Here's a scary thought: Your microwave can suddenly turn itself on and set the house on fire. It happens! A couple told ShopSmart, the shopping magazine from the publisher of Consumer Reports, that they were left with more than $18,000 in damages after their microwave caused a fire when they were away from home.
Another surprising problem is dishwashers bursting into flames. A homeowner ShopSmart talked with said that he felt lucky he was still awake when his machine filled with smoke and sparks one night.
Almost a quarter of all appliance fires are clearly caused by the units themselves as opposed to human error — say, leaving a pan of bacon unattended. That's what ShopSmart found when it analyzed data from the National Fire Incident Reporting System. It identified more than 69,000 fires from 2002 to 2009 in which an appliance was the main cause. Of those, about half could be linked to a mechanical, electrical or design flaw.
The following six appliances accounted for the bulk of the fires. The good news is that these incidents are rare given the millions of appliances sold, and there are ways to protect yourself:
• Register new appliances to be notified of service problems.
• Check for recalls at recalls.gov. More than 18.6 million appliances have been recalled in the past six years for flaws that could cause a fire.
1. Ranges. Number of fires: 16,824
Burning issues: Burners that turn on by themselves and delayed ignition on a gas oven's bake and broil function.
Play it safe: Look for unusual error messages on the range's digital display. Stay in the kitchen when frying, grilling or broiling food. Keep flammable items, including oven mitts, away from the cooktop. Maintain a kids-free zone of at least 3 feet.
2. Clothes dryers. Number of fires: 8,717
Burning issues: Lint blockages on all dryers and gas leaks on those that run on gas.