When a person uses and stores them correctly, electric blankets are safe. However, recommendations state that children, pregnant people, and those with diabetes or circulation issues avoid using them.

This article explores the safety and potential risks of electric blankets.

It also discusses who should avoid using electric blankets, along with alternatives for keeping warm at night.

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Modern electric blankets are much safer than their predecessors. This is because they have safety features, such as an automatic shut-off.

There are two types of electric blankets: one type that fits directly on the mattress and one that a person can use as a traditional blanket.

According to Columbia University, a person should never use both types of blankets at the same time because it may present a significant fire hazard.

Additionally, there may be a chance that the blankets get too hot or cause burns. To avoid this, use the blanket before bedtime and turn it off before going to sleep.

Individuals should also avoid using electric blankets on:

  • waterbeds
  • bunk beds
  • mechanical beds
  • sofas

Researchers have speculated the connection between electromagnetic fields (EMFs) and cancer.

According to the National Cancer Institute, there are two types of EMFs:

  • Higher frequency: These include X-rays and gamma rays. They are a part of the ionizing part of the spectrum, which can damage cells and DNA.
  • Low- to mid-frequency: These come from magnetic fields from power lines and electrical appliances, such as electric blankets. They are non-ionizing and do not damage cells or DNA.

Electric blankets are a source of extremely low frequency electric and magnetic fields. However, they do not have links with cancer.

Some people with diabetes may experience neuropathy, or nerve damage, which occurs due to high blood glucose levels.

With this symptom, the altered sensation may mean they cannot feel the actual heat level of an electric blanket, leading to overheating or skin burns.

For this reason, doctors may advise against using an electric blanket or other forms of heating pads.

An alternative approach is to use the electric blanket to heat the bed before the person gets in, then turn off or remove the blanket at bedtime.

If an individual has circulation issues, electric blankets may not be safe.

As with diabetic neuropathy, an older study from 2008 notes that a person with circulation issues may be less sensitive to heat levels. This is because of the essential role the skin plays in thermoregulation, the body’s system of regulating temperature.

Therefore, using an electric blanket could potentially lead to burns as people may not feel that the blanket is getting too hot. Individuals may wish to speak with a doctor to confirm that using these products to generate warmth is safe.

The following people should avoid using electric blankets. They could speak with a healthcare professional to determine the best course of action if they need extra warmth.

Older adults

Older adults may also wish to avoid using electric blankets. Their skin may have altered temperature receptors, meaning they cannot tell if they are too hot, potentially leading to burns.

People with dementia

Electric blankets may also not be suitable for those with dementia, such as Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease.

A 2015 study notes that people with Parkinson’s disease may have difficulty with temperature regulation. Additionally, those with mobility issues may bend or break the blanket’s internal wires, which could potentially cause the blanket to short out and catch fire.

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, a person with Alzheimer’s disease may experience changes in their temperature sensitivity. As a result, carers should closely monitor the use of electric blankets and heating pads to help them avoid burns.

Electric blankets may not be safe to use during pregnancy because they generate non-ionizing radiation.

Some research shows that exposure to non-ionizing radiation may increase the chance of pregnancy loss. The study showed that the miscarriage rate in the people in the high exposure group was twice that of those in the low exposure group.

However, the World Health Organisation (WHO) state that overall, the evidence does not confirm that sources of environmental electromagnetic fields increase the risk of pregnancy complications. However, they do highlight the need for further research.

Consult with a doctor before using an electric blanket during pregnancy.

To minimize the risk of unsafe outcomes, a person should follow these safety guidelines:

  • avoiding using second-hand electric blankets
  • replacing old blankets, particularly those more than 10 years old
  • buying electric blankets with approval from a nationally recognized testing agency, such as Underwriters Laboratories
  • checking that the blanket has no tears, burns, or other damage
  • ensuring that the embedded heating wires, electrical cord, and temperature control system are in good repair and fit correctly

How to use safely

To use an electric blanket safely, a person should take the below precautions:

  • reading and following the manufacturer’s instructions
  • checking for damage before each use
  • turning off the blanket when not in use
  • turning off the blanket when going to sleep

In addition, people should avoid:

  • using a hot water bottle with an electric blanket
  • touching the blanket with wet hands, feet, or hair
  • switching on a wet electric blanket
  • bending the electric blanket around the mattress
  • using an electric blanket with a sofa bed or other mechanical bed, which could trap the blanket

If a person has any concerns about the safety of an electric blanket, they should avoid using it.

How to store safely

To maintain an electric blanket in optimal conditions, a person must store it correctly when not in use.

To store an electric blanket safely, a person should:

  1. Keep the power cord separate: Avoid folding the power cable in the blanket, which can cause kinks.
  2. Gently roll the blanket: Folding an electric blanket can damage the delicate internal wires. Instead, loosely roll the blankets to avoid damaging the heating elements.
  3. Protect the blanket: Store the blanket and power cable in a bag to protect it from dirt.
  4. Do not store items on top: Be careful not to crush the blanket and damage the wires.
  5. Avoid certain chemicals: A person should not use any moth-proofing chemicals on the blanket.

A bed that is too cold can interfere with sleep patterns.

Here are some alternatives to electric blankets that can help people stay warm while they sleep:

  • using a hot water bottle or heat pad
  • wearing socks and a head covering
  • using brushed fabrics, such as flannel, for bedsheets as the texture traps air and acts as an insulator
  • creating layers using duvets and thick blankets to trap air for extra insulation
  • checking the bedroom walls and windows for gaps that can cause drafts

Electric blankets can provide a safe source of heat for most people. However, these blankets should adhere to current safety standards and have a shut-off mechanism to prevent overheating or fires.

It is also important for people to maintain their electric blanket properly and ensure it is stored correctly to minimize damage.

Doctors may advise certain people to avoid electric blankets because of safety risks. They include those with diabetes or circulation issues and pregnant people.

Although there is much debate, there is no conclusive evidence of a link between cancer and the extremely low frequency electric and magnetic fields that electric blankets generate.

Q:

Are electric blankets safe for children?

A:

Although there are sources that say they are safe for children, I recommend being very cautious. Parents should read manufacturing recommendations and use newer electric blankets that have better safety ratings. Those under the age of 5 years may not recognize or be able to verbalize that it is too hot, so these blankets are generally not recommended for them. Another concern is a child who is still bed wetting — they should avoid electric blankets.

Deborah Weatherspoon, RN, PhDAnswers represent the opinions of our medical experts. All content is strictly informational and should not be considered medical advice.