Are electric blankets dangerous?

Written by delana lefevers
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Are electric blankets dangerous?
(Wikimedia Commons)

Electric blankets have been in popular use in the United States since the late 1930s. The first electric blankets were big, bulky and pretty dangerous by today's standards. Luckily, electric blanket technology has improved significantly and now many homes boast these helpful heating aids. But just how safe are electric blankets?

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How Electric Blankets Work

The concept of an electric blanket is simple enough: It's a blanket that provides electric heat as well as trapping the body heat of the person under it. The actual mechanism of that heat is a bit more complicated, though. Insulated wires are arranged in rows between layers of heavy fabric. A cord going from a wall outlet to the blanket provides electricity. The wires heat up and provide warmth.

While early electric blankets had fixed settings (such as low, medium and high) that kept the blankets a constant temperature all over, more sophisticated models are now available. Some are available with internal thermostats and rheostats that work together to regulate the temperature of the blanket relative to your body temperature. Some electric blankets available today are even cordless.

Types of Electric Blankets

The most common type of electric blanket used in the United States is the over-blanket. This type of blanket rests on top of the user, usually with a flat sheet between it and the user. In the UK and elsewhere in Europe, the under-blanket is more popular. This type of blanket goes beneath the user, usually with a fitted sheet on top.

Who Should Not Use Electric Blankets

Electric blankets are generally considered safe as long as you are careful to keep them in good condition and use them correctly. They should never be used by anyone who is unable to feel pain or react to being overheated. This may include very small children, very elderly people, people who are fully or partially paralysed, and people who have poor circulation, such as diabetics.

Maintaining the Safety of Electric Blankets

Electric blankets should be examined every year by the user, and every three years by the manufacturer or a licensed repair person/service provider. Electric blankets more than 10 years old are generally regarded as very unsafe and should not be used. In fact, 99 per cent of electric blanket fires in Britain are attributed to electric blankets that are more than 10 years old.

When examining an electric blanket yourself, look out for irregularities in the wiring. Run your hands over all of the internal wires, feeling for any areas that are broken, frayed, stiff or tangled. Inspect the blanket for any scorch marks.

Inspect the cord, looking out for cuts, worn areas or fraying. Also pay close attention to the temperature dial. Make sure that it turns off and on as it should, and that the blanket does not get hotter than it should on a particular setting.

If any of the above warning signs are present, do not use the blanket. Discard it or return it to the manufacturer for servicing.

Using Electric Blankets Wisely

In addition to inspecting electric blankets regularly, take some common-sense steps to keeping yourself safe while using them. Turn the blanket off if you feel overheated. Never leave the blanket unattended while it is on.

To minimise overheating risks, try turning the blanket on before you get into bed, just to warm the bed up. Then turn it off before you go to sleep. This will give you a toasty bed to climb into but will alleviate the worry associated with keeping the electric blanket on all night.

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