Series in which Sophie Raworth reveals how household products are tested, putting the makers' claims on trial and showing how to get the best value for money.
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Take a look around your home.
Can you be sure that every appliance is safe?
Is everything a company tells you about a product true?
And are you getting the best value for your money?
With the help of the country's top experts,
we're going to see what it takes
to test the household products we use every day.
We'll discover how they're pushed to their limits.
We'll put the makers' claims on trial.
And show you how to make your money go further.
You'll find these products in any ordinary house.
But this is no ordinary house, and no ordinary street.
This is the Watchdog Test House.
Hello. We're deep inside one of Britain's leading science centres.
Here at the Building Research Establishment,
some of the products and materials that we use every day
are put to the test to make sure that they're safe,
environmentally friendly, and that they don't fall apart.
Coming up on today's programme,
thinking of buying a tyre second hand? Check carefully.
A 19-and-a-half-year-old second-hand tyre.
Michael's life was worth far more than this.
We take to the track to find out
just how dangerous a defective tyre can be.
Two fitness instructors. Three days. No showers.
Do you really need a deodorant that claims to last 72 hours?
-This is going to get smelly.
Plus sharp edges, choking hazards
and an astonishing array of harmful chemicals.
We reveal why safety laws on children's toys
have become so stringent.
We drive more than 7,000 miles on average every year,
so you want to be sure your tyres are safe.
But if you buy yours second-hand, beware.
What seems like a good deal could turn out to be a bad risk.
It is completely outrageous that a tyre that was nearly 20 years old
was on a vehicle transporting 53 kids
on a 500-mile round trip
on a motorway doing over 60 mph.
In September 2012, Michael Malloy was on his way home
from a music festival on the Isle of Wight
when the coach he was travelling in crashed.
When she heard, his mother Frances rushed to the hospital.
I said, "Just take me to Michael," you know, "Just..."
the police liaison officer just said, "There's no easy way to say this.
"He died at the scene. He died instantly."
Michael was among three people who died on the coach that day.
The cause of the accident was clear -
a blow-out on the front near side tyre of the coach
had caused it to veer left off the dual carriageway,
mount the embankment, crash through a fence and into a tree.
The tyre had been bought second-hand
and was almost 20 years old.
It was older than Michael. It was older than the coach itself,
and it was actually legal.
The company was fined more than £4,000 for
allowing the use of a vehicle with a tyre with ply or cord exposed,
and for allowing too many people on the coach.
But there's currently no legislation
governing how old a second-hand tyre can be,
something Frances is campaigning to change.
A 19-and-a-half-year-old second-hand tyre,
it's completely and utterly outrageous,
and I just won't give up or give in on this.
Michael's life was worth far more than this.
Whilst there's no legislation
governing how old a second-hand or part-worn tyre can be,
there are rules on the condition in which they are allowed to be sold.
And it's the job of Trading Standards Officers to enforce them.
Today we're following officers in Sandwell, in the West Midlands
as they carry out routine spot checks
on a number of premises on their patch.
First up, this garage on an industrial estate.
The owner explains he imports his part-worn tyres from abroad
and that he does check them.
But despite his reassurances,
the officers inspect the tyres that are on sale for themselves.
They look at their condition. That includes tread depth,
whether there are any defects,
and also whether they are labelled correctly.
-You've got a part worn stamp?
The inspection starts well, but things soon go downhill.
You see the kink in the bead there?
You see on this one?
-Obviously, that's the bead wire exposed.
This one, it's had a nail penetration.
When a tyre's been penetrated,
the cavity formed by the penetration has to be plugged or filled.
In total, Brian and his team find seven tyres on sale
at this first garage that could pose a risk to unsuspecting drivers.
We checked roughly about 30 tyres and we found that 25% of them failed
due to damage in the tyre wall and different issues with the beading.
But there's worse to come.
That is an absolute potential killer,
and the side wall has collapsed.
Find out later just how many tyres fail Trading Standards testing.
We'll also be taking to the track
to demonstrate how dangerous driving with a part-worn tyre can be.
Now, we've all been there.
You're getting ready for the perfect night out.
Little black dress to hand.
Just one final swipe of anti-perspirant deodorant
before heading out. And then, disaster strikes -
white marks all down your clothes.
And that's despite some of them claiming to be invisible.
Yes, Sophie, we're talking sprays, roll-ons, sticks -
an explosion of anti-perspirant products
all claiming to leave no white marks. What's their secret?
