This post has been quality checked in line with our Editorial and Research Policy.

Is it Safe to Sleep With an Electric Blanket On? (4 Dangers)

Stephanie-Abi-Zeid.
  • This article has been written, researched, and medically reviewed by Stephanie Abi Zeid (embryologist, andrologist, B.S, MSc) for factual accuracy.

An electric blanket is a type of bedding that contains electrical heating wires and is able to provide close-body warmth when you are in bed.

But is it safe to sleep with an electric blanket switched on all night?

It’s not safe to sleep with an electric blanket switched on all night due to the risk of fires, burns, heatstroke, miscarriages in pregnant women, and cancer – the risk increases for children, the elderly, the infirm, and pets. Blankets over 10 years old pose the most risk – newer electric blankets are safer. Do not use an electric blanket for more than 20 minutes continuously.

The rest of this article explains in more detail the risks of sleeping with an electric blanket switched on, how to use an electric blanket safely, and how to stay warm at night without using an electric blanket.

Related: should you sleep with a weighted blanket?

4 Reasons Not to Sleep With an Electric Blanket On

Below are the 4 main dangers of sleeping with an electric blanket on:

1: Electrical Fires (Low to Moderate Chance)

Electric blankets can overheat and cause a fire when old, damaged, or improperly used. 

Electric blankets older than10 years are especially prone to causing a fire as their wires and other components will have decayed over time.

Old models also lack safety features like internal temperature controls and an automatic shutoff – which increases the risk of fire outbreaks. 

Improper use of an electric blanket – like ironing, folding, or rolling an electric blanket for storage – may cause the electric cord to crimp or fray, also increasing the risk of a fire. 

Running the electric cord between and under combustible materials could also damage the internal components of an electric blanket, leading to hotspots that turn into fire hazards.  

Newer electric blankets come with more safety features – making them less of a fire risk when compared to older electric blankets.  

2: Burns And Heat Stroke (Low to Moderate Chance)

Electric blankets can overheat and cause burns that require medical attention after prolonged exposure.

Falling asleep with an electric blanket turned on increases the risk of burns because sensory stimuli – smell, sound, temperature, and touch – are less effective in the deep stages of sleep [1].  

In rare cases, electric blankets can potentially cause heat stroke – a life-threatening condition known as hyperthermia where the body temperature rises dramatically as a result of prolonged exposure to high temperature and dehydration – with several fatal incidents being recorded [2]. 

Here are the types of individuals that are the most at risk of serious burn injuries and heat stroke when using an electric blanket:

Children 

Children, especially those under 3 years old, should avoid using an electric blanket because they lack the ability or awareness to unplug or control the product’s temperature, which can lead to injuries and sometimes death. 

The Elderly

Elderly people with cognitive or physical issues may have less control over electric blankets and are therefore at increased risk for serious burn injuries and death when the blanket temperature is set too high. 

Furthermore, seniors who are incontinent should not use electric blankets, as washing the blankets could damage the interior wiring and heating components, which may lead to a fire. 

People With Mobility Issues

Electric blankets can be hazardous for people with mobility issues, as they cannot remove or adjust the blanket’s temperature on their own. 

Furthermore, people with mobility problems may roll over or sit improperly on the electric blanket, which may bend or break the coils inside – increasing the risk of fire and burn injuries. 

Moreover, people with limb paralysis or any physical issue that affects their nerves, are at risk of getting burned by an electric blanket, as their condition may result in loss of temperature sensation – so they may not realize that their electric blanket has overheated.  

People Who Are Insensitive to Heat

Individuals with nerve damage, impaired temperature receptors, or poor blood circulation should avoid using an electric blanket as these conditions can reduce the user’s ability to detect and feel heat sensation on their skin. 

People with diabetes may experience a loss in sensation (known as neuropathy), which makes it difficult for them to tell that an electric blanket is too hot. 

Therefore, the risk of burns and heat strokes increases in persons with disorders affecting the brain or spinal cord.    

Domestic Pets

Domestic pets can tear the blanket and/or break the coils – making electric blankets a fire hazard. 

The risk especially applies to dogs, since they can’t regulate their body temperature the way humans do – dogs can therefore overheat and get sick from the inability to release the heat absorbed from the blanket [3]. 

