Half a million Whirlpool washing machines must be recalled from British homes over a fire risk, the company admitted today.
A door locking system fault with Whirlpool’s Hotpoint and Indesit branded machines creates a fire risk as a result of overheating, the firm said.
Read more: MPs blast Whirlpool over its safety attitude
The affected machines were on sale for more than five years, with up to 519,000 washing machines believed to be affected – about 20 per cent of the total number sold.
It comes hot on the heels of criticism of Whirlpool for selling more than 5m fire-prone dryers that the company failed to recall for four years until a regulator stepped in.
“When the heating element in the washing machine is activated, in very rare cases a component in the door lock system can overheat, which, depending on product features, can pose a risk of fire,” a Whirlpool spokesperson told the BBC.
Whirlpool has created an online model checking tool but it was not working in the early afternoon.
The product recall will not begin until early January, leaving customers facing months without their washing machines.
So far Whirlpool has refused to offer refunds for affected machines.
Customers who bought a machine after October 2014 must enter their model and serial number, located inside the door or on the back of the machine, to see if it is affected.
The firm will prioritise vulnerable customers for repairs and replacements, but customers are encouraged to check and register now.
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“We know this will cause some concern,” Whirlpool vice president Jeff Noel said.
“We especially understand that the washing machine is so important to family life, and in Christmas holiday season it will be even more of an important matter and, for that, we apologise.”
Whirlpool is adding staff to its customer service department and recruiting more engineers to tackle the issue, he added.
Fire brigade says to unplug affected Whirlpool machines
London Fire Brigade’s deputy assistant commissioner, Charlie Pugsley, said: “We have highlighted the issue of door switches causing fire in different white goods to Whirlpool, Government and in our evidence to the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Select Committee, so we are pleased to hear that Whirlpool have decided to take the step to get these potentially lethal washing machines out of people’s homes.
“We would like to reiterate Whirlpool’s advice that anyone with an affected machine should unplug them and not use until the fault has been fixed.”
Sue Davies, strategic policy adviser at Which consumer magazine, added that the scandal leaves Whirlpool’s reputation “in tatters”.
“People will rightly be asking what Whirlpool knew about these fire-risk machines and when, so there must now be a thorough investigation into this public safety issue,” she added.
“We know the company has a track record for appearing to put corporate reputation ahead of public safety in its disgraceful handling of the unsafe tumble dryer crisis.
“Customers will be hugely frustrated that this recall is not set to start for weeks and that they are not being offered refunds for machines from a brand they may no longer want to have in their homes.
“This ongoing saga with Whirlpool demonstrates once again that our product safety system is not fit for purpose and that the OPSS should be replaced with a new independent product safety regulator with real powers to finally hold companies to account over dangerous products.”