Appliance experts: Tell me, am I worrying for nothing?

ginny20August 4, 2012

Several years ago, my sorority sister's home burned down while she and her husband were at work. She said the dishwasher had been left running and it somehow started an electrical fire.

Since then, I try not to leave appliances like DW, washer or dryer running when I leave the house. I also don't leave during the oven self-clean cycle. Now that we have a dog, I particularly don't leave them on when the dog is home alone. This is very limiting, especially since, as is mentioned in a recent thread, DW's take absolutely forever to run.

So am I being justifiably cautious or is there no significant danger, and my friend's accident was a fluke?

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No, you're exercising reasonable caution. I don't run my DW or washer when I'm out - mainly because I don't want a leak than for fear of an electrical fire.

    Bookmark   August 4, 2012 at 2:41PM
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A modern appliance should not be expected to start a fire in a house. I haver never though twice about running a DW or W/D when not home. You don't think twice about letting your boiler starting a fire to heat water or air. If an appliance catches fire then 99.9999% of the time it was installed improperly or poorly maintained....

    Bookmark   August 4, 2012 at 11:09PM
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Thank you, you're both reassuring about the risk of fire. Emilner, you make a good point about other appliances I hadn't been thinking about. Interesting point about leaks, weissman.

Food for thought from you both. Thanks for taking the time to answer me.

    Bookmark   August 5, 2012 at 12:13AM
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I try not to run the dryer or anything that makes a lot of heat while I'm away. Otherwise I would not worry.

If you have an older house or even one that had any renovation before you bought it, it is worth having an electrician check all the wiring -- there's a lot of dangerously incompetent or outdated wiring out there, and that is a serious fire hazard. I've been upgrading a 1941-built house and we've found the most appalling stuff.

Re water, little alarms (I have the Zircon 63931 Leak Alert) are a good investment.

    Bookmark   August 6, 2012 at 3:02AM
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because of less than great quality control in manufacturing, you are being justifiably cautious

    Bookmark   August 6, 2012 at 8:46AM
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C'mon. Anything can start a fire due to an electrical malfunction. Do you run your furnace when no one's at home? Do fans run when you're not at home? how many other stories of DW's catching fire have you read about? This is exceedingly rare and unless you have a fire extinguisher in the kitchen isn't it better to have your house catch fire when no one is at home rather than having to escape a fire in progress?

    Bookmark   August 6, 2012 at 12:15PM
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I suspect your friends house may have had either faulty wiring or faulty breaker to begin with. Properly working circuit breaker with proper house wiring should disconnect the circuit before the wire heats up enough to ignite surrounding material. The exception is if there is arcing near flammable insulation or material. Arcing would be the result of bad wiring.

Now, that said, some dishwashers (particularly older models) have exposed heating elements that are intended to dry the dishes. If something flammable were to fall to the bottom of the tub, it could ignite during the dry cycle. Sponges or towels or if a paper towel were to fall in by accident could potentially ignite. The simple solution in these cases is to turn off heated dry if you are leaving the house. I had one of these where a plastic container lid fell to the bottom and melted so it definitely does get pretty hot.

Personally, I have no problems leaving the house with the dishwasher or washer and dryer running. I don't leave the self-clean oven cycle going though which some people would probably think I'm being over cautious. My dishwasher doesn't have heated dry nor do I put anything even potentially flammable in it so I figure it's pretty safe. Dryers, I'm 50/50. We do leave that running but if I were to really think about it, I'd probably not. Basically, anything with an explicit heating element or open flame, I have second thoughts before leaving. Of course, shutting down your water heater every time you leave the house for 15 minutes or your furnace in the middle of winter probably would make those appliances nearly useless.

    Bookmark   August 6, 2012 at 2:00PM
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I do not run the washer or dryer or dishwasher when I'm gone, or after I go to bed.

I probably have a little PTSD from my house fire a few yrs ago. I realize there is little risk, but I won't take the chance.

    Bookmark   August 6, 2012 at 2:15PM
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Why do some people post when they have absolutely no idea what they are talking about?

Anyone who frequents this forum should know about the class-action lawsuit and nationwide investigations of serious fires started by KitchenAid, Whirlpool, Sears Kenmore, and Maytag dishwashers, all manufactured by Whirlpool.

A kitchen fire started by a DW can cause serious injury, massive property damage and death. If you know nothing about this matter, it's best to just move on to another post.