3: Miscarriages and Birth Defects (Low to Moderate Chance)

Using an electric blanket during early pregnancy may be harmful for the developing fetus. 

Just like a fever, the blanket could elevate a pregnant woman’s body temperature and increase the risk of miscarriage and birth defects related to the brain or spinal cord. 

Therefore, pregnant women should avoid any high-heat situations that mimic a fever – such as saunas, hot tubs, and electric blankets – to reach a safe full term in pregnancy and deliver a healthy baby [4]. 

4: Cancer (Very Low Chance)

Like any other electrical appliance, electric blankets emit an Electromagnetic Field (EMF) when turned on, which could damage the body and cause cancer in the long run. 

Although electric blankets emit extremely low frequencies (ELF) of radiation, they could possibly be carcinogenic to humans, according to the International Agency for Research on Cancer [5]. 

However, studies have not shown a strong link between ELF and cancer due to inconclusive results and difficulties in studying the effects of ELF radiation in people.  

How to Use an Electric Blanket Safely

So what are the safety precautions that you should take to use an electric blanket safely?

To use an electric blanket safely: buy a high-quality electric blanket, inspect the blanket every time before use, handle the blanket with care, do not let high-risk individuals use the blanket, never leave the blanket switched on for more than 20 minutes, and replace the blanket before it’s 10 year’s old. 

More details below:

1: Buy a High-Quality Electric Blanket

Buy a high-quality electric blanket from a reputable brand that offers a programmable timer and an automatic shutoff for safety – this feature detects when the blanket overheats and shuts the power off automatically. 

Do not buy a second-hand electric blanket, as it’s not worth the risk of using an electric blanket that has been patched up. 

Make sure your new blanket conforms to Underwriters Laboratories (UL) safety standards, to minimize potential risks associated with the product.     

2: Inspect the Electric Blanket Before Use

Examine the electric blanket thoroughly every time before use. 

Check for signs of wear – such as tears and holes in the fabric, scorch marks, frayed wires, a damaged on/off switch or temperature controller, and discoloration.

Blanket discoloration could indicate melting or burning of internal components.  

You should also carefully inspect the cord insulation, the plug, and electrical outlets.

Turn off and unplug the electric blanket instantly if you see sparking and/or smell smoke. 

3: At-Risk Individuals Should Not Use an Electric Blanket 

Children, the elderly, the infirm, people with disabilities, pregnant women, and anyone who cannot operate the heating controls on their own should not use an electric blanket because the risk of injury and potential health complications increases.

Instead, warm their bed before bedtime using the electric blanket, and set a timer to remind you to turn the power off before they get into bed.

If the blanket does not have a built-in timer, then put a reminder alarm on your phone to turn off the electric blanket.

Always unplug the electric blanket every time after use to reduce the risk of electrical fires.

4: Handle the Blanket With Care

It’s essential to handle the electric blanket with care to keep the internal elements intact because electric blankets contain tiny heating wires, which are thin and susceptible to damage.

Wash and Dry Appropriately

The first step to properly maintaining your blanket is to read and follow the manufacturer’s instructions – especially in regards to how to wash, dry, and adjust the temperature of the electric blanket.

Some models cannot be washed in the machine, as the twisting and tugging motions of a washing machine can break and damage the internal coils of the electric blanket.

Dry cleaning can also pose a problem for some models because solvents could damage the cord insulation. 

Do not iron the electric blanket because this could melt the cord insulation.          

Keep the Electric Blanket Flat

An electric blanket needs to stay flat and unwrinkled to prevent the heating coils from becoming frayed – so do NOT use an electric blanket on a waterbed, Murphy bed, or adjustable bed frame – only use a regular flat bed frame.

Do not sit on an electric blanket, and do not pile any additional blankets or pillows on top of it – this will allow for proper air circulation and to keep the product functional and long-lasting. 

Avoid tucking the edges of the blanket or the control cord under the mattress – as this could damage or heat up the blanket and cause a fire. 

When you want to store your electric blanket, make sure to wrap the power cord loosely around the blanket whilst gently rolling it or hanging it up in a cool and dry environment.

5: Do Not Use an Electric Blanket for More Than 20 Minutes

You should only leave an electric blanket switched on for a maximum of 20 minutes to reduce the risk of fire and burns.

