these units were allowed onto the market as they had passed all then existing safety standards. Yet the testing performed was not adequate nor thorough enough to spot this flaw. Which?’s testing showed that some plastic backing couldn’t even withstand 30 seconds of being exposed to a flame. By contrast, aluminium laminate and metal-backed units could withstand flames for much longer – with even 1mm thick backing made from these materials able to keep flames at bay for five minutes.

Why it matters

You may be wondering why it’s necessary for a refrigeration appliance to be protected from flames. After all, surely the cause of the fire would be more important than this small detail. However, there’s a very good reason why this is so important and it’s all to do with what purpose that the backing serves.

The reason why it’s so important is because backing is there to protect flames from reaching insulation used within refrigeration units. As this material is very flammable, it would lead to disastrous consequences. This would spread a fire more quickly and give a family far less time to escape their home – which is particularly frightening if a fire were to happen in the middle of the night when everyone is sleeping.

A unit backed with plastic would, therefore, expose these very flammable materials to a flame far quicker than their metal or aluminium laminate-backed equivalents. These far more robust materials better contain, localise and slow the spread of a fire resulting from faulty wiring at the back of a fridge/freezer unit than backing that is made of plastic.

However, one positive takeaway from all of this is that, in Which?’s same research, they found that only 8% of fires resulting from an appliance fault were caused by fridges and freezers. While this will be reassuring to those with plastic-backed fridges who are unable to change their current refrigeration options, it’s important to note that a fire from another source could still exacerbate and expedite a fire.

plastic backed fridge

No longer manufactured

Following a campaign from the consumer group, new safety standards were introduced in the UK from 11 July 2019 that effectively banned plastic backing from being manufactured. However, while this means that any new fridge/freezer manufactured after this date will not include plastic backing, you should be aware that there is currently no ban in place that prevents plastic-backed units from still being sold.

So if you’ve seen a good deal on a fridge, freezer or fridge/freezer recently, it’s important to either read the fine-print or enquire with the seller to establish if the appliance is plastic-backed or not. Thankfully, there is a tool out there to help you if this information is not readily available. Simply check out Which?’s refrigerator backing checker and search for the appliance you are interested in buying (or that you currently own) to see if it is plastic-backed or not.

Campaigners are calling for further measures to be taken so that both manufacturers and retailers can no longer sell plastic-backed refrigeration appliances but, as of late 2020, no such ban has been put in place.

So while the chance of such a fire is still relatively small, it’s really not worth putting your life – or the lives of your family – at more risk than they need to be; especially if it’s just for the sake of saving on a small bit of money.

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