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, the furniture in your home
'responsible for 400,000 accidents every year.'
I turned and just saw the TV toppling, put my arms out
and screamed his name. But there was no way I was getting there on time.
'What the big manufacturers are doing
'to try to keep your children safe.
'The weekly supermarket shop - can you have it all, value and quality?'
'And from laptops on fire to grounded aeroplanes -
'will we ever to be able to make lithium batteries completely safe?'
Not all hazards in the home are obvious.
Take, for example, your furniture - shelves, wardrobes or sofas,
even a chest of drawers.
They're actually responsible for thousands of accidents
in the UK every year.
And it's the elderly and children who are most at risk.
Riley was just a fantastic little boy, always happy, always smiling.
That's why he ended up with the nickname Smiley Riley.
He had gorgeous long curls at the back of his hair
and beautiful big blue eyes. He was very curious about his surroundings.
And then what happened, happened.
'Steve and Cheryl Cooke lost their 15-month-old son Riley
'in an accident that no-one could have predicted. The cause?
I took him upstairs to change his vest.
He toddled off to the other side of the bedroom
and I was at the other end of the bedroom.
It all happened so fast.
I turned and saw the TV toppling in the mirror. I screamed his name,
I put my arms out and screamed his name,
but there was no way I was getting there in time.
'Riley had managed to open the bottom drawer of a chest of drawers
'and stand inside it.
'The chest tipped and the television fell on Riley's head.'
I felt a lot of guilt, a lot of guilt myself, because it was me
that had put the TV on top of the drawers.
Like so many other parents do.
And that's what I try and tell myself, you know,
that I was actually thinking about his safety
when I put the TV on there, but what I never actually considered
him doing was standing on the bottom drawer.
That's why I think it's so important,
what we're doing now, to try and get more parents,
more families, grandparents, anywhere that young children
may be, to actually think about things like this.
'Following Riley's death, Cheryl and Steve began a safety campaign.
'Today, they're at a local play centre,
'warning parents about the dangers of toppling furniture.'
Do you want to take one of those?
'Their key piece of advice is to use safety straps.'
These fix onto the back of your television and then you fix them
to the wall or to a wooden TV stand, so that the TV cannot tip forward.
If we'd have had these fitted to the television that day,
our son would still be alive today.
'What happened to Riley may sound like a freak accident, but
'according to safety organisations like the Royal Society For
'The Prevention Of Accidents,
'incidents like this are all too common.'
There are over 400,000 accidents relating to furniture per year.
These can include heavy bookcases, chests of drawers, televisions.
Those most at risk are the under-fours
and obviously, from a tripping point of view, the over-65s.
'Chairs alone cause an estimated 60,000 injuries a year.
'Beds are responsible for more than 100,000.
'As for televisions, at least eight children are known to have
'been killed by toppling TVs since 2008.'
It's amazing how many accidents are reported involving furniture,
when we consider it to be such a standard part
of our everyday living.
'But of course it's not just homeowners who need to be careful.
'Furniture manufacturers also have a responsibility
'to make sure their products are safe.'
Manufacturers test their products against various
British, European and international standards.
Those standards aim to ensure that products are strong, durable,
fit for purpose and safe to use.
'Later, we'll be heading to the Furniture Industry Research
'Association to find out just how rigorously furniture is
'tested before it goes on to the market.'
The average family spends £58 on the weekly food shop
and there is masses to choose from, from the big brands
to the supermarkets' own products and their value range.
You might assume that the more you spend, the better the quality
and taste. But is that always the case?
'Well, Sophie, in today's Test House challenge it's the battle
'of branded goods versus supermarket own brands and their value ranges.
'On the one hand you've got those trusted,
'well-known names we so often associate with quality.
'On the other, simpler packaging and most importantly lower prices.
'But is there a difference where it really matters - in taste?'
Um, I would always opt for the branded goods
because it's a name that you can trust.
You get better quality, better taste compared to the basic range.
I'm just worried about going for value ranges
because it might be a bad quality.