Dr Laura thinks it might all be down to the size of the particles.
If you make large particles
which rub off onto clothing,
you'll see them much more clearly than if you make smaller particles,
so even if they do rub off, you won't see them with the naked eye.
For the purpose of our tests, we've chosen three stick deodorants
as we could only find three on the market brave enough
to claim the powers of invisibility.
They are Dove Invisible Dry Anti-white Marks,
Nivea Invisible Black & White White Mark Protection for black clothes,
and Sure Crystal Clear Invisible.
We'll also compare those products
to one that makes no claims about invisibility whatsoever.
Time to get technical.
Dr Laura wipes an equal amount of each deodorant
onto a chemical substance which mimics the behaviour of the skin.
Clever. She then places them under the microscope.
First up - Dove Invisible Dry.
You can see those streaks there, so we have got some particles,
but they're certainly not so small that you can't see them,
so you wouldn't expect, if you were to look at it in real life,
to appear invisible,
you would expect to see particles of this size.
It's a similar story with Sure Invisible.
Now, again, you can see large particles under here
so you would not expect this to be invisible.
As for the Nivea product...
Looks quite good, actually.
As you can see, it has a very different texture about it.
It looks quite flat, looks quite even
and nowhere near the particles as large or clumped together.
So it seems that under the microscope
the Nivea deodorant looks like it has the smallest particles
and therefore might be more invisible than the others.
As for the one that makes no invisibility claims...
I think it clearly shows
the particles are clumping together more.
You get larger particles, and therefore you would be less likely
to expect this one to be invisible.
Interesting. So that's the particle size in the lab.
How will that translate to where it really matters?
That's right, armpits!
We've got three volunteers, who work in this gym in Huddersfield.
three black T-shirts, and our three stick deodorants
boasting that they won't leave any white marks.
They'll apply each of those to their left armpit.
And on the right, they'll use the stick deodorant
that makes no claims about invisibility.
Got that? Good.
A few minutes to let the deodorants dry. Talk amongst yourselves.
OK, on go the black T-shirts.
And now take them off again.
Time to assess the damage.
That's my invisible.
But there's some white marks there, aren't there?
First up - Dove.
Both this product and the one that makes no claims
did leave some white marks.
Not much in it, is there?
Next, the Sure so-called Invisible.
That's made more of a mess
on the T-shirt than the product that makes no claims!
There's quite a lot, isn't there?
But what about the Nivea Invisible product?
The one that had the smallest particles in the lab?
No white marks on that side of the T-shirt.
But on the other side, the no-claims product has left a small mark.
So the winner of this test is not just Nivea - it's also science,
as that's just what the lab particle size test predicted.
Our tests, of course, are just a snapshot.
Unilever, who makes Dove and Sure,
say they have confidence in their products,
which are proven to have effective anti-white marks protection
under rigorous consumer and scientific testing.
But some companies also make bold claims about how long
anti-perspirants will last.
Wonder why these fitness instructors look nervous? We've just told them
they're going to be testing 72-hour anti-perspirants
and won't be allowed to wash for three days.
Find out what happens later on.
Recognise her? This is a Cindy doll from 1963.
She had the washable bobbed hair,
the stripy T-shirt and even arms and legs that moved freely.
But she also needed something extra,
around 16 pages of safety documentation.
Now, these aren't on sale anymore
but if you compare her to this, a modern-day Barbie,
under current legislation,
she requires thousands of pages of official paperwork.
So what was it that sent the toy industry into legislation overdrive?
Whatever it was, I'm sure Lynn Faulds-Wood will know all about it.
MUSIC: 1980s Watchdog theme
Welcome to Watchdog. On tonight's programme...
All these people have written to us...
'Watchdog's uncovered a stockingful of dangerous toys over the years.'
My baby would love this, he's nutty about aeroplanes,
but wait till you see what's in the wing - a razor blade!
How many of you have actually bought toys like these in the past
for Christmas or birthdays
and they turn out to have hidden spikes in them, or perhaps
nasty chokeable chunks of stuffing coming out...
'But even in the 1980s,
'toys were actually among the most regulated products you could buy.'
And nowadays it's even more so - they test for sharp edges,
harmful chemicals, small parts that children could swallow.
But that certainly hasn't always been the case.
In fact, you only need to look at some of the toys of the 1950s
here at the Museum of Childhood
to see why we've had to develop such strict rules.
Here's a little tool set, and inside you've got a saw
and tools that are all original
and working for making craft items.
