Exploding oven doors: Isolated incidents or greater safety concern?

Exploding oven doors: Isolated incidents or greater safety concern?

SEATTLE -- Across the country, consumers are reporting sudden explosions in the kitchen.

The surprising source? The glass in the door of their gas or electric oven.

If they hadn't seen it for themselves, Susan and Dave Baker of Port Orchard still wouldn't believe it. The inside glass on their oven is fine, but all that's left of the outside glass is crumbling shards stuck inside the door frame.

"I was scared. Because I thought somebody had  possibly broke into the house," Susan said.
   
 It wasn't a break-in, but a blow-out. The couple says they came home in August to an explosion of glass all over the kitchen floor and an empty space where the outer glass should be. They say the 4-year old, $1,800 Frigidaire oven hadn't  been used in days.
 
The Bakers are appalled that no one seems concerned, especially when other consumers report the same glass door explosions.

For Betty Chan of Vancouver, BC,  it was the outer glass in the door of her Bosch oven.  For Katie Andrews of Missouri, the outer glass in her Kenmore oven. Andrews said the oven hadn't been used all day.

The manufacturers each had similar reactions. Sears, which owns Kenmore, said it takes product safety issues very seriously. In earlier reports about Andrews' case, spokesman Larry Costello said a glass door can break as result of a micro-fracture. By email, Costello told the Problem Solvers, "This is not a safety concern - the tempered glass is designed to 'pebble.'"

Electrolux, which makes Frigidaire, said it too is serious about safety.  By email, spokeswoman Eloise Hale said, "We take the safety of our products seriously and work diligently with industry regulators to ensure the glass used in oven doors is performing as expected."

Both Sears and Electrolux point out that the glass in all their ovens are in compliance with federal and industry safety standards. After being made aware of Betty Chan's case, Bosch agreed to investigate.

A check of oven door explosion complaints with the Consumer Product Safety Commission turned up dozens of incidents -- some with injuries -- involving many manufacturers.

Local appliance-repair experts say newer oven glass is more prone to fractures because it's not as sturdy as the glass in older models. And  they say your chance of glass shattering really increases if you use the self-cleaning feature on new models, because of the extremely high heat.  A number of the CPSC complaints online involved glass doors that shattered or exploded during the self-cleaning cycle.
  
Repair experts point out that the number of glass shattering cases is relatively small compared to the millions of ovens on the market. But, given the pages of federal incident reports, consumer who've dealt with the problem wonder why there have been no safety alerts.  
  
"I don't understand how we weren't notified," Andrews said.

That's a question KOMO posed to the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

"We take all incidents involving shattering glass seriously," a commission official said. "There are standards in place for consumer products that use glass which should lead to the glass breaking into nuggets and not shards, if the product shatters."

Turns out, as long as it shatters in "tempered nuggets,"  the oven glass meets safety standards. 

So what can oven owners do?  Both Sears and Electrolux offered up advice.

From Electrolux:
  
"We also recommend the consumers reference their owners manual for safety tips and care instructions on the doors.  They are:  Special Door Care Instructions - Most oven doors contain glass that can break.  Read the following recommendations:  1. Do not close the oven door until all the oven racks are fully in place.  2. Do not hit the glass with pots, pans, or any other object.  3. Scratching, hitting, jarring or stressing the glass may weaken its structure causing an increased risk of breakage at a later time. "

From Sears: 
 
"Within the first year of purchase, failure in the glass may be due to imperfections in the glass at installation and would be covered under the manufacturer's warranty.  Breakage beyond the first year following purchase is most likely due to damage caused to the glass during use. Damage to the glass can be caused by a number of things including using the door to push in an oven rack or an object striking the glass-both examples may cause a weakness and lead to failure over time.
Some additional information which may be helpful is the reference to the glass pulled from our owner's manual.   Owner's Manual, page 26:   Special Door Care Instructions - Most oven doors contain glass. Glass can break.  Read the following recommendations:  1. Do not close the oven door until all the oven racks are fully in place.  2. Do not hit the glass with pots, pans, or any other object.  3. Scratching, hitting, jarring or stressing the glass may weaken its structure causing an  increased risk of breakage at a later time.


Beyond that, based on accounts from appliance-repair experts and consumer incident reports, if you have a newer model oven, avoid bumping the glass door with anything at any time. If your door has handles that loosen and need tightening, do not over-tighten the screws. And never slam the oven door closed.

And if your oven glass shatters, take multiple, clear pictures immediately. Then contact the manufacturer and file an incident report with the Consumer Product Safety Commission.  If your oven in still under warranty, you'll likely get the glass replaced for free. If the warranty has expired, be prepared to pay for the repairs yourself. 

And before you buy a new oven investigate consumer reviews, not just for the bells and whistles, but for repairs and complaints and how well those repairs are handled. You can also use the SaferProducts website to research incident reports about any product. While you're shopping, keep in mind that appliances, like any other product, have limited warranties and parts that wear out over time- as one customer service rep put it, even the glass in your oven door.