Home Appliance Safety Guide

Appliance Safety

Home appliances that operate with gas fuel, especially stoves and ovens, require some different safety measures than their electric counterparts. Whenever gas, oil, kerosene, charcoal, or wood is burned, carbon monoxide is produced. As long as appliances that operate on these types of fuel are well maintained and kept in good working order, the amount of carbon monoxide (CO) produced is harmless. But when such appliances are not working properly, the CO produced could reach levels high enough to become deadly. Carbon monoxide is odorless, colorless, and thus, undetectable, and responsible for hundreds of accidental poisonings every year. When gas-fueled appliances are in the home, a CO monitor should be in the home, along with working smoke alarms. Make a point to check batteries in these devices on a certain date every year to ensure they will be operational at the time they are needed most.

Tip: Carbon monoxide alarms should be placed in a central area near bedrooms. There should be one CO alarm on every floor in the home, and all other areas of the home where laws, standards, and codes dictate. A good idea is to have all of the home's CO alarms interconnected so that when one goes off, all the others will, too.


Stoves and ovens

If the pilot light on a gas stove is not working, turn dials to the off position, wait several minutes for the gas to be dispersed, and then relight. Do not use flammable fuels to start a fire in a cook stove. Check that all burners (and the oven) are off after use and before going out or retiring for the evening. Teach children how to properly use cooking equipment. The handles of pots and pans should not be placed over burners. By providing plenty of warning, as well as possibly keeping hot dishes and plates out of reach (of children), unsuspecting guests and kitchen helpers will avoid potential burns. When working with the stove or oven, one should use pot holders and oven mitts to ensure against accidentally touching any extremely hot surfaces. Also, use caution when removing pot covers when steaming vegetables and other foods. Steam will rise and move outward once allowed to escape its confinement, and a steam burn is a nasty burn. Be careful!

A kitchen fire can become very serious very quickly. Whether a grease fire, or a fire from a defect in the oven or stove, burners, or electrical connection, be sure to keep a working fire extinguisher available. In case of electrical fire, check to see if it is possible to turn off the power source safely. If the contents of a pot or pan are on fire, and the fire is small, turn off the heat and place a cover over the pot. For grease fires, do NOT attempt to put the fire out with water, and don't try to carry the burning, greasy pan to the sink or outdoors.

When all else fails, throw baking soda onto the fire, or gently throw a fire blanket over the fire. If using a fire extinguisher, spray from a minimum of one yard away and aim for the vapor area of the fire, which is directly above it, using a side-to-side sweeping motion while spraying.

Tip: Anything flammable, including napkins, towels, cook books, etc., must be kept or stored a safe distance away from the stove or range. If the stove is near a window, use short, flame-resistant curtains.

Tip: According to California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, the number one cause of home fires is careless cooking. Never leave anything cooking unattended.


Microwaves

An empty microwave oven should not be turned on. NEVER place any metal inside a microwave oven. It will cause irreparable damage. Use only utensils and cookware that are safe for microwave use. Plastic ware is generally safe, and glassware is often okay, but not as a rule. Be certain of the safety of what is placed inside a microwave, as it can reach very high temperatures very quickly. For prepared microwaveable foods, carefully read all cooking instructions. Be sure of how to properly set the oven controls.

Food that comes out of a microwave can be extremely hot. Be careful when removing plastic wrap or plastic packaging after cooking. Keep potholders nearby. Most people have experienced microwave popcorn and how hot it can be when the bag is first opened. Allow a few minutes for microwaved food to cool prior to eating. Use trivets for hot dishes, as even some microwaveable dishware can crack when an intensely hot dish is placed on a fairly cool countertop.

Tip: As with any appliance, including a microwave, be sure that wires, plugs, and cords aren't frayed. Plugs should be 3-pronged with the third prong being the ground connection.

Tip: If even the slightest tingling sensation can be detected when either plugging in an appliance or turning it on, get rid of it – it has become unsafe. If a new one is too costly, garage sales might be a place to find a decent one at a very low price. Be sure the appliance is in good working order and not a broken one that the owner just wanted to "unload."