'That's what they think, but what's the reality?
'To find out, we've recruited 800 volunteers to carry out
'a blind taste test. Here are our three shopping baskets,
'each containing four staple items.
'A loaf of white bread, a chunk of mature cheddar cheese,
'a can of baked beans and some sausages. The difference?
'One basket is full of leading brands and costs £7.13.
'One is full of randomly selected supermarket own labels costing £5.01
'and our third basket is full of supermarket value brands
'costing just £3.68.
'Time to put those taste buds to the test.
'Our diners are going to be telling us
'which product they think tastes the best.'
Oh, this is so hard. OK.
'And we've also asked a nutritionist to compare the ingredients.'
'You should never assume that the most expensive product is going to
'be the healthiest.'
I think you've always got to be looking at the ingredients
and making sure you know what you're getting.
'Can you have it all?'
'Taste, value and quality?'
That wasn't very nice.
To me, they taste the same. I couldn't choose.
My decision is...
'Find out later.'
It's estimated that there could be more mobile phones
and laptops in use today than there are people.
They've certainly changed the way that we live.
But we wouldn't have these sophisticated gadgets
if it weren't for the lithium battery, an invention that certainly
had its fair share of problems, as Lynn Faulds Wood reports.
'Welcome to Watchdog. In tonight's programme,
'all these people have written to us.'
MUSIC: "Are Friends Electric" by Gary Numan.
'For years our torches, tools and toys were powered by alkaline or
'zinc carbon batteries, but they were heavyish and short-lasting, so to
'make our phones and computers really mobile we needed a new solution.
'The lithium-ion battery.'
Pioneered by Sony in the 1990s, it was light, compact,
bursting with energy. A great invention,
but like so many that we've seen over the years,
it was not without problems.
In fact, soon it became obvious that some lithium-ion batteries
were potentially very dangerous.
The computer manufacturer Dell is recalling 4.1 million
laptop computer batteries because they pose a fire risk.
'In 1996 there were problems with around 8 million Sony batteries
'used in computers made by most of the main manufacturers.
'They were recalled because it turned out they could overheat
'and catch fire.
'It was just one of dozens of battery recalls
'reported to computer magazines.'
The most common kind of feedback we got
was that people had bloated batteries.
But the most extreme version was when someone's laptop actually
burst into flames in the middle of a meeting, on their lap.
Not a comfortable experience.
If you are wondering what a laptop fire looks like, take a look at this,
a controlled demonstration filmed in America.
The lithium battery on this model is made up of several smaller cells.
That smoke is the first cell overheating.
After a few seconds, the second cell ignites.
Two more cells erupt.
And then, like a small volcano, the fifth cell shoots out of the laptop.
Lithium fires can be very dangerous.
They don't need oxygen to burn, so they can be hard to put out.
And think it just affects laptops? Think again.
This time it's Nokia and phone batteries.
There are concerns that up to 46 million batteries
could be defective and at risk of overheating.
So what was going wrong?
Here at Imperial College, London,
they are working to understand lithium-ion batteries better,
to make them both safer and more efficient.
With a young technology, it wasn't very well understood.
Research money got ploughed in,
the scientists started to be able to understand how the technology
performed better and that enabled the product engineers
to design safer products at an acceptable price.
As a result of this work,
batteries used in laptops and mobiles are much less likely to catch fire.
The most recent research is directed at scaling up the technology
to power bigger machines, like cars.
When your laptop battery gets warm with constant use,
the computer's built-in fan can easily cool it.
But in a car, the battery is working harder
and it produces much more heat, so the latest challenge is
controlling that heat in an inexpensive way.
We are trying to take the energy in and out 100 times more aggressively.
So the rate at which we are generating the heat
is now also 100 times greater.
So you can imagine that instead of taking an hour to heat up,
now it might take only half a minute or a minute to heat up.
And if we are stopping and starting in a town centre,
we are generating that level of heat continuously.
So we have to be much more careful
that we don't let the batteries overheat.
We can do that, but it comes at a cost.
