Have you ever wondered how CHOICE comes up with the scores we give to the products we test? Or how we work out that a product is unsafe or just plain old dodgy?
If you've looked through any of our test results, you'll know that they're absolutely chock-full of data to help you choose the best product for your needs. And to get that data, we test the heck out of each product in our labs (which are accredited by the National Association of Testing Authorities, or NATA) to make sure we know exactly how it'll perform in your home.
Here's a sneak peek to show you some of the lengths our testers go to in order to deliver our expert reviews.
We test a range of products, from clothes dryers to coffee machines. Here, CHOICE expert tester Matt Tung puts a cot through its safety paces.
We do (almost) all our own stunts
Each year, we test hundreds of products to help consumers make better buying decisions. And most of that testing happens right here at CHOICE HQ in Marrickville, Sydney. That's right: we do (almost) all our own stunts.
Each year, we test hundreds of products to help consumers make better buying decisions
In 2018–19, 120 of the 143 test projects we ran were carried out in our own labs. The remaining 23 were outsourced to external labs, but still overseen by our experts. That's about 84% of all testing done on-site.
We test a vast range of products, from those we're best known for like fridges, washing machines and dishwashers, through to the weird and wonderful, like lawn mowers, nappies, personal alarms and vegan 'meat'.
CHOICE kitchen expert Fiona Mair has cooked more than 8000 scones in her time with the organisation.
We use very specific (and sometimes very weird!) materials for our testing
To test products in ways that people will use them in real life, we've had to get pretty creative.
For instance, we import artificial household dust from Germany to test stick vacuums, and we use swatches from the Netherlands embedded with "Aussie dirt" when we test washing machines.
Some of the most out-there testing equipment we've created or used includes:
- 'Synthetic space poo': this is a faecal-like substance developed by NASA to test toilets on spaceships. We use it to test toilet cleaners.
- Syngina: this artificial vagina was developed in 1958 by Professor GW Rapp. We used it in 1975 to test tampons.
- Condom tester: this machine was used to inflate condoms until they exploded to test their strength. Our 1982 magazine reported that "at the end of the test period, there were scraps of condom material hanging from the rafters throughout the laboratory". And the tester reported that the condoms weren't the only things in tatters: "his temper had been severely tried by the never-ending jokes".
Lab test coordinator Antonio Bonacruz sits on various committees for Standards Australia, where he helps write the safety requirements for children's products.
Here are some of the other weird and wonderful things we do to test products in our labs:
- We spend dozens of hours a year literally watching water boil to test rangehoods.
- When testing ovens every year we cook more than 300 scones, 20 pizzas, 10 chickens, 60 meringues and 10 loaves of bread.
- We smear high chairs with baby food, Weetbix and milk, and spaghetti and tomato sauce, and let it dry – to see how easy they are to clean.
- BBQ testing requires cooking 160 sausages, 60 steaks, 10 roast chickens and 200 marinated chicken wings.
- To test dishwashers, we dirty plates by measuring out and placing equal amounts of steam-baked oats, egg yolk, spinach, baby cereal, butter, tomato juice and tea on a standardised set of crockery and cutlery. Then we leave it to dry for 15–18 hours before running it through a dishwasher.
- We have an entire lab dedicated to testing our lab equipment: the calibration lab. We employ two members of staff whose full-time role involves checking that everything is calibrated correctly.
We have an entire lab dedicated to testing our lab equipment
- Several of our testers sit on committees for Australian and international standards, so they really know their stuff. Plus, we conduct pilot testing to develop new and better test methods that challenge appliances and more closely reflect real-world usage.
- We send a team of people out all over Sydney on the same day to ensure food for taste testing is the same freshness (hot cross buns in particular).
CHOICE kitchen expert Rebecca Ciaramidaro does the painstaking job of 'dirtying' standardised sets of crockery with different types of food to test dishwashers.
- To test microwaves' reheating capabilities, our kitchen team makes 30 quiches from scratch: that's two to three days to make the pastry, blind bake it, fry 30 onions and 3kg bacon, fill the quiche cases, cook them and then freeze them.
- We listen to the same music tracks over and over to test soundbars and speakers. ('Fast car' by Tracy Chapman has forever been ruined for one tester!)
- To test the battery life and reception of personal alarms, our tester spends a day riding on public transport, and asking each alarm to report its position and battery status every hour. This mimics an older person jumping onto public transport and disappearing.
- To test the accuracy of fuel apps, our tester visits 20 service stations in each of Sydney, the ACT and Brisbane, and 13 in Wodonga.
Stock images: Getty, unless otherwise stated.