Warning: Unplug small appliances

We've all heard warnings about leaving small appliances plugged in 24/7, especially if said appliances tend to get hot when operated... i.e. coffee makers, toasters, curling irons, hair dryers, space heaters, etc.
I must admit that I have only mildly heeded these warnings, until recently. We finally got to see a near disaster, first hand.
Unloading boxes of misc. for our recently purchased place in AZ, I found a rather sophisticated looking hair dryer (Vidal Sassoon/1600 Watt), which appeared to be clean and in good shape. It even had a circuit breaker built into the power cord. However, there were no marks on the sliding switch, indicating "off/high/low." Guessing, I slid the switch to the center, expecting to find the "off" position. I plugged it in - nothing. Good. I temporarily hung it on the towel rack, then turned around to see what else I could find.
Within ten seconds, my wife screamed, and I turned around to see 6" high flames coming out of the unit. I grabbed it and winged it out onto the verandah. Fortunately, the black smoke residue left on the wall cleaned up - no harm done.
Had I plugged it in, then left the room, I have no doubt that instead of cleaning up smoke residue, we would have been fighting a fire. Had we left the townhouse at the time, we probably would have returned to a destroyed unit, which hopefully, wouldn't have taken others with it.
Pretty scary stuff. Even scarier is that the built-in circuit breaker apparently didn't do anything. Later, I took the dryer apart, just to see if I could determine why it failed. Ha! Diagnosis: Innards fried/melted beyond recognition. The only conclusion I could make was that it was "well done."
Just thought I'd pass this episode along, for those of you who have never considered unplugging small appliances, when not in use.
Unc
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Be glad it did what it did *QUICK*!
Sounds like it was "on" but the fan wasn't running.
There is supposed to be a thermostatic switch that turns the device off if it overheats (usually visible just inside the air outlet).
Either the switch was defective, or hanging it with the fan absolutely not spinning may have allowed the hot air to rise away from the thermo-switch. Was it perchance hung with the outlet barrel facing down?
Eather way, it was broke AND defective, always a great combination!
Dave
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Amen.

Sure was.

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uncle k wrote:

The device built into the power cord would have been some variation of a ground fault circuit interrupter or GFCI. The only thing a GFCI or it's close cousins respond to is a difference between the current flowing on the two conductors supplying the portable appliance. If the current differs by more than the devices designed trip point then the GFCI opens the circuit. A GFCI will carry currents that will destroy the GFCI itself as long as the current remains balanced. They are intended to protect against current leaking from the circuit rather than over current. -- Tom Horne
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Tom Horne

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wrote:

It is possible that the motor failed. These hair dryers take the equivalent of electric radiant room heaters which on the high setting is typically is 1500 watts or so, however they are designed to work safely only when the blower motor provides cooling air. There should be a thermal safety cutout in the appliance itself, but either this failed or it wasn't installed.
Curious to know if your hair dryer had a UL listing (Underwriters Laboratories)?
Beachcomber
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Make that 1600 W, and considering the brand name, I would be easily duped into assuming it had a thermal kill switch.

I believe it did. Ya know, I even took the trouble to glance at the intake screen before I plugged it in, since they are prone to clogging with lint. It looked fine.
What I hadn't considered was that since this dryer came from my wife's collection, it may have ingested some long hair, which ultimately strangled the fan spindle. Or, this is a classic case of small appliance mechanical failure, with a happy ending.
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Your case sounds a lot like this one:
http://www.cpsc.gov/CPSCPUB/PREREL/PRHTML94/94080org.html
Different brand, but might be same OEM.
In any case, I'll bet Vidal Sassoon will send you a free replacement (hopefully something less flame happy) if you tell them that otherwise, the charred specimen will be sent to the CPSC.
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Coulda been a fuse. UK appliances have these.
Nick
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wrote:

I think if you finally find the manual, it might say only operate if familar with the safe operating instructions. ;)

that 'circuit breaker' was probably an immersion detector. It only trips if it detects voltage is leaking, as in the case its immersed in water.

Hair dryers are typically a risk. The NEC even tries to address this by requiring bathroom receptacles on a 20 amp circuit.

glad to hear damage was minimial.
tom
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wrote:

Glad everyone is ok.
You have my story beat. I had a toaster oven, maybe Black and Decker. It had a lever on the right that one could push down until it latched and that turned it on.
My kitchen counter was such a mess, piled with boxes and and dishes, and flat things (pot holders, I dont' remember what) that eventually the pile landed on the lever and turned on the oven, even though the lever wasn't far enough down to latch. It went on anyhow.
I smelled something (although the smoke alarm didn't go off) found it and put it out. I had one of those high quality plastic forks, translucent grey, on top of it, and it melted into a puddle. And a couple other things I forget.
Remove NOPSAM to email me. Please let me know if you have posted also.
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wrote:

Even though you apparently got it for free, I'd contact the company and complain. DO NOT TOSS IT IN THE TRASH. They will want to see it, even if you tore it apart.
Two reasons to complain.
1. You may save someone elses house from burning, even save a life. 2. You will likely get a free and new dryer.
Be sure to tell them you got it new, but do not have the receipt, because it was a gift.
I *KNOW* they will do something. The reason is because you had a fire start from it. I have learned from past experience, if a life is threatened. or a fire starts, etc. from defective merchandise, these companies want to know, and they will royally kiss you butt because you are not suing them. In other words, they WILL assist you.
If a product simply fails, the companies are not as willing to help, because there are no chances of a legal suit.
Good Luck, and be sure to let us know what happens.
PS. I had a compact florescent bulb go up in smoke and sparks. The company treated me like a king. I had a livestock tank heater in the process of electricuting one of my horses. I ripped the cord out of that wall just in time to save him. That company not only replaced the heater but gave me several more free ones. (I have since installed GFI's on all of the outlets they plug into).
Mark
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Too late. After my non-scientific analysis, the charred carcus went in the garbage.
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wrote:

Too bad !!!!
I'd still call them and tell them about it. These things could kill someone else. Please at least give them a call or an email. They likely even have a website and 800 number. (Hopefully you can remember the model number).
Mark
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On Thu, 03 Nov 2005 23:49:19 -0600, snipped-for-privacy@UNLISTED.com wrote:

I still don't understand the role of the GFI. Was there a problem with the ground in that receptacle?

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I have a hair dryer, same brand, but has two switches. I noticed, that in the OFF position, if I push the switch up slightly, the heater comes on before the fan. I always unplug it after use! John
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