But why stop at cars?
When the Boeing 787 Dreamliner launched in 2011,
it was meant to herald a new, greener era in air travel.
But in its first year of service,
it suffered a string of electrical problems.
The reason, it's lithium-ion batteries.
After two fires, the whole fleet was temporarily grounded.
And Boeing had to work their socks off to find answers.
One improvement to its design -
heavy-duty, high-temperature laminated dividers.
If there is a failure, this will help to protect it
from spreading from one cell to the others.
Other solutions included this special insulating tape
and a steel case round the whole pack
that would contain any explosion or fire.
But the ultimate aim is to make batteries that put out less heat
and don't need all this protection.
The advantages that they bring -
the portable communication, the portable computing,
the ability to have electric vehicles which reduce emissions and noise -
lithium-ion batteries are certainly going to play a larger part in the future.
Completely safe, not yet.
More and more of its problems are being sorted out,
so it's likely that the lithium-ion battery will become
an even more important part of our lives.
Spray, oil, cream, SPF 10, 20 or even 50.
When it comes to buying sunscreen, the options are endless.
And the price varies a lot as well.
You can spend less than £3 on a bottle
or you can spend more than £25.
So when is it worth spending just a little bit more?
So who better to tell us than dermatologist Dr Ian White.
Now, you can spend £3 on a bottle of sunscreen,
you can spend more than £25 on a bottle,
does it matter how much you spend?
No. It doesn't matter how much you spend
because there is actually a limited number of ingredients
that industry can use in these products.
There's a positive list
dictated by the European Commission.
And the only difference really between these products
is the cosmetic formulations and the price tag.
They will all work.
You can have all kinds of products - cream, oil, spray.
Is one better than another?
No, they would give equal amounts of protection
against the UVA and UVB,
depending on the particular formulations.
The difference really is in cosmetic acceptability.
In other words, the best one is that which you as an individual
prefer to have on your skin.
What about the creams, the oils
that say they will give you protection all day long.
If you have young children, it's incredibly difficult to get them to put the cream on.
-Do they work?
-In real life, these products will be sweated off,
they'll be washed off, they'll be rubbed off on clothing and so on.
So I think it would be too artificial to say that a single application
is going to protect you all day under normal conditions of exposure.
The bottom line is,
repeat the application often in order to maximise the protection.
Do you think people, when they go on holiday to a hot place,
-do they use enough sunscreen?
-No, they don't use enough sunscreen.
One of the reasons of course is the price.
And the other thing is
some protection factors are based on an application
of two milligrams of the product per square centimetre of skin.
And for a normal size person,
a bottle of this size
would be really three whole-body applications.
If you need that much sunscreen to stay safe, you'd be carting along
a whole suitcase of cream when you go on holiday.
I think you've exceeded your baggage allowance.
I think you certainly have. Dr White, thank you very much.
Back to the weekly shop.
Earlier we started the Watchdog Test House taste test,
where we pitted big-name brands against the supermarket own labels
and their value products.
Can you really buy cheap without compromising quality?
Time for the results.
The first product in our blind taste test - white bread.
Warburton's, the leading brand, takes on Tesco's own label
and their Everyday Value loaf.
To me they taste the same, I couldn't choose.
In last place, with just one shopper voting it as their favourite,
was the Tesco Everyday Value loaf.
In second place, however, was the branded product, Warburton's,
with three out of eight votes.
There's not much to it, really, but maybe C, I'll go for C.
Which means the product that came out top in our test
when it comes to taste...
I preferred number B.
..was in fact the mid-priced Tesco own label,
with four out of eight voting it the best.
B is my favourite.
-But these two could be...
So with the Tesco own brand winning this challenge,
despite the 55p price difference,
are you getting any less for your money when it comes to nutrition?
I was really surprised to find
that actually they are very, very similar nutritionally
and there were hardly any difference in the ingredients.
It really goes to show that you can't just assume
that the most expensive is going to be the healthiest.
So that's a win for the supermarket own label.
