Given the millions of dollars spent on research and development of home products, let alone the billions involved in manufacturing them and getting them to market, we sure do write about stuff exploding a lot.
This time, it was a Whirlpool refrigerator, just four months into its tenure with a family in West Palm Beach, Florida, that reportedly blew itself to bits. The explosion was so strong that it left the Whirlpool refrigerator in pieces, not only scattered throughout the kitchen but with debris blown to surrounding rooms. A neighbor who heard the blast ran inside to help the family and reported an incredibly strong odor and fumes so toxic they made his eyes sting.
“The fridge exploded and if you look at this angle right here it expanded and expanded so much it bent the metal of the stove,” said the neighbor, according to news channel WFLA8.
Fortunately, no one in the home was hurt and the fire department quickly arrived to clear the home.
We have seen regular reports of washing machines exploding, most recently a rash of Samsung washing machines blowing up, but those are due to unbalanced drums that can separate from the washing machine with enough force to crack off other parts of the machine. In 2016, Samsung and the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission recalled almost 3 million washing machines due to reports of more than 700 explosions resulting in nine injuries. Keep in mind that 20 years ago, the top speed of a washing machine was about 400 RPMs, a rate that has doubled and tripled as technology improved.
Whirlpool also isn’t unique to the troubles of a product recall. In 2016, the company recalled about 15,000 microwaves due to fire hazard. In 2016, a subsidiary of Whirlpool, Indesit, issued a safety warning that thousands of dishwashers could be a fire risk after nearly 20 customers reported outbreaks of fire due to an inherent fault with the wiring.
However, refrigerator recalls are relatively rare, the last one occurring when Samsung recalled a bunch of discontinued refrigerators in Europe and Korea.
While the results of any investigations have yet to arrive, the problem with refrigerator explosions probably come down to physics. A refrigerator, by its very nature, is designed to move heave and uses a refrigerating agent, such as freon, under pressure. Any weakness in the pressure vessel containing the refrigerant can result in a catastrophic failure, such as the fridge blowing up. Another possibility is flammable gases from external sources — fumes from paint or gasoline would do the trick — accumulating under or inside the refrigerator, where the electrical arc from the compressor or other components could ignite them and go boom.
Whirlpool issued a statement in response to the incident in West Palm Beach, saying, “Whirlpool is committed to providing safe products for consumers. We are working quickly to look into this incident.”