Your Electric Blanket - A Safe and Cozy Comfort or A Hazard to Health and Home?

By Oktay Ozadam

How Safe are Electric Blankets?

Are electric blankets safe? Although electric blankets are still popular, many people worry about potential risks to health and to safety, including the chance of catching fire, cancer, and other dangers.

The truth is that electric blankets can provide an effective night time heating method. But there are also some undeniable risks and drawbacks that cannot be ignored. Let's check out the facts about electric blankets to find out more.

Can You Leave your Electric Blanket on All Night?

You can leave some electric blankets on all night, but it all depends upon which model you are using.

Some electric blankets are advertised as suitable for all-night use, and these come fitted with a thermostat that provides a minimum all night temperature that does not allow overheating.

However, if you are unsure, or the blanket is not marked suitable for all night use, you must turn it off and unplug when you get into bed, to avoid overheating and the potential fire risk.

Does Using an Electric Blanket Cause You to Dehydrate at Night?

Using an electric blanket can lead to dehydration.

Your body can overheat as you sleep so you can lose increased body fluid through sweat as well as by the simple act of breathing. If you suffer from night sweats, an electric blanket can make this worse.

We generally expel around a pint of water a day simply by breathing and as sweating loses more, being too hot at night will cause added dehydration.

An electric blanket can cause your skin to dry out because too much heat can dilate blood vessels. In addition, dehydration can be dangerous, especially if you suffer from a medical condition or are elderly.

Does Sleeping on an Electric Blanket Cause Cancer?

Many people believe that an electric blanket can increase the risk of certain types of cancer because of the electromagnetic fields produced by the blankets. But scientific research carried out over the past 30 years has failed to back up this theory.

One study carried out on over 2000 breast cancer patients aged under 55 found no link with increased cancer risk and the use of electric blankets. Other studies have reported similar findings.

Modern Electric blankets produce weaker electromagnetic fields than earlier models.

However, it is essential to consider that the new trend for using an all night thermostat in order to leave the electric blanket on all night has not been thoroughly investigated.

Is It Safe to Use an Electric Blanket While You are Pregnant?

You can use an electric blanket while pregnant, but you do need to take precautions.

Firstly, exposure to overheating during the early stages of pregnancy may lead to fetal abnormalities and miscarriage. Therefore you do need to make sure that your electric blanket is set to comfortably warm rather than hot – the danger point is 39 degrees C.

Also, it is crucial to remove the electric blanket during the later stages of pregnancy when there is a risk that your waters may break at night.

Scientists have studied the risks of electromagnetic fields generated by an electric blanket and have found that there is no increased risk to the developing fetus but electric blankets might slightly increase the risk of pregnancy loss during the early stages of pregnancy. But to keep safe and avoid overheating, just switch off the blanket when you get into bed.

Will my Electric Blanket Interfere with my Pacemaker?

An electric blanket will not interfere with your pacemaker.

Although some domestic appliances such as handheld hair dryers, stereo speakers, and electric toothbrushes can cause an electromagnetic field that interferes with your pacemaker, most electrical equipment is safe to use.

The simple rule of thumb is if the appliance contains large magnets, such as those present in stereos, or has a motor, such as a handheld hair drier, it can cause you to feel dizzy or experience palpitations.

Because an electric blanket does not contain magnets or a motor, it is perfectly safe to use if you have a pacemaker.

Should my Kids Have Electric Blankets?

You can put an electric blanket on your child's bed, as long as you remove it or unplug it at bedtime.

However, you should not use an electric blanket if your child is prone to bed wetting.

Most modern electric blankets are washable and are suitable for use on a kid's bed. But it is vital to supervise use to avoid any risk of fire or other incidents.

Can the Elderly Use Electric Blankets?

Electric blankets are not suitable for elderly use.

If the older adult suffers from dementia or from nerve damage caused by Parkinson's or a stroke, they may not realize that they are overheating and they also risk burning themselves on the blanket.

Other common problems include incontinence, use in combination with hot water bottles, the use of old electric blankets that may catch fire and an inability to regulate the blanket correctly.

According to the UK Fire Service electric blankets account for over 5000 fires each year, mainly in the over 65 age group. So although some elderly people may find them a comfort, other bed heating alternatives are a safer option.

Are Electric Blankets a Common Cause of Death?

The most well-known hazard to life with electric blankets is the fire risk, and this is usually caused by using defective electric blankets which catch fire.

This can be a real risk to the elderly, with the over 65s most likely to suffer from a fire caused by an electric blanket. On average, around 5000 electric blanket fires are reported each year in the UK, and about 20 people die per year as a result.

Less well documented is the risk of heatstroke. This occurs from overheating at night and is rarely reported in the newspapers.

There are no figures available for deaths attributed to heatstroke caused by electric blankets. But according to medical opinion, it may be more common than we think.

Are Electric Blankets a Fire Risk?

