A risk we don’t often think about is having the temperature in your home water heater set too high. The ideal safe temperature setting is 120°F, or just below the medium setting. According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, about 3,800 injuries and 34 deaths occur in the home due to scalding from excessively hot tap water each year. The majority of these injuries are to children and older adults.
Water temperatures of 150°F (66°C) can cause a burn in 2 seconds; 140°F (60°C) can cause a burn in only 6 seconds; 125°F (52°C) can cause a burn in 2 minutes; and 120°F (49°C) takes only 10 minutes to cause a burn.
Edward Christophersen, Ph.D. writes: “The best way to measure the temperature of your heater is to do it in the morning, before anyone in your home has used any hot water. Turn on the hot water at the kitchen sink and let it run for 2 minutes. Then, using either an outdoor thermometer or a candy thermometer, hold the thermometer in the stream of the water until the reading stops going up. If your water-heater setting is at a safe level (between 120°F and 125°F, or 49°C to 52°C), you don’t have to do anything. There is no advantage to setting the thermostat below 120°F (49°C).”
If your hot water setting is too high, and you are unable to reset it, call your electric, gas, or fuel supplier to adjust the temperature. Never take hot water for granted. Domestic hot water poses dangers of burns and scalds, so always be aware of this fact.
Because many burns happen to small children and infants, here are some rules to follow for safely bathing them:
1. Hand-test water before placing child in the water. Spread your fingers and completely go through water, checking for hot spots.
2. DO NOT place child in tub while water is still running. Their skin is especially sensitive, and it could only take seconds for a burn to occur.
3. NEVER leave child unattended. Besides the risk of drowning, children could turn the hot water on while you leave to answer the phone or door.
Remember: The most painful burn is the one you could have prevented!