And then here you've got an amazing little soldering kit.
You could be up in your bedroom soldering away.
The first British Safety Standard for toys was introduced in 1961.
It touches on everything we use today, pretty much,
but in a very short way, and appropriate to the toys of the time.
They had metal toys then,
so it specifically mentions metal edges
and that they shouldn't be sharp.
But at 15 pages, compared to today's standards, they lacked detail.
Now, when you think about edges in general, they shouldn't be sharp,
but it says what is sharp and what isn't sharp and how to test that.
So that paragraph has become ten pages to actually explain that.
Another worry has always been
whether a toy contains any parts that pose a choking hazard.
This is Billie and his Barrels,
a very popular development toy produced in the 1940s.
As you can see, each cup comes apart
as you go down in size, all the way to little Billie right here.
But obviously, little Billie is so tiny,
he'd be a complete choking hazard today,
so you wouldn't be allowed to have something so small.
But this version dates from the 1980s.
You can see Billie's much bigger here
and he's also fixed into his barrel
to make him safer for children to play with.
And these days you can test whether a toy could be a choking hazard
by using what's called a small parts cylinder.
Everything for under-threes cannot have small parts.
So this cylinder, it looks odd but it's shaped
specifically for the mouth,
and a small part, like that £2 coin
would fit in entirely.
So you can have that in toys but there would be a warning
on the packaging saying, "Not for under-threes due to small parts."
Here are some of those he considered to be potentially dangerous.
But as we exposed in the 1980s,
it's not just toys that could present a risk.
Take, for instance, these harmless looking things here - pen tops.
During the last series, we told you
how at least ten children have died after putting pen tops
in their mouths, inhaling them and blocking their windpipes.
'So by 1987, thanks to our pressure,
'manufacturers had changed their designs.
'The most common solution?'
They put a hole in the lid,
so that if a child does inhale that and get it stuck in their windpipe,
they can breathe until you get them to hospital.
And this has become the standard not just in this country,
but right across the world.
But there are less obvious dangers, like those posed by chemicals.
Many old toys were covered in lead paint.
Others contained potassium nitrate and even mercury.
This chemistry set dates from about the 1930s.
It would have been the ultimate present for a boy
for a birthday gift or Christmas gift
and it's full of an amazing array of chemicals.
Then you'll see these very simple games, maze games. They use mercury.
There's something really nice about the property of mercury,
how it runs round, but today,
you wouldn't find mercury in a toy like this.
Although the likes of poisonous lead paint
and mercury were long gone by the 1990s,
it was another chemical found in plastic toys
that was causing concern.
The chemical DIMP is a member of a family of compounds
It's added to PVC, to turn hard brittle vinyl like this
into soft, squeezy vinyl like this.
That makes the PVC capable of being moulded into toys.
It wasn't until 2005 that controls on the use of this compound
were written into European Standards.
And it's chemicals in toys that remain the biggest worry today.
It's increased from the '60s
where I think there were six or seven chemicals,
to now we have thousands of chemicals
that are restricted within toys.
In fact by 2011 - the last time the standards were updated -
it's fair to say they'd become pretty comprehensive.
We did an exercise where we took a toy -
it's quite a complicated toy, it's electronic and it moves.
That had 2,500 separate pages of legislation that applied to it.
So quite a significant change in 40 to 50 years
to where we are today.
Since 1989, we've been able to check
whether a toy that we buy meets or even exceeds
strict European standards by looking for this symbol.
The Lion mark.
But although there've been huge advances in design and regulations,
manufacturers can't always guarantee
that every single toy on the market will be safe.
Maybe a mould has produced a sharp edge where it shouldn't
because it's aged and worn. Maybe they've bought a batch of materials
that doesn't conform with the latest restrictions on chemicals.
When that happens, they will assess what toys have been affected,
how many of those toys there are, where they went in the market -
they need to know all that.
And they'll contact those retailers and they'll put up notices
and they'll try to get them back from customers.
And then they'll go back to the standards
to actually rectify the issue.
These days, the big risk to our children's playtime
comes from illegal toys that don't meet European standards.
Let's hope Trading Standards officers find them
before our children do.
Next, solar panels.
They've long been available as a way to use the sun
to generate electricity and hot water for your home.
They help the environment and they can also help your finances as well.
But which panels should you choose,
and how long before they start to pay off?
Well, here at the Building Research Establishment, they test them.
So who better to ask than Peter White.
Now solar panels can be expensive, can't they?
-Are they worth it?
