Appliances are all around our home, but we don’t often recognize their potential safety hazards. Fortunately, you don’t have to rely on professional inspections or go off the grid to keep your home and family safe.
Instead of racking up hefty bills or packing up and heading for the hills, use this appliance safety guide to make sure you’re informed about common safety hazards and how to protect against them.
The refrigerator is an appliance that we take for granted. We’re so used to its presence that it’s easy to forget about regular maintenance and safety inspections, but these actions are crucial for keeping you and your family safe.
Common refrigerator safety hazards
What to look for in your fridge
Keep an eye out for dust and lint, which often gather behind and under refrigerators. This buildup can increase the risk of hazards around the electrical components. Exposed wires, which can result from accidentally rolling over the cord, can also present an electrical fire hazard.
The fridge may tip if children hang on refrigerator door handles, which can cause them to become trapped under the fridge. Another danger lurking in the fridge is foodborne pathogens, like E. coli and salmonella, which can survive even in refrigerator temperatures.
How to maintain refrigerator safety
Avoid these common refrigerator safety hazards by regularly cleaning behind and underneath your fridge. Gently remove dust and lint, and be careful of the cord if you move the fridge to clean. Keep the coils of your refrigerator clean to avoid possible compressor failure and minimize fire risk.
Prevent your fridge from falling over by tethering it to the wall with an appliance anchor like the GE Anti-Tip Appliance Bracket. Before installing any anti-tip brackets or straps, make sure they are compatible with the make and model of your refrigerator.
Make cleaning and disinfecting the inside of the fridge part of your routine every time you stock up on groceries. It’s easy to wipe down shelves and drawers with disinfecting wipes like those by Clorox or Lysol. There are also a number of natural cleaners you can use that provide the same protection without causing damage to the environment.
Whether you have an electric or gas dryer, there are potential safety hazards that come with the convenience of those soft, dry clothes.
Common dryer safety hazards
Carbon monoxide poisoning
What to look for in your dryer
Collected dust and lint become a fire hazard if allowed to remain inside vents and hoses. Regularly inspect your dryer vents and lint filters for buildup. Examine the ductwork and exhaust hoses attached to the dryer to identify lint that has bypassed the screen.
Loose hoses, seals, and connections can lead to gas and carbon monoxide leaks. If your dryer uses gas, pay attention for gas smells when you open the door or when the dryer is running.
How to maintain dryer safety
Always clean out the lint screen before using the dryer. You should also conduct a thorough cleaning of the vents and duct system at least twice per year. Make the job easier by using a dryer duct cleaning kit. The Deflecto kit comes with a synthetic brush head and six extendable rods that can reach up to twelve feet.
If you have an electric dryer, you need to use a 220v grounded outlet to minimize the risk of fire. Always keep chemicals, rags, loose papers, and other flammable items away from both gas and electric dryers. If you must store things near the dryer, install a shelf or cabinet that fits above the washer and dryer to keep fire hazards at a minimum.
Nothing beats a hot shower or easy access to water that’s warm enough to clean our dishes and clothes—but these luxuries come with some measure of risk.
Common water heater safety hazards
Carbon monoxide poisoning
What to look for in your water heater
Nearly every hot water heater risk is a result of poor venting or excessive pressure buildup. Poorly connected vents can lead to carbon monoxide and natural gas leaks, which is a huge risk to your pets and family. Make sure vents are the same diameter as the draft diverters that leave the tank, and look for vents that go up and out of the tank, never down. Direct vents should go straight out a side wall.
Every water heater has a pressure/temperature relief valve to help prevent an explosion. If your water heater gets too hot, or too much pressure builds up, it could explode, damaging your home and creating a huge risk of fire and gas and carbon monoxide poisoning. In the next section, we explain how to find and test the pressure valve.
How to maintain water heater safety
Ensure that vents are securely fixed by using at least three screws for sections that are crimped and connected to one another. If you have concerns about natural gas leaks, you can perform a quick gas safety check. Smell for the scent of gas and examine the flame in the pilot light. It should be mostly blue. If there is too much orange, it’s a sign that there may be a gas leak. To protect your family against carbon monoxide leaks, the best thing to do is install a carbon monoxide detector.
To stay safe from excessive temperature and pressure, you should test the relief valve at least once per year. Typically, all you have to do is pull up the handle on the valve. Water should freely flow when the valve is open and promptly stop when you close it. If no water comes out, water won’t stop running, or you notice drips, the valve probably needs to be replaced.
Microwaves changed the face of cooking for a whole generation of families, making it easier for busy, working people to provide hot meals in less time. However, because microwaves use radiation to cook food, there have long been concerns about the potential risks of using this modern convenience.
Common microwave safety hazards
What to look for in your microwave
For limited exposure to radiation from your microwave, you want to make sure that the door seal and lock work well. Be wary if the door doesn’t seal tightly or if you notice any warping. Sparks during operation can be another sign that something is wrong with a seal or that a vent may be blocked by grease or other food byproducts.
Radiation and electrical problems can also stem from a broken or damaged stirrer, which makes sure the energy is evenly distributed around the machine. This means that microwave energy would be concentrated in one area of your microwave, rather than evenly distributed. This can be caused if there is something wrong with the stirrer belt or the fan.
How to maintain microwave safety
Always clean your microwave after use. Don’t let food waste or splattered grease and oils build up. Glisten microwave sponges make deep cleaning easy—they can remove sticky and greasy foods, and they are also biodegradable. For quickly wiping up everyday messes, Weiman microwave wipes are a convenient way to avoid potential dangers from cooked-on food.
If you fear that there is a problem with any part of your microwave, contact a qualified professional to get to the bottom of things. Because microwaves can deliver a shock even if they are unplugged, your best bet to stay clear of electrical hazards and radiation exposure is to bring in a pro. If you’re having doubts about the safety of your microwave, it’s best to properly dispose of the suspect and pick up a new one.
Keeping your home and family safe is a crucial part of providing a clean, healthy living environment. The appliances we rely on every day are easy to overlook when conducting a home safety inspection, but they need to have a permanent spot on your safety checklist. Use this appliance safety guide to help you get started.
Rebecca is the lead safety reporter and in-house expert for SafeWise.com. She has been a journalist and blogger for over 25 years, with a focus on home and community safety for the past six. Rebecca spends dozens of hours every month testing and evaluating security products and strategies. Her safety expertise is sought after by publications, broadcast journalists, non-profit organizations, podcasts, and more. You can find her work and contributions in places like TechCrunch, The Washington Post, The Chicago Tribune, HGTV, MSN, and an ever-growing library of radio and TV clips. Learn more