Are Electric Blankets Safe?
In the colder months, people try to stay warm by using their fireplaces, turning up their thermostats, or cranking up a space heater. Another popular option? An electric blanket. These handy items can help you stay toasty, while saving you some money on your energy bill. Sure, they’re trendy, but are electric blankets safe for continuous use?
How Exactly Does an Electric Blanket Work?
An electric blanket is typically made of polyester microfiber or fleece, which feels incredibly soft on the skin. They are occasionally made of acrylic — which isn't as soft and comfortable — or cotton, which is more flammable. Within an electric blanket is a special wiring system that can provide the user heat via coil wires.
These blankets can be plugged into an electrical outlet and set on different intensity levels, and, most often, that’s all controlled by a remote attached to the blanket. Moreover, most blankets have simple settings — low, medium, high — while some fancier ones may have more complex settings, like timers.
Potential Safety Risks
While these electric blankets are relatively safe, there are genuine safety concerns and risks, particularly with older blankets that have been through some wear and tear. The main concern from customers is the potential of an electric blanket catching fire, which can happen, but generally when a blanket is rather old. A study conducted by Columbia University found that 99% of all electric blanket fires and life-threatening burns were caused by blankets that are at least ten years old.
Why’s this? Older electric blankets can have frayed wires inside or bad cords, which can cause overheating and potentially catching fire by coming into contact with nearby materials. Newer blankets are less likely to cause these issues, especially because they operate with rheostats. These resistors help to control the heat of the blanket by gauging both the blanket temperature as well as the user's body temperature.
While you may be tempted to keep an electric blanket forever, consider replacing once every 10 years or if you notice any issues with the heat or discoloration in certain spots with the blanket (a sign that there's internal burning).
Health Concerns Associated with Electric Blankets
Electric blankets can also be an issue for those who have health issues. For example, those who are immobile, have diabetes or other medical conditions that result in neuropathy (pain, tingling sensations, or numbness through the body) should not use electric blankets. This issue can result in an individual becoming desensitized to the level of heat that is being used with the blanket. This can result in becoming overheated, or, in extreme cases, suffering burns or heat stroke.
Additionally, top health organizations, like the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American College of Nurse Midwives, don't discourage pregnant people from using electric blankets completely — but there’s still some concern.
Electric blankets don't give off a high-energy electromagnetic field in general. Electric fields are related to the level of voltage of an object, and magnetic fields are caused by the current. Together, both of these components are referred to as electromagnetic fields. However, it is suggested that they use these blankets on the lowest setting to not negatively impact their babies. Other alternatives can be simply layering up or using a heating pad or hot water bottle to help warm up their bodies or regular blankets.
Can an Electric Blanket Cause Cancer?
There have been many studies over the years digging into the impact of electromagnetic fields (EMFs) on the body. Those studies also researched whether or not EMFs can cause cancer, particularly with electric blankets. However, those who regularly use these blankets really don't have much to be concerned about in terms of developing cancer.
Most of the research done in the past 30 years doesn't show much convincing evidence that electric blankets have contributed to different types of cancers like leukemia or breast cancer. According to the National Cancer Institute, electric blankets are a source for extremely low frequency electric and magnetic fields (ELF-EMFs), as well as other common electrical appliances like hairdryers and shavers. The organization states that "no mechanism by which ELF-EMFs or radiofrequency radiation could cause cancer has been identified."
Tips to Safely Use Electric Blankets
Even though electric blankets are relatively safe, there are still obvious risks of using them, especially if they are older or used incorrectly by consumers. Here are some tips to safely use these blankets and avoid potential shocks, burns, and fires.
- Examine the electric blanket thoroughly every time before use. Be mindful of any areas that look discolored, burnt, or worn by wiring to prevent potential burns or fires.
- Do not use electric blankets over ten years old. As noted, there is a higher possibility of overheating with older blankets.
- Be careful in washing an electric blanket. Either hand wash the blanket or wash on the gentle/delicate cycle in warm water for only a few minutes. Also, be sure to remove any cables attached to the blanket first. Air-dry the blanket.
- Turn off an electric blanket when it is not in use. Some models may automatically shut off if it gets too hot or is left on too long. However, others don’t. Shutting off the blanket when it is not being used is the safest way to prevent overheating and potential fires.
- Keep your pet off of the electric blanket, as any chewing or clawing can inadvertently damage the wires.
- Do not use an electric blanket overnight. Turn the blanket off when you get ready to sleep if the blanket does not come with a built-in timer.
- Avoid putting other blankets or other objects on top of electric blankets. An electric blanket can easily overheat if additional items, like blankets, pillows, or stuffed animals are placed over it.
- Don’t roll or crumble the blanket. Rolling the electric blanket may cause the inside coils to become damaged as well.
- Allow the blanket to cool off after use before putting it away.
Electric blankets are, indeed, safe to use, as long as they are being used correctly. Many safety issues that do arise can be prevented by simply following the tips above as well as the manufacturer's instructions.