Between the year 2010 – 2014, there were 15,970 home fires caused by dryers and washing machines in the US each of the 5-year period.
Washing machines are electric appliances. It has a high power specifications compared to many appliances in a home.
Like all electrical appliances, washing machines have the potential to go up in flames when there is an overheat, or an ignition. It is made up of combustible materials such as plastic, rubber, and inflammable body paints.
As such there is a constant possibility of going up in flames either from external cause or from internal faults.
We’ll discuss some conditions that set your machine on fire and how to avoid them.
Factors that can set a washing machine on fire
When the wrong condition coincides with the wrong timing, your washing machine can go up in flames.
There are several factors can result in a combustion.
Below is a detailed list of them:
- Overloading electric socket.
- Using different power, voltage, frequency, and current outputs other than product specifications.
- Contaminated power plug terminals
- Reverse polarity
- Using damaged power plug
Overloading electric socket
Washine machines should never be connected to multiple outlet electric sockets.
This is to prevent the possibility of adding extra appliances to the vacant sockets. Adding more appliances to a multi-socket outlet that already has a washing machine, will overload the electric cable supplying the socket.
When the load is too high, the cable overheats. When an electric overheat for a considerable period of time, it burns and goes up in flames.
Let’s add a little context to this.
A standard UK washing machine needs 220 – 240 voltage (V) to run. At this voltage, it is consuming a between of 2000 – 2300 watt (W) of electric power.
A standard electric wire in the UK supplies 240 volt maximum to an electric socket at any point.
If an electric current of 13 amps (I) runs on it at any given time, it means that the wire is carrying an electric power of:
W= 240*13 = 3,120W
It means the socket is able to power appliances of up to 3,120 watt.
Of this, the washing machine has used up 2300W max.
We’re left with
3,120 – 2300 = 820W
Imagine we have some clothes to iron and decides to plug it in a multi-socket power outlet where the washer is connected to.
Pressing irons uses between 1650 – 2000 watt
Add a 2000W load to the remaining 820W and we’re running an overload of
2000 – 820 = 1180W
An overload of 1180 watts will generate … heat.
This is enough to set an electric wire on fire. Which will in turn transfer to any appliances connected to it. Hence your washing machines goes up in flames.
Using different electric rating
Every washing machine has a specified electric rating: power, voltage, frequency, and current.
These can be found in the user manual or data sheet attached to the wsher’s body.
These are not some fancy jargons written by the manufacturers to impress users.
They are actually the optimum electric specifications on which the washing machie should run in an ideal situation.
Running your washing machine on a different power specification can affect washing machie operation.
Take electric voltage for example, when the voltage is too low, the machine might not power on, however when it is too high (this is called a power surge), it can fry your appliance or even set it on fire.
Contaminated power plug terminals
Even power plug can get contaminated too. But this time is not some medical contaminated.
Electric conductors are objects that can conduct electricity. They serve as passage way for electric energy.
When these get attached to washing machine power plugs, they can result in
- Short circuit of the live and neutral contact points of the plug.
- Or cause sparks when in contact with wall socket contact points.
Some major contaminants of washing machine power plugs are:
- Metal debris
Dust are electric conductors that can store electricity. They act as capacitors, holding a electric current and releasing it at one go.
Heavy buildup of dusts can easily result in short circuit between opposite contact points of a power plug.
Attached metal debris
Static buildup in the atmosphere, can create a magnetic field around power plug contact points.
This can attach tiny metal particles to the plug. When these are plugged in to a wall socket, it can cause tiny sparks that can escalate if not taken care of.
Just like attached metal debris, buildup of rust on power plug can result in sparks. This can damage plastic casing of wall sockets that can, in turn result in fire.
Reverse polarity is deadly. It can result in major damage to appliance, injury to human and a live fire.
Reverse polarity is when the positive field of an circuit is connected to a negative power cable and the negative field to a positive power cable (reversed points).
In a direct current (DC) circuit, current can only run in one direction.
Swapping the current direction (reverse) can damage circuit components and result in fire.
Washing machine plugs are designed to be connected in such a way that the power plugs runs from the socket towards the floor as shown in the image below.
Even when the socket is below the washing machine point, the cord should still be run so that it points to the floor when connected to the socket.
Failure to do so can damage the cord, and result in a short circuit, that can lead to washing machine fire. washing machine fire.
Using damaged power plug
Bent, broken, patched, poorly soldered power plug all have one thing in common: they’re recipe for washing machine fire outbreak.
Using damaged power plug or functional but in bad condition, can cause a spark, a blown capacitor.
For a detailed list of circumstances that can cause a fire outbreak, check the article: 27 things that can set your washing machine on fire.
How to prevent washing machine fire
- Never plug a washer to a socket extension, or a multisocket power adapter: Washing machines should always be directly connected to a wall socket.
This will prevent accidentally connecting more appliances to the same socket as the washer. Which will in turn prevent fire due to appliance overload.
- Protect house wiring with a circuit breaker: A circuit breaker protects the appliance from power surge or a shortcircuit.
It is not always possible to determine the voltage from a power source. But having a means circuit breaker will come handy when things go south.
- Verify washing machine power rating before purchase: It is good to verify a washer’s specifications before making a purchase.
Washers made for different region have different power rating.
For instance, UK appliances run on 220-240 volts, but that of the U.S is 110-120. Plugging a U.S washing machine in a 220 volt outlet can result in fire.
This is equally applicable to the frequency of a washing machine.
- Always keep plug clean and free from dust and debris: It is good to unplug washing machine plug when not in use for a long time. However it stands the chance on picking dust and other debris on the floor.
To prevent a buildup of dirts and the eventual problems that might arise, it is important to always keep the plug clean.
Cleaning with a lint free, dry rag will surface. Any clean rag will do, but microfibres is a better option when available.
- Always plug washing machine plug with the cord pointing to the floor: Doing otherwise might damage the cord and/or cause a fire.
- Never attempt to fix a damaged cord: Broken cord with partial contact should not be reused.
Don’t try to economize. If a cord is faulty, call a technician. Or return the washer to your supplier or an authorized dealer.
Washing machine fire is not a common experience, but it does happen. I have never experienced an outbreak. And I hope to keep it that way.
It is better to explain a disaster from a second person point of view. Don’t learn from experience. That guy is not always the best teacher.
For further read on things and events that lead to a washing machine fire, checkout the article: 27 things that can set your washing machine on fire.