Tip: A microwave door that doesn't lock correctly or is somehow damaged should not be used as it can emit harmful radiation. The moment there are any sparks inside a microwave, turn it off and unplug it. DO NOT use it.

Tip: Don't plug in too many appliances at the same outlet.


Washers & Dryers

A leading cause of fire with these appliances, dryers especially, is cleaning them inadequately or not at all. The lint trap should be cleaned after every load. The dryer's exhaust pipe must be kept free of obstructions to avoid overheating and combustion. When clothes take longer to dry than usual, survey the vent tubing or pipe and either clean it out or contact a service to have it done.

Flammable items (like boxes, cleaning solutions, etc.) should be kept away from the dryer. For spot stains such as gasoline, paint solvent, or auto grease, National Fire Protection Association recommends placing the clothing on a flat surface, away from a heat source, so that it can dry first. Then, put it into the washer.

Tip: Materials such as plastic, rubber, foam, or fabrics used to mop up spills of flammable liquids should never be placed in the dryer.

Tip: Keep the floor around your washer and dryer clean and dry.

Tip: Clean the lint filter in your clothes dryer after each use and ensure the load goes through a full cycle to allow the dryer to cool down.

Tip: Electrical appliances such as washers and dryers should be installed by professionals. Hire a professional to service these appliances, as well.


Refrigerators & Freezers

All appliances, cords, and plugs should be marked with the Underwriters Laboratories (UL) label. This means that the appliance or product meets safety guidelines set by the government. The label is often out of plain sight, but can usually be found on the inside door of a refrigerator.

Keep lint and dust out of the grill at the bottom front of the refrigerator/freezer. This allows the condenser to receive adequate air flow. Frequently clean the coil to the condenser; a brush or a vacuum cleaner will do fine, and this will keep the appliance running efficiently.

When children are in the picture, a latch on should be placed on refrigerator doors, especially garage refrigerators, where children might choose to hide. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission states that the Refrigerator Safety Act requires a mechanism that will allow a refrigerator door to be opened from the inside. But the safest bet is to keep little people from being able to get inside it in the first place.

The optimum temperature for frozen foods is 0 degrees Fahrenheit (-17 Celsius); a freezer should not be operating any higher than 5 degrees Fahrenheit. Ice cream should be as solid as a brick. If it isn't, the freezer temperature should be lowered. The ideal temperature range for a refrigerator is 34-40 degrees Fahrenheit. Any higher than 40, and food is not being adequately cooled to prevent spoilage.

Tip: A refrigerator thermometer is fairly inexpensive and will help monitor whether food is being adequately chilled.

Tip: Do you cook more than is usually needed so that some can be frozen for later use? To keep that to-be-frozen food at optimum quality, separate it from the current meal prior to that food being placed on the table. This keeps it from being picked through, breathed on, etc.


Dishwashers

Although utensils may be cleaned and dried more effectively if facing upward in the utensil basket, this creates the potential for punctures each time more utensils are added or unloaded. Keep knife blades, fork tines, and other sharp-edged utensils pointing downward, and if poor cleaning is an issue, then the basket may be overcrowded. Try running the dishwasher with fewer utensils in the basket. Never leave a dishwasher door open for others to trip over. Do not overload the trays or force them into the machine.

A complete understanding of how to properly operate the machine is vital before attempting to run it. Use cleaning agents meant for dishwasher use (never use manual-wash dish detergent) and only in the amounts specified on the product directions. More soap doesn't get the dishes any cleaner and in fact, can damage the machine. Be sure there are no water leaks which could be a potential electrical hazard or a water damage hazard. Never leave a running dishwasher unattended.

Tip: Sometimes changing the way things are done can reduce risk of injury, including injury associated with how sharp objects are placed in the dishwasher basket.

Tip: Dishwasher detergent is highly corrosive and can be deadly if ingested. Keep dishwasher powder out of the reach of children and away from pets.