faulty toaster?

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malachi constant

Senior Member
Location
Minneapolis
Wondering if any of you have ever seen this. I googled it and couldn't find any instance of it elsewhere. Even talked with the local fire marshal and he had not heard of this kind of fault before...

Fourth of July weekend. We make toast in the morning. Now it's 6pm. Wife finishes cleaning up dinner and places hand towels on top of toaster as we go into backyard. My wife comes back in 30 minutes later and screams because the hand towels and toaster are smoldering/smoking. Toaster was plugged in, but neither the carriages (4-slot toaster) were engaged, nothing was in it, and it hadn't been used in almost 12 hours. I unplugged it and extinguished the towels. Toaster was respected name brand only 18 months old, moderately used but not "overused".

The manufacturer replaced the toaster free of charge (was under warranty) but they wouldn't comment beyond that. Their literature says to unplug the toaster after each use.

So...was there a fault within the toaster? I still have it. I suppose easiest thing would be to plug it back in to check if the condition still exists. Maybe I'll do that tonight. Anyway, has anyone heard of such a fault? Is that why the literature says to unplug it?

One other reason I ask is I plan to remodel the kitchen in the next year or two, and am now considering switching the receptacles for coffee pot and toaster. But that seems a little...goofy. Every time a guest tries to make coffee or toast and can't figure out why it won't work I'll have to explain that I'm not crazy for wiring it that way. (I get funny enough looks for wiring the receptacles ground pin up.)

Would GFI have made a difference? The existing receptacles are not GFI protected. Based on my understanding of GFIs, and my speculation that the fault was essentially mimicking proper usage (i.e. the carriages being engaged), I don't think GFIs would have tripped. If that is true then the "safe" thing to do is either switch the receptacle or follow written instructions and always unplug toaster and coffee maker. Right?

Who knows, maybe one of the kids (we have four under the age of five) had come inside and pushed the slots down. It didn't occur to me until now that could have happened. It's unlikely...we're pretty attentive and I think we would have remembered if they had just gone inside...but the toaster fault is pretty unlikely too.

OK, crazy toaster man is done talking about crazy toaster faults. If I get around to plugging the thing back in I'll let you know the results. Any similar experiences - or thoughts on my unusual kitchen wiring scheme - are appreciated.
 

charlie b

Moderator
Staff member
Location
Seattle, WA
Occupation
Electrical Engineer
Could you mentally reenact this event, and place the towels in the exact, the absolutely exact same condition as the original event? Can you visualize the exact way they were sitting on top of the toaster? Taking note that your wife had just finished the cleanup efforts, I would suspect that the towels were at least damp, if not actually wet. That means they were heavier than they would be, if they were dry.

My suspicion is that the manner in which they were draped over the toaster allowed their weight to rest upon the handle. This could have depressed the handle just enough to engage the internal on/off switch. Normally, a toaster will disengage that switch when the internal sensor (whatever type it might be) says that the toast is ready. But with the weight of the towels still sitting on the handle, the internal mechanism would not be able to disengage. That is why the toaster was still heating thirty minutes after you went outside.

 

growler

Senior Member
Location
Atlanta,GA
Their literature says to unplug the toaster after each use.
Something like a toaster will have a "mechanical" timer. Any time there is a moving part it's possible for it to stick.

You could either unplug the toaster or check to make sure it did turn off and cooled down a few minutes after use. It's not going to turn it's self back on.

A GFCI protected receptacle will not prevent this appliance from having a sticking timer but GFCI protected receptacles do provide safety from other types of faults.

The best safety device for this situation is smoke detectors right outside the kitchen.
 

malachi constant

Senior Member
Location
Minneapolis
Let me try to attach a photo taken within a minute or two of the incident...

My wife is, shall we say, fastidious. Not the type of person who would drape towels, but would set them orderly-like. Not to say what you propose didn't happen. But based on the photo - which isn't exactly a smoking gun (forgive the pun) proving one way or the other - I would guess the towels were set pretty square.

These towels she uses to dry off the table or high chair after she wipes it with something wet. So they may be a little damp, but not heavy.

Also, under your theory, the towels would have had to push both handles down at the same time. Of course, under my theory, both sides of the toaster would have had to both fault at the same time. Maybe it was one of the kids, who knows? Though they've never done that before - ever. I'll try to remember tonight to plug that sucker back in and see if anything happens.
 

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malachi constant

Senior Member
Location
Minneapolis
You could either unplug the toaster or check to make sure it did turn off and cooled down a few minutes after use. It's not going to turn it's self back on.
Would it have been possible for the toaster to be "engaged" all day long, and we not know about it until the towels got sat on top of it? I would think we'd smell the electric heat.
 

hockeyoligist2

Senior Member
Why would it have to push both handles? I think they work independently, one would cause a fire. I have had a toaster that didn't cut off after the toast partially ejected. A small piece of toast fell off and prevented it from coming all of the way up.But it only burned the bottom part of the toast. If I had removed the toast when it first popped up I wouldn't have know it was on.
 