    Bookmark   August 6, 2012 at 7:24PM
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Those three fires(two while we were home) I don't think are a large enough sample to statisically create a trend. Even so, we got a Miele DW so we could safely leave the house. It doesn't use a heating element to dry the dishes. Better to be safe.

    Bookmark   August 6, 2012 at 7:24PM
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OK, better safe than sorry. It's a Maytag DW, and a Whirlpool W/D.

And the reason I'd rather be home if a fire broke out is because I could get out, get the dog out, and call the fire department. If I were out, the dog would be stuck, and that's the stuff of nightmares. My friend's house burned entirely down because no one noticed until it was too late. Probably the best thing is a monitored fire/burglar alarm, but we don't have one of those.

My house is from 1941, and you wouldn't believe what the GC found when we redid the kitchen. Hopefully, at least the kitchen wiring is OK now.

But I'm not going to turn off the furnace or water heater, of course.

    Bookmark   August 6, 2012 at 11:22PM
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What we are talking about here is personal perceptions of risk. It is a subjective judgment on what you do about it.

The National Fire Protection Association has published reports on appliance and heating fires.

If I recall correctly, there are an annual average in the US of 5200 house fires caused by gas water heaters, 1900 fires caused by refrigerators and freezers, and about 1300 per year caused by dishwahers. About 60% of the appliance fires are caused by or related to product and wiring failures.

Also, I believe that I read that US Consumer Products Safety Commission has reported receiving some 1600 complaints about dishwasher defects that resulted in fire or smoke over the last five years. The CPSC says most of these fires were contained within the appliance.

If you search on CPSC + dishwasher fires" you will find news reports that some 600 of the complaints are about Whilrpool products (which includes Kenmore, Kitchenaid and Maytag dishwashers) and these are the subject of class action trying to force Whirlpool to recall some units. Whirlpool claims that it has designed its circuit board to shut off electricity to the unit if the board overheats (and a fire is definitely overheating). Given the reports, it seems that the fail safe system is not as foolproof as Whirlppol's press releases assert.

So, you look at all of this information and what do you make of it?

Some folks will say: "OMG, 1300 DW fires per year. That's outrageous. I'll never have another DW in my home ever again!"

Other folks will look at this and say: "There must be 70 million households with dishwashers in the US. If only 1300 of them catch fire in a given year, that seems like a statistically trivial risk to me!"

Read the reports and ask yourself what your personal tolerance for risk is? That I may feel comfortable running my DW at night or when I leave the house does not mean you will feel comfortable doing so.

    Bookmark   August 7, 2012 at 3:14AM
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JWVideo - That's what I like, a data-based decision!You're right, the risk is real, but really small. Your point about personal tolerance for risk is well taken. Thank you so much.

And thanks to all of you who took the time to weigh in on this.

    Bookmark   August 7, 2012 at 10:21AM
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I won't leave the dishwasher, washer or dryer running (or the oven)if we aren't home. And as of now, if we are gone for even 48 hours, the darned fridge is being unplugged, defrosted and the doors left open (it is 1 1/2 years old - so you can probably tell I am aggravated).

    Bookmark   August 16, 2012 at 4:33PM
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Great thread, great responses. Thank you.

Ginny, you've said it yourself: "Probably the best thing is a monitored fire/burglar alarm, but we don't have one of those" -- I think that hits the nail on the head. They're a little expensive, but worthwhile if you can swing it for peace of mind not to mention in terms of the damage potentially avoided. My mother's furnace malfunctioned this winter while she was away. The problem was discovered when the water dept detected a change in pressure, sent the police who found a cascade of frozen water coming out the window. (It also took them about 2 minutes to break into the house).

Damage was actually surprisingly contained under the circumstances, and still it was a massive amount of work to fix. It would all have been avoided with this device.


If you are the kind of person who will be made nervous worrying about this stuff, that in itself is worth a lot to mitigate.

I'd like to know more about these devices! Maybe someone should start a thread about theirs... Show Me Your House Monitoring System or the like.

    Bookmark   August 16, 2012 at 7:29PM
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As an art dealer, I was once called in to estimate the cost of art restoration after someone who had been in Florida for the winter came home to find a flood. Apparently, the second floor toilet seal gave out and water ran for a long time. This sort of thing doesn't keep me awake at night, but it is amazing what can happen that you just don't think about. It's why you should have insurance. And someone to check your house while you're away.

    Bookmark   August 17, 2012 at 10:16AM
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Sorry about the above link...there is a recall for ge dishwashers from can go to there web site and check..sorry agian I tried to put the page up but it didn't work. Need to fine tune my computor skills!