Next up, cheddar cheese.
Cathedral City mature cheddar takes on
Morrisons M Savers and own label versions.
They do taste the same.
A was my favourite because it was more creamy.
A lot softer.
It's nice, actually, nice cheese.
On this test, the Morrison's own label
and their M Savers product both got three out of eight votes.
This time, it was the branded Cathedral cheddar cheese that
was trailing behind, with just two people voting it their favourite.
But how do they compare nutritionally?
I discovered with the cheeses that they were very similar,
similar nutritional content, similar ingredients.
It really comes down to whatever tastes nicer.
I can't believe A is the value brand.
I thought it would be the named brand.
Cathedral City told us
they have a number of cheeses with different tastes on sale
which are regularly assessed by independent experts
and that the mature product is designed to appeal to all the family.
Now on to beans.
Heinz versus ASDA own brand and the ASDA Smart Price can.
This time, our volunteers have more confidence in their taste buds.
You can definitely tell which is Heinz.
I've always gone for Heinz just because I prefer the taste.
Mum sometimes has given me some other beans and I'm like,
"They're not Heinz." No, you can tell the difference.
Well, that's what they thought before tasting the beans. What about after?
These two are very similar.
They taste like beans.
In fact, Heinz was not the most popular
when it came to taste in our test.
That honour went to ASDA Smart Price beans, which cost almost
a third less than the big-name brand,
with five out of eight voting it their favourite.
Heinz was second with only two votes
and ASDA own label came last.
A clear win for the value range.
It tastes better to me for some reason.
I'm not sure I can explain it.
But this time, there is more than just price
and flavour to take into account.
Our winner, ASDA Smart Price, has something extra.
A sugar-based syrup that adds a bit of extra sweetness to the beans.
That's probably why I liked it - slightly sweeter, of course.
ASDA told us they have a variety of choices
for different tastes and budgets.
Finally we come to sausages, where we have Sainsbury's basics
and own label against the market-leading Richmond sausages.
Well, it doesn't look the greatest, but it tastes OK.
Overall, Sainsbury's own label...
C is the one for me.
..and their basic product came joint top,
with Richmond firmly in last place,
despite it being our most expensive sausage.
That's really isn't very nice.
That wasn't very nice.
It was like hard semolina.
And it's this branded product that's bottom of the pile
as far as our nutritionist is concerned.
We are looking at a 42 percent amount of pork in that sausage,
which means that 58 percent was coming from something
that was totally not meat.
And when you actually looked at
the ingredients of that brand name sausage,
you saw that this 58 percent came from E numbers,
came from a modified starch, came from emulsifiers,
from thickening agents,
all things we don't necessarily want in our diet.
Richmond told us a lower meat content doesn't equal a lower quality product
and that they offer a choice to those consumers who prefer
a smoother, less coarsely cut sausage.
Overall, in our one-off taste test,
none of our brands came out on top, whereas the value range came top
or joint top in three out of four of the taste tests.
Food for thought, particularly as, if you were to buy all four items,
the value options would come in
at nearly half the price of the branded goods.
£3.68 versus £7.13.
A saving of £3.45.
So, has it changed how our taste testers will shop in the future?
I preferred the cheaper ones, so that's good news for me.
If something looks similar, but is 50p less,
then I'll buy the one that is 50p less.
It definitely makes me feel like I should be shopping a lot cheaper.
Earlier, we discovered how accidents involving household furniture
are responsible for a staggering 400,000 injuries every year.
So just how is furniture tested to try to reduce accidents
and how strict are the tests?
We've been finding out.
The Furniture Industry Research Association
was set up around 60 years ago
to try to make furniture better, stronger and safer.
Today its mission remains the same. At its heart, product testing.
Manufacturers test their products
against various British, European
and international standards.
Those standards aim to ensure that the product is strong, durable,
fit for purpose and safe to use.
Virtually every item has the potential to cause injury.
And that's why they all have to be put through rigorous testing,
even something as simple as a dining chair.
The main issue we have with chairs would be stability.
