Whirlpool has admitted that millions of its older tumble dryers sold in the U.K. and Ireland pose a fire risk and should not be used.
It’s an embarrassing climbdown for the company, which has claimed for the last year that its dryers were safe to use, despite a nationwide spate of reports to the contrary.
It first came to light in November 2015 that the heating elements of some dryers could cause fires when they came into contact with excess lint, but Whirlpool had initially chosen not to issue a general recall, instead advising its customers that the appliances could still be used as long as they weren’t left unattended. The government agency Trading Standards, which polices the safety of consumer appliances, had agreed with Whirlpool at the time.
However, customers continued to report problems, and the issue came to a head in August, when a dryer caused a fire in a London tower block that took 120 firefighters to bring under control and caused 100 families to be evacuated, according to the BBC. That led the consumer protection publication Which? to threaten legal action against Trading Standards. The agency has now issued an enforcement notice to Whirlpool, instructing it to change its advice.
The dryers affected were made between April 2004 and September 2015 and sold under the Indesit, Hotpoint, Creda, Swan and Proline brands.
No Whirlpool-branded machines have been called into question, but the company has suffered substantial reputational damage from a long-running series of media reports alleging poor customer service – notably, by asking customers to wait several months for a repair or even only referring them back to the retailer who sold them the appliance.
Whirlpool has now written to over 2 million owners of the affected dryers, advising them to unplug the appliances immediately, but noted that barely one-third have responded. According to an e-mailed statement, it has already resolved 1.3 million cases.
The company’s statement also repeated that “Since the launch of this campaign, safety has been our number one priority.
“We have consistently responded to the advice of Trading Standards and continue to do so. Trading Standards have now notified us that updated usage advice should be communicated to consumers and we are implementing this,” Whirlpool added.
Whirlpool isn’t the only company to be affected by such problems, although it has been the most frequently cited in Freedom of Information requests, according to the Daily Mirror. The Sun reported that last year, its dryers were linked to 750 fires since 2004.
This story has been updated to include Whirlpool’s response.