Which? tests have found electric blankets being sold on online marketplaces that cannot be legally sold in the UK and in some cases are so poorly made that they risk giving the user an electric shock.
The cost of living crisis has seen a huge rise in the popularity of electric blankets as people try to minimise use of their central heating – but the consumer champion found that some of these products being sold online pose a serious safety risk to consumers.
Nine out of the 11 electric blankets, throws and shawls Which? bought from third-party sellers on AliExpress, Amazon, eBay and Wish should not be sold legally in the UK because they are so badly made or have problems with the packaging, markings or instructions.
Eight of the 11 were poorly made with three posing a potential electric shock hazard.
The electric blankets that could be electric shock risks cost between £13 and £21 and all three were bought on AliExpress.
One electric blanket, bought on AliExpress for £13, had wires connecting the controller to the mains which were simply twisted together and covered in sealant, which served to hide a second-rate connection. The plug provided was the European two-pin variety and it came with a cheap and nasty UK adapter with pins much too close to the edge of the plug, which presents an electric shock risk.
Another electric blanket, bought for £21 from a seller on AliExpress, was a dangerous product with a problem cable, fuse and plug. A third one, bought for £18 on the same online marketplace, again had a dodgy and dangerous UK three-pin plug adapter that could lead to users getting an electric shock.
One of the products bought on Wish, for £22, had electric wires that could easily be pulled out with little force, a clear sign of the poor build quality Which? found in its tests.
Eight of the 11 electric blankets Which? tested were poorly made, with many standard safety warnings missing and in some cases half of the instructions were not given in English. Nine of the products Which? assessed failed to include either a UKCA mark or a CE mark, which indicate compliance with safety standards.
In addition to safety concerns, some of the products were incredibly inefficient. For example, in the cases of a Cenlang heated shawl, £12.99 on Amazon Marketplace, and an electric heated blanket poncho on eBay, £15.99, only five per cent of the total surface area of the respective products were heated, the size of a sheet of A5 paper.
Only two electric blankets out of 11 passed all of Which?’s tests. One on Amazon Marketplace, a 1Above double size heated blanket, bought for £27, and another on eBay, an Electric heated throw bought for £22.
The nine dodgy electric blankets flagged by Which? have now been removed by the online marketplaces.
Which?’s findings reinforce why the government must give online marketplaces greater legal responsibility for preventing unsafe and illegal products appearing on their sites in the first place. The current approach, which puts most of the responsibility on the third-party sellers on these marketplaces, is failing to stop these items ending up in people’s homes.
The Office for Product Safety and Standards’ (OPSS) long overdue product safety review should recommend greater legal responsibility for online marketplaces, as part of wider measures to strengthen product safety protections for consumers, and these changes must be brought in as soon as possible.
The government must seize the opportunity to address major gaps in current product safety regulation which is outdated and does not account for the shift to online shopping.
Sue Davies, Which? Head of Consumer Protection Policy, said:
“Electric blankets have surged in popularity as people look to save money during the cost of living crisis, but our latest research shows that buying these products cheaply on online marketplaces can put your safety at risk.
“The government must urgently act to give online marketplaces greater legal responsibility for unsafe and illegal products sold on their sites so that consumers are no longer put at unnecessary risk of harm.”
Notes to editors
In November and December 2022, Which? tested 11 electric blankets, heated throws and heated shawls bought from sellers listed on AliExpress, Amazon and eBay and Wish.
Which? assessed the packaging, markings and documentation for each product, looked at the build quality (external and internal) and tested them for electrical safety and moisture resistance.
Nine of the products Which? assessed failed to include either a UKCA mark or a CE mark, which is valid until the end of 2024. Both marks exist to show that a product complies with environmental, health and safety standards so it is concerning that they are missing.
Which? found many problems when assessing them in the lab, but all of the electric blankets, heated throws and heated shawls on test were resistant to moisture and heated up safely.
The names of the electric blankets that could be electric shock risks were:
Electric blanket thicker heater body warmer, bought through AliExpress – £13
Electric blanket 220v body warmer, bought through AliExpress – £21
22V Heated electric sheet, bought through AliExpress – £18
What you should do if you own any of these electric blankets
If you think you own a product that’s failed our tests and assessments and that cannot legally be sold in the UK, you should approach the seller you bought them from to ask for a refund.
What to look out for when buying an electric blanket
It’s hard to tell if a product is electrically unsafe just from looking at it – if problems do exist, they’ll often be hidden away inside but there are some tell-tale signs to look for.
Packaging – This should show information about the manufacturer, the importer, how to dispose of the products and a UKCA or CE mark. The two products that passed all of Which?’s tests were professionally packed in carry cases with handles, with both displaying all of the required information. The rest came in plastic bags with no other information.
Instructions – Instructions should be in English and explain how to use and how to maintain the blankets. They should contain safety instructions and any relevant warnings, for example, to not use the blankets when wet, guidance on washing them and the warning sign showing that electric blankets should not be used by very young children. Products failing Which?’s tests came with no instructions or instructions not in English with all standard safety warnings missing.
Markings – Look for the UKCA or CE mark on the packaging and the product itself as well as the WEEE disposal logo. And again look for a safety warning and washing instruction labels on the product. If these are missing, the product cannot be legally sold in the UK and could be substandard in other ways, too.
Plugs – The plug should be a UK three pin plug. If the product comes with any other kind of plug and an adaptor, the alarm bells should start to ring. It is also worth noting that the markings mentioned above are also required for all plugs. All three blankets Which? tested that came with the wrong plug and an adaptor posed an electric shock risk to anybody using them.
Loose wires – Look for wires that do not seem to be safely secured. If anything looks wrong or if you can see the insulation on the wires themselves poking out of the plug or the cable, stop using your electric blanket.
Right of replies
‘The items identified as part of the investigation by Which? have been removed. As a third-party marketplace, AliExpress does not take custody of the goods being sold.
‘We work hard to ensure that consumers are protected on our platform and have in place policies that all our third-party sellers must comply with to create a safe shopping environment.’
‘We take safety and compliance very seriously and businesses are required to comply with all UK laws and regulations, as well as Amazon’s policies. When appropriate we remove a product from the store, reach out to sellers, manufacturers, and government agencies for additional information, or take other actions.
‘If customers have concerns about an item they’ve purchased, we encourage them to contact us directly so we can investigate and take appropriate action. We have removed any products with non-compliant labelling.’
An eBay spokesperson said: ‘We take the safety of our users very seriously, and we have removed the listings that Which? flagged to us. We have also searched the site for any similar listings which may be of risk. We use automatic block filters to try to prevent these products from being listed. These filters block millions of listings every year and are updated on a regular basis.
‘On the rare occasion that an unsafe product does make it on to site, we swiftly remove it and provide product safety education to the sellers to prevent relisting. We also work closely with stakeholders and regulators to maintain our global product safety strategy for keeping our platform safe. Our Regulatory Portal also enables authorities from around the world to report listings of unsafe products, such as those flagged by Which?, for swift removal.’
‘Product safety is a top priority for Wish. Each of the listings highlighted within this report have been removed from our European platform, as they clearly violate local laws and safety standards. We are also monitoring for any identical or similar listings and will take any further appropriate action.’
As Which? went to press, none of the sellers of the products had provided a comment for publication.
Which? is the UK’s consumer champion, here to make life simpler, fairer and safer for everyone. Our research gets to the heart of consumer issues, our advice is impartial, and our rigorous product tests lead to expert recommendations. We’re the independent consumer voice that influences politicians and lawmakers, investigates, holds businesses to account and makes change happen. As an organisation we’re not for profit and all for making consumers more powerful.
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