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growler

Senior Member
Location
Atlanta,GA
Would it have been possible for the toaster to be "engaged" all day long, and we not know about it until the towels got sat on top of it? I would think we'd smell the electric heat.
As far as I know heat doesn't smell. If there were any residue from other items that had been toasted still in the toaster there could be a smell. Actually the cleaner the toaster the less likely there would be an odor. A new toaster or heater may have a smell as the coating on the heating element burns off but once that is gone I think there would be very little indication other than heat.
 

malachi constant

Senior Member
Location
Minneapolis
I was basing the "both sides stick" theory on the four roughly equal smoke marks on the towel.

I assume that the smoke was caused by heating of the towel, which did not set it outright on fire but got it smoldering.

I had assumed that the roughly equal charring from all four slots indicated the toaster was heating roughly equally on both sides. I could see how my assumption could be faulty.
 

malachi constant

Senior Member
Location
Minneapolis
As far as I know heat doesn't smell. If there were any residue from other items that had been toasted still in the toaster there could be a smell. Actually the cleaner the toaster the less likely there would be an odor. A new toaster or heater may have a smell as the coating on the heating element burns off but once that is gone I think there would be very little indication other than heat.
This could be it then. The toaster was pretty clean - definitely wasn't anything of substance down there when we looked. I'm sure there were crumbs in the tray, but maybe only a couple months worth.
 

hockeyoligist2

Senior Member
I was basing the "both sides stick" theory on the four roughly equal smoke marks on the towel.

I assume that the smoke was caused by heating of the towel, which did not set it outright on fire but got it smoldering.

I had assumed that the roughly equal charring from all four slots indicated the toaster was heating roughly equally on both sides. I could see how my assumption could be faulty.

All four slots! That blows my theory! Just glad it wasn't more serious!
 

charlie b

Moderator
Staff member
Location
Seattle, WA
Occupation
Electrical Engineer
Would it have been possible for the toaster to be "engaged" all day long, and we not know about it until the towels got sat on top of it?
Doubtful. She would have noticed the heat, as she set the towels on top. And if the toaster was not hot when the towels were placed on top, then only two explanations remain. My earlier theory is one of them, and your theory about the kids is the other. I cannot believe that placing towels on top of a toaster would cause an internal fault.
 

charlie b

Moderator
Staff member
Location
Seattle, WA
Occupation
Electrical Engineer
I get funny enough looks for wiring the receptacles ground pin up.
There's your answer! That is what caused the fire! :happyyes:
. . . I plan to remodel the kitchen . . . and am now considering switching the receptacles for coffee pot and toaster. . . . Every time a guest tries to make coffee or toast and can't figure out why it won't work I'll have to explain that I'm not crazy for wiring it that way. Any . . . thoughts on my unusual kitchen wiring scheme - are appreciated.
I don't understand what you are saying. Do you mean "switch" as in "exchange positions" or as in "install a wall switch to turn on and off the receptacles that presently serve those two appliances"? I am guessing you mean the later. If so, I would say, "why bother?" If you do not presently follow the manufacturer's recommendation to unplug the items after each use, you are not going to remember to turn off the switch after each use.:happyno: And if you do not turn off that switch each and every time you finish using the item, then you defeat the purpose of installing the switch in the first place.
 

jap

Senior Member
A lot of things dont add up here.

1- It looks like all 4 elements were energized at the same time.
I dont think the towel could push down even 1 of the handles much less 2 at the same time to do this.

2- I feel like this burn took place shortly after the towel was place on the toaster that evening.
(not engergized all day long).

Maybe the moisture on the towel (if any) somehow bypassed the small fingertip buttons close to the top of the toaster that add more or less browning,,, i dont know.

Therefore I'd blame it on the Owl next to the toaster.
He looks guilty,,,,,,,,, look at him,,,,,,,,,,,,, you can see it in his eyes.:)
 

hurk27

Senior Member
There's your answer! That is what caused the fire! :happyyes:
I don't understand what you are saying. Do you mean "switch" as in "exchange positions" or as in "install a wall switch to turn on and off the receptacles that presently serve those two appliances"? I am guessing you mean the later. If so, I would say, "why bother?" If you do not presently follow the manufacturer's recommendation to unplug the items after each use, you are not going to remember to turn off the switch after each use.:happyno: And if you do not turn off that switch each and every time you finish using the item, then you defeat the purpose of installing the switch in the first place.
And someone can un knowingly turn it on thinking it is for a light.

I have seen an older toaster which had an element ground to the case and keep on heating but never a newer one, older toasters used a bi-metal trip mechanism to trip the handle which will open a contact and shut off the element but many of the newer toasters have a small electronic control board and temp sensor that does basically the samething, not sure if there is also a timer function included on this board as it would make sense but I know the one I have seems to work like the older bi-metal ones where doing back to back toast will seem to get the latter toast less done, and it seems to take a few seconds before it will latch down again like it has to cool off a bit.