Electric blankets can catch fire, and according to statistics, they are a fire hazard if they are over 10 years old.

According to the London Fire Brigade, you should change your electric blanket every 10 years, store it carefully by loosely rolling it up, and check it thoroughly each season to make sure that it is not frayed or worn.

Despite all the advice, many people use the same electric blankets for decades, not only increasing the likelihood of the blanket starting an electrical fire but missing out on modern safety features.

It is also important to unplug the blanket before you get into bed so that there is no risk of causing an electrical fire while you sleep.

Can your Electric Blanket Electrocute You?

Getting an electric shock from your electric blanket that is strong enough to injure or kill you - the official definition of electrocution is highly unlikely.

Although you can get an electric shock from any faulty or damaged wiring, the greatest danger from a defective electric blanket is that it may cause a spark that leads to a fire which is potentially lethal if you are asleep.

Modern electric blankets are low voltage and have built-in safety features so are much safer than earlier models.

The problem is that many people hang on to old electric blankets for years without ever updating them or checking them for safety. So although they might not kill you by a lethal electric shock, they are a serious fire hazard.

Can I Warm up a Blanket in the Microwave to Heat my Bed?

Do not do this. Heating up a blanket in the microwave is a crazy thing to do, and it just won't work.

Microwaves work by heating water content so with no water contained in the average blanket; results are likely to be unpredictable.

You may find that the middle of the folded blanket gets very hot, possibly catching fire whereas the outside of the blanket will probably stay cool. But results will largely depend upon the material of the blanket, and unsurprisingly there is very little research into this.

One thing is for sure; doing this is highly likely to damage the microwave as well as the blanket.

Are Electric Blankets Expensive to Run?

Electric blankets are not expensive to run and in the depth of a cold winter's night, whatever the price will seem like money well spent!

According to energy experts, the real cost of using an electric blanket will depend upon the type of blanket, the wattage, and your energy supplier.

However, as a simple rule of thumb, it should cost no more than around 9p a night to use. Possibly much less if you use the blanket to heat your bed and then unplug it when you get in.

If you have a smart meter, you can check out your electric blanket's energy consumption by turning the blanket off. And then comparing the difference in your energy usage once you turn it back on again.

Are Electric Blankets Washable?

Most modern electric blankets are machine washable, and although they can be freshened up whenever necessary, this job can be a hassle.

It is important to check out the manufacturer's recommendations before you start because all brands are slightly different, and you must remove detachable electrical parts and control beforehand.

Most advice is to wash the blanket using the wool cycle for no more than a couple of minutes. Drying may be possible via the tumble dryer – again, and it is essential to check the manufacturer's recommendations first. Alternatively, they may advise hanging in a dry place to dry naturally.

Once the electric blanket is completely dry, you replace the electrical components and put back on the bed. Surprisingly electric blankets are not suitable for dry cleaning, and you should certainly not wash an electric blanket without first checking it is washable.

10 Tips for Using your Electric Blanket Safely

  1. Only use your electric blanket as recommended by the manufacturer.
  2. Ensure your electric blanket is safe by inspecting it for damage, such as fraying or exposed wires.
  3. Cease using the blanket if you notice a burning smell or hear a buzzing sound from the controller.
  4. Replace your electric blanket every 10 years or earlier if you see any damage.
  5. Store loosely rolled up rather than tightly folded.
  6. Do not leave the stored blanket under heavy objects because this could damage the wiring
  7. Never leave your electric blanket on overnight unless it has a thermostat control that is suitable for this function. If not unplug it before you go to sleep
  8. Do not use your electric blanket if it is damp or wet. Do not switch it on to dry it out. Do not get into bed if you are wet.
  9. Do not use the electric blanket if it is over 10 years old as these old blankets are considered a fire hazard.
  10. Follow the manufacturer's washing instructions before you try to clean it.

Alternatives to Electric Blankets

So are electric blankets safe? If you were to speak to the Fire Service, they would probably answer no. Because with an estimated 5000 fires a year caused by electric blankets in the UK alone, the facts speak for themselves.

Despite the safety features of new electric blankets, many people are still having accidents. And although the link with certain types of cancer because of EMFs ( electromagnetic fields) may be exaggerated, can we really believe that sleeping in direct contact with electricity is safe for everyone?

There are some great heating alternatives to the electric blanket using water-based and air-based bed heating or cooling technology.

  • CUBE and Ooler Sleep System are water-powered bed cooling or heating systems which are 100% free from EMFs. They enable you to heat or chill your bed to your optimum temperature that is personal for you. And with a setting for the double bed option, it allows both people to get their perfect night's sleep. Ideal if one person feels the cold, and the other suffers from night sweats.
  • Bedjet is an air-based climate control system billed as the World's first rapid heating and cooling system for beds. It is easily installed onto your existing mattress, comes with dual controls and five settings, and is proven to improve sleep quality and health.