Electric blankets: how to buy and use them safely

electric blanket main

Here’s a useless fact: I’m like a cat. By that I don’t mean I randomly push things off shelves or scream at you in the middle of the night – I mean it in the ‘you’ll find me in warm places’ sort of way.

And electric blankets come in handy, then. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Google searches for them spiked in late September, as people started to prepare for the winter.

In the light of rising energy costs, there’s almost been a push towards them. They can keep you warm at night without having to turn up the heating too much, for example.

I’m sure you’ve heard that you shouldn’t ever leave electric blankets on overnight. And while that’s true in some cases, it doesn’t apply to all. Not to mention that there’s plenty of other stuff you should definitely know to ensure your own safety.

How to buy electric blankets

Let’s start with the basics: what do you need to look out for when getting one?

First of all, don’t buy electric blankets second hand. Yes, it might be less expensive, but you’re increasing your fire risk. You don’t know how the previous owners stored the blankets, or – if you buy online – what condition they’re in.

electric blanket on bed
Photography: iStock.com / Chalffy

Instead, buy new. It might be more costly to start with, but your safety is, as corny as it sounds, priceless.

It’s best to choose an electric blanket with auto-shutoff. These are safe to leave on overnight, for example, but even if you don’t plan to run it for that long, it’s still good to have.

Types of electric blankets

Yes, you read that right – there are multiple versions, and they all work differently.

Electric underblankets, as the name suggests, go on top of your mattress and underneath a base sheet. They heat the whole surface of the bed, from the foot end right up to the pillows.

It’s important that you never tuck these designs underneath the mattress. They’re usually fixed with elasticated straps – like a mattress protector – or ties instead. Also make sure that you don’t use anything but an underblanket for this kind of warmth.

Electric overblankets, on the other hand, are designs you cuddle up underneath. You can use these underneath your duvet. Most designs are safe to be used inside the duvet cover, but always double check to make sure this is the case.

Finally, heated throws are probably the cosiest form of electric blanket. They’re ideal for cosying up on the couch or for reading in bed, plus they can add an extra layer to your bed. They usually come in a range of colours and designs, plus soft materials such as fleece or velvet.

Finally, heating pads are a smaller, more targeted heat source, ideal for everything from soothing back pain to warming your feet.

heated blanket detail
Photography: iStock.com / Chalffy

How to stay safe

Let me start this by saying that a new electric blanket poses very little fire risk. If yours is 10 years or older, or you don’t remember how long you’ve had it for, it’s a good idea to replace it. Older models often don’t have internal temperature controls, which are an essential safety feature.

Aside from the auto-shutoff function I mentioned earlier, make sure your blanket is physically safe.

Check that all connections – for example, those between the power cable and the blanket – are tight and safe. If the cable (or any other part) of your electric blanket is fraying, replace the whole appliance. The risk isn’t worth it.

Never turn your electric blanket on if you’re not using it. And if you want to use it to fall asleep, either pick a design with a timer or make sure to switch it off before you head to dreamland.

Also, even for an underblanket, never tuck the edges underneath the mattress. Speaking of mattresses – you cannot use an electric blanket with dynamic air flow pressure-relieving mattresses. They are specialist designs for people who spend a lot (or all of their time) in bed due to medical needs, so it’s very specific, but it’s important to know.

They’re also not safe for use with water beds – imagine if your mattress were to spring a leak.

Also don’t pile any stuff on top of your electric blanket. This includes toys and clothes (laundry pile, I see you!), but also books.While using it, use only your electric blanket – don’t add a heating pad or hot water bottle.

What not to use with your electric blanket

I’ve mentioned specific mattresses and water beds, but there is one more important point.

Don’t use emollient creams with your electric blanket. You might have seen the warnings on some of the packages – Deep Heat, for example.

Emollient creams themselves aren’t flammable, but the residue they leave on sheets and clothing makes the fabric more flammable. Not only that – the fire will burn faster and hotter, too.

You can also not wash your electric blanket. You should not get it wet at all, but sometimes spills are unavoidable. If your electric blanket does get wet, do not use it until it has fully dried.

Storage tips

Finally, one last piece of advice. Don’t fold your electric blanket to store it – you risk damaging the internal heating wires, which in turn can pose a fire risk. Instead, roll it up carefully and make sure none of the cables are tangled.

If you have a spare room, it’s also an idea to simply place your electric blanket spread out on the unused bed. This way, you can be sure there’s no tangling and bending. Just remember: no piling anything else on top.

Featured image: Photography: iStock.com / CreativaStudio

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