Are Electric Blankets Safe?

By MaryAnn DePietro, CRT. May 7th 2016

As the weather turns colder, many people use electric blankets to add a little extra warmth and comfort on a winter night. Using an electric blanket is often a less expensive alternative to cranking up the heat or using a space heater. Although it is economical and convenient, you may wonder if electric blankets pose any healthy and safety concerns.

Health Concerns

For most people, if used properly, electric blankets are considered safe; however, there are a few instances where use may affect your health. For instance, frequent use of electric blankets can impact a man’s fertility. According to the American Pregnancy Association, testicles can become too warm from using electric blankets and sperm counts can decrease.

Women who are pregnant should also be careful when using an electric blanket. Keeping the blanket on too long or at too high a temperature can cause a woman to overheat, which can be dangerous to a fetus.

In addition to fertility concerns, people with diabetes should be especially careful when using an electric blanket. In some cases, high glucose levels due to diabetes can cause damage to the vessels connected to the nerves. That damage can lead to diabetic neuropathy, which causes numbness in the affected area of the body. Over time, numbness can become so severe all feeling is lost in the feet or limbs. If someone with loss of feeling uses an electric blanket, it’s possible to not realize how hot it is, and burns can result. According to the Mayo Clinic, placing the blanket on the bed to warm it and then removing it is an alternative to putting the blanket on your body.

Safety Issues

One of the main safety concerns involving electric blankets is the possibility of it becoming a fire hazard. The exact numbers of fires started each year due to electric blanket use is not known, but they can be an ignition source, especially if you are using an older electric blanket. According to The New York City Fire Department, blankets over 10 years old cause 99 percent of electric blanket fires.

Most electric blanket fires are related to bad cords or overheating and igniting materials nearby. Using blankets properly greatly reduces the risk of fires. Broken cords may not only lead to a fire, but can cause a shock. Avoid using any electric blanket, which has a broken or exposed cord, as recommended by the New York City Fire Department.

Does Electric Blanket Use Cause Cancer?

Electromagnetic fields are produced by power lines and electrical devices, such as electric blankets, cellphones and microwaves. They can be broken down into two components. Electric fields are related to the level of voltage, and magnetic fields are caused by the current. Together both are referred to as electromagnetic fields.

Some concerns have been raised about the ability for electromagnetic fields to penetrate the skin and possibly cause damage to the body. Studies have been conducted to determine if exposure to electromagnetic fields is a possible cause of certain types of cancer. Since electric blankets create electromagnetic fields during use, questions have been raised about whether using one is a risk factor for cancers, such as childhood leukemia and breast cancer.

Currently, most of the research performed shows little evidence that use of electric blankets puts a person at higher risk for developing brain tumors or breast cancer, according to the National Cancer Institute. Additionally, most studies do not show a link between electric blanket use and childhood leukemia.

Tips for Safe Use

Most fires, shocks and burns associated with electric blanket use are due to user mistakes or old blankets. The best way to avoid problems when using an electric blanket is by following directions. Tips for safe use include the following:

  • Don’t roll or crumble the blanket. Rolling an electrical blanket may cause the coils to become damaged, which can lead to electrical fires.
  • Never wash an electric blanket. Washing an electrical blanket can cause damage to the internal coils and it may also lead to a shock.
  • Make sure it is approved by a reputable testing agency. Only use electric blankets, which have passed testing by an agency, such as the Underwriters Laboratories.
  • Avoid putting other blankets on top of electric blankets. An electric blanket can overheat if additional items, such as blankets or stuffed animals are placed over it.
  • Turn off an electric blanket when it is not in use. Although some models of blankets may have a shut off control if it gets too hot, others don’t. Shutting off the blanket when it is not being used is the safest way to prevent overheating.

The bottom line is electric blankets are safe for most people to use as long as they follow the manufacturer’s recommendations. Improper use is usually one of the biggest risks for injuries or dangers, such as burns, shocks or fires. Keep in mind, most safety problems related to use of an electric blanket are preventable.


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