Basically, if a chair wasn't stable,
you'd fall off and hurt yourself.
And to test stability, you can't just
sit on it and wobble about a bit.
There is a proper way of doing things.
Exact weights, perfect measurements and precise forces.
The test you've just seen is rear-ward stability which is to
simulate someone sat on a chair, reclining backwards,
rocking back onto the back legs.
After being pulled backwards, it's pulled sideways.
And as it still hasn't fallen over, this chair is a pass.
But furniture needs more than just stability to be safe -
it also needs strength.
That's a bunk bed being subjected to what is known as an impact test.
For this, a 25kg weight is repeatedly dropped onto the frame.
In total, we would do between 40 and 60 impacts on each bed,
to make sure that all the fixtures, fittings,
any knots that might be in the wood, any potential flaws in the product
are ironed out quite quickly.
The impact is quite a brutal test.
So it highlights any fractures and things like that.
And how do they know whether it's passed? Easy.
It's a visual inspection, so as long as it's all in one piece, it's fine.
So, if it ain't broke, no need to fix it.
But just because the bed can survive being hit hard
doesn't mean it will last a long time.
That's why it also need to be tested for durability.
This robot arm has to push down 10,000 times in several positions.
So it will run continuously for days.
The weight is around 100 kilos or 15½ stone.
This speeds up what would happen over a lifetime of the product.
So we try to accelerate that over a small space of time.
Tests like this are carried out on most furniture.
But bunk beds are one item
where there are other potential hazards that need to be considered.
The majority of bunk beds are designed and manufactured
and aimed towards children, so we need to ensure
that all the gaps and openings are the right dimensions.
That if they do happen to get their arms or feet stuck in a gap,
that they are able to remove it.
Or that it doesn't go in in the first place.
This is a 75-millimetre diameter probe.
This represents someone's forearm or the lower half of their leg.
Then, at the other end of the scale, we have a five-millimetre probe,
which represents a small child's finger.
The standards are strict because in the past
bunk beds have been linked to the deaths of a number of children.
So every opening has to be thoroughly measured.
We'll work our way around the bed, pushing the probe through any gap
that we can get it in just to ensure that it doesn't fail at any point.
So that's stability, strength, durability and child safety.
But there's one more potential danger the technicians at FIRA
have to test for - flammability.
The Furniture and Furnishings Fire Safety regulations
are in place to make sure domestic furniture that is
covered by the regulations is fire retardant to an appropriate level.
Most domestic upholstered furniture will be covered by the regulations.
This will include scatter cushions, sofas,
upholstered dining chairs.
Steve is showing us some of the tests which the items
covered by the legislation have to pass.
Firstly, the cigarette test.
And it can't be just any old cigarette.
The cigarettes we use are tipless cigarettes,
and the reason for that is they have a hot point at both ends,
which you wouldn't get on a cigarette with a filter tip.
So the theory is, if it passes using a tipless cigarette,
it will pass with any other type of cigarette.
Today, they are being used to test this furniture covering.
Lit cigarettes are placed onto the fabric and left for an hour.
If they go out of their own accord without starting a fire,
then it's a pass.
And in this case, it's over within just 20 minutes.
As you can see, the cigarettes have now stopped smouldering,
so this would be a pass.
So that's the covering, but what about the foam inside the furniture?
Steve is going to demonstrate how the introduction of regulations
along with the development of fire-retardant chemicals,
has revolutionised the safety of the furniture in our homes.
The foam on the left meets current regulations.
The one on the right doesn't.
Both are being put through the standard test.
To be compliant, it needs to cease flaming in ten minutes or less.
And the smoke and smoulder needs to cease in 60 minutes or less.
At first, both fires appear to be taking hold.
But after a minute, the difference is becoming clear.
After two and half minutes, the noncompliant foam is burning
out of control and needs to be extinguished.
But the fire on the compliant foam goes out by itself
after 3 minutes and 48 seconds.
Side by side, it's obvious how much safer modern furniture has become.
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.