I'm sure there is many ways to design a toaster and its controls so I don't have any idea as to how this occurred other then maybe if this toaster has a 3-wire cord with a EGC then it is possible one side of the element grounded but this could only happen if the receptacle has reverse polarity which would put the control contact on the neutral allowing the fault to ground to bypass it???
 
Here is my suggestion:

Dust the toaster for prints.

I am more than a half century old, but I remember being a kid like it was yesterday. I was a 'good kid'. I got good grades, never got in trouble, never missed school and didn't appear to hang around with riff-raff.

Much of that was due to the fact that I was slick enough not to get caught. Don't think that just because the kids are angels that it is beyond conception that for what ever reason one of them turned the toaster on.

If you clear the kids, print the wife.

Sometimes people get distracted and do things they don't remember.

Oh, and I am not a representative of the toaster company nor have I been influenced, bribed, persuaded or coerced to point out that the toaster is likely not guilty.

I do wonder about a person that would intentionally put something flammable on the top of a toaster with disregard. If I saw anyone do that I would have a cat. I don't care if the toaster is not on at the time. It's not a place to store towels.

Speaking of cats, was there one or more present just prior to the time of the fire?
 
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ptonsparky

Senior Member
Location
NE (9.06 miles @5.9 Degrees from Winged Horses)
Occupation
Electrical Contractor
Interesting. Wife, KIDS, cat, or owl? Can we have a poll on this?

Then again...my wife cleans and usually turns the coffee maker off without realizing it. I have also watched her pick things up, and when quized about her action she does not even remember doing it.

Safest discussion would be to remove Wife from list, and concentrate on the other three.
 

malachi constant

Senior Member
Location
Minneapolis
Wife did some labor day basement cleaning and the old toaster did not make the cut. Too bad, I was looking forward to the forensic work. I'm ruling out my wife and kids. No cats in the house (though if there were I agree they would be the most likely suspect - those things are diabolical). Will have to remain a mystery. Thanks for the thoughts.

Lessons learned:
* Providing switch for kitchen receptacles is kind of a dumb idea.
* Always unplug your toaster. Probably your coffee pot too.
* Smoke detectors are your friend. (We removed the one closest to the kitchen until we get a range hood installed.)
* Keep a fire extinguisher handy.
* Don't trust cats. Or owls.
 
Here is some stuff I snagged off Google.

My sister began unplugging her toaster between uses after she came into the kitchen one day and saw her cat playing with the lever that turns it on. But if you don't have pets (or small children) who could activate the heating coils inappropriately, leaving it plugged in should pose no harm.
posted by Dreama at 7:53 PM on September 1, 2006
My grandmother's house burned down due to a toaster. The fire department told her that this was common enough in toasters where a spring (that can age) holds the device off. When the spring gets loose or rusts or what-have-you, the device turns on. You don't have to be using it for it to malfunction and burn down your house.
The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission Friday recalled KitchenAid toasters after reports the heating element can suddenly self-start, posing a fire risk.

Whirlpool Corp.of Benton Harbor, Mich.,, was voluntarily recalling both the two-slice and the four-slice models of their KitchenAid ProLine Toasters.

Whirlpool has received three reports of incidents with the toaster unexpectedly self-starting.In one case outside the United States something on top of the toaster caught on fire, but there were no reports of personal injury or property damage.

The toasters, which were sold between August 2003 and January 2005, retailed between $250 and $300.
Hamilton Beach Recalls Toasters 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: Hamilton Beach? and Proctor-Silex? Toasters

Units: About 482,000

Importer: Hamilton Beach Brands Inc., of Glen Allen, Va.

Hazard: The toasters can remain "on" (energized) after popping up, and can ignite flammable items covering or in contact with the toaster, posing a fire hazard.

Incidents/Injuries: Hamilton Beach has received at least 63 reports of toasters that remained "on" despite being in the "up" position. There are no reports of injuries or fires.

Description: The recalled Hamilton Beach? and Proctor-Silex? toasters are black, red, white, chrome or brushed chrome with 2-slice or 4-slice openings. Hamilton Beach or Proctor-Silex is printed on the side of the toasters. Only specific series codes of each model are included in this recall. The model number and series code are printed on the bottom of the toasters.
Black and Decker toaster ovens have been catching on fire even when NOT in use! These ovens were made by a third party and appear to be a great danger when only plugged in. When in actual use they can actually explode shattering the glass door. Our local TV station had this info on last night.
Last night, about 2:30 am, I had woke up to use the restroom. I smelled some smoke, and went searching for the source - after walking towards the stairs I realized there was a LOT of smoke in my first floor (I have no idea why, but no fire alarms went off) but I found the source to have been a toaster. It had caught fire (it was left plugged in) and I had some paperwork sitting on the kitchen counter near the toaster on fire as well (ironically - it burnt up some papers from the IRS!).
And that is just a sample.
 
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