-There's two sorts of solar panels.
The solar water-heating panels needn't be expensive
and they pay back very quickly.
For the panels that generate electricity, solar PV panels,
they do cost more to install, but because of the government
feed-in tariff you can start to see a return after seven or eight years.
After 20 years of that grant,
you'll see a return on your investment of maybe 10%,
better than a high street bank.
How does the feed-in tariff work?
The feed-in tariff is a government grant scheme.
It pays you for the electricity you generate off your own roof,
even if you use it all yourself.
And if you generate a surplus which is fed back to the grid
you get an extra payment as well.
So solar panels can save you money. But are they suitable for anybody?
If you've got a roof that faces north,
then I'm sorry but solar panels are not going to really going to work.
But if you've got a large south-facing roof, then yes,
solar panels are going to save you money.
It's important to point out that the panels need to be fitted
by a registered installer so you can get the grant.
But if you're planning to stay in a property for many years,
then yes, the payback period, you're going to definitely see a benefit.
And of course you'll get lower energy bills all that time as well.
Peter White, thank you.
Back now to antiperspirant deodorants.
Earlier, we put three stick products to the test
over their invisibility claims.
But what about the ones that promise to be long-lasting?
Time we put those to the test as well.
Yes, Sophie. For this test we've recruited two very brave volunteers.
They're both fitness instructors at this sports centre in Huddersfield
and they each do approximately the same amount of activity every day.
This is the moment we told them
that they wouldn't be able to shower for three days.
Oh, no! What?
Oh, yes. You'd better hope these products live up to their claims.
On his left armpit, Sean will be wearing
Triple Dry 72-hour antiperspirant.
And Adam will be wearing Right Guard Xtreme Fresh 72-hour antiperspirant.
On their right armpit they'll apply the most standard
mid-range product on the market we could find,
which claims to only give 24-hour protection.
Will the products claiming to last 72 hours
in reality last two days longer
than the product that only claims to last 24?
-This is going to get smelly.
So fast forward just under 24 hours.
It's almost been one day so we would expect both of the antiperspirants
to be working after one day,
so we'll see how they're doing, shall we?
Rather you than me.
No, that smells really good, really nice!
And the long-lasting one as well.
That smells great.
You're smelling good, still.
Good, no, you both smell great, can't smell anything.
So it's still working.
Next, the vapour meter test.
This device measures the moisture that's evaporated from their skin.
On their forearms they measure about 10,
but let's see how their armpits are doing.
Starting with Sean's 24-hour product.
You have to wait 10 seconds.
There we go...178.
So that's quite sweaty already.
So let's try the 72-hour product to see how that's faring.
163, so you are sweating under there, I'm afraid to say.
Next, Adam's 24-hour deodorant.
Right, that's 211.
That's a very high value.
And what about the 72-hour deodorant?
And it's 143, so it's high, but it could be higher, I think.
At the end of the first day... it seems the longer-lasting products
are working slightly better than the 24-hour product.
But let's see how the antiperspirants are doing
towards the end of the second day.
Once again, all products are performing well on the smell front,
even the 24-hour ones.
You know, you smell fine actually,
it's not too bad. Yeah, I thought it would be worse.
But according to Dr Laura's moisture test, after two days
the 24-hour deodorant is actually outdoing the 72-hour ones.
Which is quite surprising, really.
You'd expect them to be outperforming at under two days.
Day three. The final day of the test.
Will the deodorants which promise 72-hour protection
still be going strong?
So what we'll try first is the right side
which is the 24-hour product.
Now it's been nearly three days so it shouldn't still be working.
So do you want to have a quick sniff and see how you smell?
Yeah, will do...
-Yeah, that's definitely ripe!
-You can smell it? Right.
OK, and what about your left side?
That's the long-lasting antiperspirant. How does that smell?
Not too bad, actually.
So there is a difference between the two that you can smell.
How about you? Let's try your right side.
-You can smell it?
Yeah, I can smell it.
-And your left side, the long-lasting?
-Smells as well.
So after three days the boys are starting to smell,
at least under the armpit with the 24-hour protection.
But we're about to make matters worse.
How will they perform in what we're calling the ultra sweat test?
Dr Laura weighs these four cotton pads
and then tapes them under their armpits.
They'll each do ten minutes of exercise.
She then weighs the pads after they've finished.
The more sweat, the less the antiperspirants are still working.
First up, Sean, who's wearing the Triple Dry.
You were sweating more on the side
which was the long-lasting antiperspirant.