Always read the instructions for your electric blanket and adhere to the manufacturer’s guidelines to ensure that you use the blanket properly.

6: Electric Blankets Should Be Replaced Before 10 Years

Electric blankets should be replaced before they reach 10 years old and never be used beyond this point (even if they haven’t been used much) – do not use the electric blanket at all if it shows signs of wear and tear (such as an uneven heat distribution or discoloration) at any point.

How to Stay Warm Without an Electric Blanket

Here are 5 ways to stay warm at night without using an electric blanket:

1: Hot Water Bottle

A hot water bottle is a thermoplastic or silicone container filled with hot water and sealed with a stopper.

Before bed, fill the bottle with hot water, close it, and pop it under your bed sheets.

The bottle keeps you warm whilst you are in bed and alleviates pains when applied to a specific part of your body. 

2: Down Comforters

Down comforters deliver optimal warmth, making it a great investment for cold nights.

Choose a down comforter with at least 500 fill power and a baffle-box construction to prevent the filling from clumping and to provide consistent and efficient warmth. 

3: Flannel Sheets

Flannel sheets are warmer than regular sheets.

They can even keep you warm without any blanket or added bulk.

Select cotton flannel sheets because they trap body heat whilst still allowing your skin to breathe so that you won’t wake up sweaty. 

4: Thermal Pajamas

Thermal pajamas are a type of clothing designed to trap the body’s heat and prevent the cold air from getting to your skin.

Cotton and silk pajamas are also great options to keep you warm whilst in bed without overheating.

5: Wear Socks

Wearing socks at night can help your whole body feel comfortably warm because as your feet warm up, vasodilation – the widening of blood vessels – will cause heat to be redistributed throughout your entire body at bedtime [6].

Choose socks that are made of wool or cashmere and that won’t come off in the middle of the night.          

Don’t Sleep With An Electric Blanket Switched On

Even though newer electric blankets come with more safety features than older versions, it’s still not advisable to sleep with an electric blanket switched on all night – only use an electric blanket to preheat the bed for a maximum of 20 minutes.

Because electric blankets consist of a built-in heating element, which can potentially cause a fire and/or result in health hazards – especially when the electric blanket is older than 10 years, damaged, or used improperly. 

The risks increase for pregnant women, young children, the elderly, and the infirm.

You can minimize the risks if you follow the manufacturer’s instructions and you don’t leave the blanket plugged in and switched on for more than 20 minutes continuously.

Warm beddings and hot water bottles are safe and effective ways to stay warm at night without using an electric blanket.

Related: 8 ways to sleep better after hernia surgery.


Sources and References

[1] Briggs, Bill. “Can smells wake us up from deep sleep?” News, 2012, https://www.nbcnews.com/healthmain/can-smells-wake-us-deep-sleep-1C9386712 Accessed 27 January 2021. 

[2] Zhou, Yiwu. “Heat stroke deaths caused by electric blankets: case report and review of the literature.” Am J Forensic Med Pathol, vol. 27, no. 4, 2006, pp. 324-7. PubMed, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17133030/. Accessed 27 January 2021.

[3] Andrei, Jean. “Do Dogs Sweat? How Do They Stay Cool?” DogTime, https://dogtime.com/dog-health/82703-do-dogs-sweat  Accessed 27 January 2021.

[4] Tobah, Yvonne. “Is it safe to use a hot tub during pregnancy?” MayoClinic, 2020, https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/pregnancy-week-by-week/expert-answers/pregnancy-and-hot-tubs/faq-20057844 Accessed 27 January 2021.

[5] The American Cancer Society. “Power Lines, Electrical Devices and Extremely Low Frequency Radiation.” Cancer, 2017, https://www.cancer.org/cancer/cancer-causes/radiation-exposure/extremely-low-frequency-radiation.html Accessed 27 January 2021.

[6] The National Sleep Foundation. “Wearing Socks to Bed: Is it Normal?” Sleep, 2021, https://www.sleep.org/wearing-socks-to-bed/ Accessed 27 January 2021.

Image Attribution and Licencing

Main image: ‘Electric Blanket’ by Media Production (Getty Images Signature) – used with permission under the terms of Canva’s One Design Use License Agreement.

Leave a comment