    Bookmark   August 18, 2012 at 10:16AM
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Release #12-244 Firm's Recall Hotline: (866) 918-8760
CPSC Recall Hotline: (800) 638-2772
CPSC Media Contact: (301) 504-7908
Firm�s Media Contact: (888) 240-2749

GE Recalls Dishwashers Due to Fire Hazard
WASHINGTON, D.C. - The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, in cooperation with the firm named below, today announced a voluntary recall of the following consumer product. Consumers should stop using recalled products immediately unless otherwise instructed. It is illegal to resell or attempt to resell a recalled consumer product.

Name of product: GE, GE Adora�, GE Eterna�, GE Profile� and Hotpoint�, Dishwashers

Units: About 1.3 million in the United States

Manufacturer: GE Appliances, of Louisville, Ky.

Hazard: An electrical failure in the dishwasher's heating element can pose a fire hazard.

Incidents/Injuries: GE has received 15 reports of dishwasher heating element failures, including seven reports of fires, three of which caused extensive property damage. No injuries have been reported.

Description: This recall involves GE, GE Adora, GE Eterna, GE Profile and Hotpoint brand dishwashers. They were sold in black, white, bisque, stainless steel and CleanSteel� exterior colors and finishes. The model and serial numbers can be found on a metallic plate located on the left tub wall visible when the door is opened. Model and serial numbers will start with one of the following sequences:

Brand Model Number Begins With: Serial Number Begins With:
GE Adora
GE Eterna
GE Profile GLC4, GLD4, GLD5, GLD6, GSD61,
GSD62,GSD63, GSD66, GSD67,
Hotpoint HLD4

Sold at: Appliance dealers, authorized builder distributors and other stores nationwide from March 2006 through August 2009 for between $350 and $850.

Manufactured in: United States

Remedy: Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled dishwashers, disconnect the electric supply by shutting off the fuse or circuit breaker controlling it and inform all users of the dishwasher about the risk of fire. For all dishwashers, contact GE for a free in-home repair or to receive a GE rebate of $75 towards the purchase of a new GE front-control plastic tub dishwasher, or a rebate of $100 towards the purchase of a new GE front-control stainless tub dishwasher or GE Profile top control dishwasher. Consumers should not return the recalled dishwashers to the retailer where they purchased as retailers are not prepared to take the units back.

Consumer Contact: For additional information, contact GE toll-free at (866) 918-8760 between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. ET Monday through Friday or visit the firm�s website at

Location of model and serial numbers

GE Dishwasher

GE Profile Dishwasher


The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) is still interested in receiving incident or injury reports that are either directly related to this product recall or involve a different hazard with the same product. Please tell us about your experience with the product on

CPSC is charged with protecting the public from unreasonable risks of injury or death associated with the use of the thousands of consumer products under the agency's jurisdiction. Deaths, injuries, and property damage from consumer product incidents cost the nation more than $900 billion annually. CPSC is committed to protecting consumers and families from products that pose a fire, electrical, chemical, or mechanical hazard. CPSC's work to ensure the safety of consumer products - such as toys, cribs, power tools, cigarette lighters, and household chemicals - contributed to a decline in the rate of deaths and injuries associated with consumer products over the past 30 years.

Under federal law, it is illegal to attempt to sell or resell this or any other recalled product.

To report a dangerous product or a product-related injury, go online to:, call CPSC's Hotline at (800) 638-2772 or teletypewriter at (301) 595-7054 for the hearing and speech impaired. Consumers can obtain this news release and product safety information at To join a free e-mail subscription list, please go to

    Bookmark   August 18, 2012 at 10:26AM
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I once heard of a refrigerator causing a house in our area to burn down. It was a new one, all electronic/computerized, and one of the electronic components shorted out.
Anything can short out. Lightning causes more house fires in our region, along with candles.

    Bookmark   August 18, 2012 at 11:34AM
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I'm glad otterkill posted the GE dw recall. I heard about it last week. Over 10 years ago I loaded a GE dishwasher, turned it on, it let out a big whoop sparking noise, and flames shot out from underneath it. It had already been recalled for a fire hazard and I remember a repairman came out and installed a small sheet of clear plastic over the controls on the inside interior of the door. The recall repair obviously didn't work. So I never ever leave things running when I leave home. I reported the incident to the consumer product safety commission and they came and took the dw. I never heard from them after that about if they ever did anything. Later I learned that house fires caused by appliances like dishwashers, refrigerators, and dryers is pretty common

    Bookmark   August 20, 2012 at 11:44PM
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