How safe are electric blankets and hot water bottles?

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Winter nights in Australia can be brutal. The days aren’t so bad, especially when the sun graces us with her presence. But what do you do when she decides to hit the hay and your dressing gown and fluffy socks aren’t hitting the spot? You bring out the hot water bottle and the electric blanket. 

Electric blankets and hot water bottles are fairly commonplace, especially if you live in a rural area or a house that doesn't have central heating or sufficient insulation. But how safe are they?

Electric blankets

There’s nothing quite like hopping into a warm bed with a cup of tea. With electric blankets, preheating your bed has never been easier. Modern electric blankets, like heating pads, use an insulated wire controlled by a remote attached to the blanket. As long as you follow the manufacturer’s instructions, they’re generally pretty safe. They’re also subject to safety regulations governed by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC). 

The risk with electric blankets comes when they’re misused, worn out, or damaged and can cause fires, burns, electric shock and power disruptions.

Check the ACCC’s website for a list of electric blankets that have been recalled. If the model you own is on the list, pull the plug and stop using it, since it's no longer safe to use. If it's still within the warranty date, return it to the store you bought it from for a refund or exchange.

If you’re in the market for a new electric blanket, search for blankets with AS/NZS 60335.2.17:2012, the international standard for electric blanket regulations.  

How to use an electric blanket safely

Perform regular checks. Energy Safe Victoria recommends checking your electric blanket at least once a year to keep yourself safe. Place it flat on your bed, and turn it on for about five minutes. Run your hands over the blanket and feel around and feel for any hotspots, creases, kinks, or protruding wires beneath the blanket. 

Check the switch for cracking, discolouration, or heat marks, and ensure the remote, cord, and controller plugs are in good working order. Over the warmer months, when you’re not using them, the wires can degenerate, so it’s important to give your blanket a quick once over before you start using it again!

Keep it off while you’re asleep. Fire Rescue Victoria emphasises the importance of ensuring your electric blanket is off while you’re asleep. While it can be tempting to keep the warmth going all night long, it’s important to reduce the likelihood of a fire and keep yourself and your family safe.

Do not use an electric blanket on your child or baby’s bed. If your child has an electric blanket on their bed, make sure you take all necessary precautions. They’re generally safe for kids over bed-wetting age, but if your little one is prone to having an accident, we’d recommend waiting until they’re a bit older. 

Do not put an electric blanket on your baby’s bed. All your bub needs for a cosy night’s sleep is a cot and mattress that meets Australian standards, and some warm pajamas or a swaddle. Your baby shouldn’t use an electric blanket, as it can cause dehydration and burns, even at low temperatures.

To stay safe while using an electric blanket, it's important that you:

  • Never use an electric blanket with an extension cord  
  • Don't store your electric blanket under heavy items as this can damage the wires.
  • Always obey the manufacturer’s instructions 
  • Use it as an under blanket unless the instructions state it’s safe to use as an over blanket 
  • Refrain from using an electric blanket if you’re sensitive to heat or cannot turn the blanket off when uncomfortable 
  • Never use an electric blanket on a water bed 
  • Never wash or dry clean an electric blanket unless the manufacturer's instructions specify it can be washed 
  • Never fold an electric blanket. Just keep it on your bed unplugged, or carefully roll it up and store it without other items on top. 
  • At the beginning of winter, before you start using them again, test them for damage. 
  • If your electric blanket is over ten years old, replace it with a new one.

Hot water bottles

Hot water bottles are often used for easing muscle aches, period and joint pain, or for warming up your bed before you head to sleep for the night. Hot water bottles may seem harmless, but they pose a very real danger. Every year, around 200 people in Australia are sent to hospital with burns related to hot water bottles. The severity can vary, from minor superficial burns to deep full-thickness burns. These burns damage the first and second layers of skin, as well as the underlying tissue and require hospitalisation.

How to safely use a hot water bottle

Refill with care. You must use hot tap water, not boiling water from the kettle, in your hot water bottle. Don't overfill it, either – about two-thirds of the way up should be the perfect amount! Ensure you squeeze out any excess air before putting the stopper on. Consider choosing a hot water bottle with a large opening to make filling easier. 

Don’t sleep with your hot water bottle. Though it might be tempting to sleep with your hot water bottle, it's important to remove it before you go to bed. If you don’t, you could end up rolling over onto the bottle and bursting it. Avoid leaving the hot water bottle on one part of your skin for longer than 20 minutes too, as this can result in discomfort or burns depending on the sensitivity of your skin. 

Don’t give them to small children and older adults. The skin of young children and seniors is much more delicate than that of adults. If you don't use hot water bottles properly, it can lead to serious burns. These burns can be deep, and painful, and can result in permanent scarring. 

Use a water bottle cover. You mustn’t place the hot water bottle directly on your skin, as this can cause burns (and worse if the cap is not secured properly). Use a water bottle cover cover or wrap it in a blanket or towel. 

Buy a new one every three years. Throw away your hot water bottle if it leaks or looks damaged, cracked, or faded. Old hot water bottles can leak, burst, or split, resulting in painful burns. Check the daisy wheel on the hot water bottle for the date of manufacture. If it’s more than three years old or it looks faded or aged, it’s time to buy a new one.

What to do if you get burned

If you sustain burns from a hot water bottle, remove any clothing or jewellery unless it’s stuck to your skin. Immediately place the burn under cool, gently running water for 20 minutes, and don’t reach for any ice or ointments. Cover it with a clean dressing, and seek medical attention immediately.

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Electric blankets vs. hot water bottles

You should never use an electric blanket and a hot water bottle at the same time. If the hot water bottle leaks or bursts, it can spell serious trouble. Mixing water and electricity is never a good idea!

Safe alternatives

If electric blankets and hot water bottles aren't your cup of tea, here are some safe alternatives to keep you warm and cosy when the winter chill hits your home.

  • Flannel/flannelette pyjamas, sheets, pillowcases, and quilt covers
  • Space heaters (remember to turn them off before you hit the hay or buy one with automatic shut off)
  • Make some hot food and drinks. Winter is prime time soup season! Veggie-packed soups are also great for boosting your immune system, so you can ward off cold or flu symptoms. 
  • If it’s too wet and dreary to go for a run, do an at-home workout to increase blood flow. Bonus points if you can involve a furry friend so they get the exercise too!

Final word

Hot water bottles and electric blankets are safe if you use them as intended. Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions and keep them away from children or older adults, who are sensitive to heat. There are also plenty of safe alternatives, like flannelette pyjamas, if you don’t want to risk it with electric blankets or hot bottles.  

Hannah Geremia
Written by
Hannah Geremia
Hannah has had over six years of experience in researching, writing, and editing quality content. She loves gaming, dancing, and animals, and can usually be found under a weighted blanket with a cup of coffee and a book.

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