But for Adam it's the opposite result.
The 72-hour Right Guard was in fact stopping him
sweating more than the 24-hour one.
But overall, for both boys, there wasn't much in it.
According to our one-off test,
the 24-hour deodorants performed almost as well as the 72-hour ones.
Triple Dry have told us their products undergo rigorous
consumer and scientific testing that meet all relevant regulations
and they are confident in their performance claims.
Right Guard say they can't comment on the results of testing
that does not meet industry standards.
As for Sean and Adam, I think they would both agree.
If you're a fitness instructor,
whatever antiperspirant you're wearing,
better not leave it three days before showering, hey, lads?
Back now to second-hand tyres.
Earlier we saw how Trading Standards Officers in the Midlands
have been cracking down on garages selling illegal tyres
and removing them from sale.
It's time to find out just how hazardous they can be.
Potential dangers you find with part-worn tyres
are if they don't comply with the legislation,
Tyres can just explode, come straight off, cause fatalities.
Brian and his colleagues have so far inspected three garages
and found all of them selling problem tyres.
That is an absolute potential killer,
and the side wall has collapsed.
So we've got cracking towards the edge of the tread,
which is potentially catastrophic.
If that went on the road the tyre would leak,
and the nail would cause a blowout.
They're now on their way to the last inspection of the day.
Will it be four out of four?
We've got some experts with us
and we'd like to just have a look at your stock.
Because we're looking for any defects or problems
-that you might have missed when you were inspecting them.
Sure enough, Brian spots a problem.
One of the tyres on sale has been badly repaired after a puncture.
To sell a tyre in that condition is illegal,
because it doesn't conform to the British standards of repair.
And none of the tyres on sale
is labelled with the "part-worn tyre" label that's required by law.
After a full day's inspection, all four garages visited
were found to be selling a number of dangerous and illegal tyres.
The team has reminded them of their duty to comply with the law
and will be carrying out further spot checks in the future.
We've examined round about 140 tyres,
part-worn tyres that is,
and there's been round about a third to 35%
that have been structurally defective,
and these are being fitted every day to people's vehicles.
So just how dangerous can tyres
like the ones found on sale in the Midlands be?
To find out, we've come here,
to the Motor Industry Research Association - MIRA -
one of the world's largest independent testing grounds,
where some defective tyres are going to be put through their paces.
What we're going to show you today is exactly what could happen
if you buy a part-worn tyre, so you will see the car handle
in wet conditions, or not as the case may be,
you'll see what will happen when one of those part-worn tyres fails.
The man behind the wheel is Steve.
The tyres that were seized all show serious damage.
This could have a serious impact on the safety
of whoever's driving the car at the time.
Two of them had bead damage, for example,
and one had penetration damage.
So any of these tyres could lead to a slow deflation on the car,
you could be running with a low tyre pressure, or worse still,
you could have rapid tyre deflation which is a serious safety issue.
So the first test, Driving a car with low tyre pressure.
Steve rigs this Ford Focus with four tyres he's lowered
to around 12 psi below the recommended level.
And he's ready to take it for a spin.
So what we've got here is a car that's been simulated to have
effectively part-worn tyres that have had a slow deflation
and this is going to show the seriousness of the handling
that might happen on a wet, slippery track like the one we've got here.
Here he goes.
The low tyre pressure has seriously affected Steve's ability
to control the car.
You can see the rear left tyre is wobbling on the rim,
and the car is sliding all over the place.
But there's worse to come.
If you're running at low pressure and you make a sharp turn
then the tyre can actually come off the rim.
This is a very scary thing that's going to happen here,
because you're going to lose all control of the vehicle.
Don't worry, he's done this before.
The car's going to slide forward, or maybe even spin,
and what's actually going to be touching the road is the rim
and not the tyre, and the rim has very little grip
when it's actually on the road as opposed to the tyre.
So this is a very serious condition.
So here he goes. The pressure's low, the car's in a spin.
And as predicted, the tyre comes off the rim.
He's an experienced driver,
he knew it was coming,
and he was only travelling at 30mph.
But travelling on a motorway at 70mph,
the consequences could be devastating.
If you want more information on the safety of products in your home
you can go to our website...
That's all for today.
Thanks for watching.
Series in which Sophie Raworth reveals how household products are tested, putting the makers' claims on trial and showing how to get the best value for money. Lynn Faulds Wood looks at the safety of products in the home and the Watchdog campaigns that have been saving lives for more than 30 years.