How to Prevent Scalds and Burns at Home

Take stock of what children don’t yet know about the dangers of hot liquids and create a safe environment at home. Learn how to prevent scalds and burns from an injury prevention educator.

Curious by nature, little ones don’t know the dangers of hot liquids, so it’s up to parents and caregivers to protect children from scalds and burns. Consider what children don’t know — and create safe habits to prevent scalds and burns.

“You have to think like a kid sometimes,” says Renee Zarr, injury prevention educator with the Kohl’s SAFE 4 Kids program. “The No. 1 burn we see in kids is from food and beverages, and that’s not surprising.”

Consider all the places where kids can come in contact with hot liquids: faucets, bathtubs, cups, bowls — even the microwave can create a hazard. To be safe, keep a 3-foot zone around hot appliances, and recognize that children have a 24-inch reach span.

It’s not just babies that are in danger, Zarr says. “Ramen noodles are a meal a lot of older children gravitate to because they can make it themselves in the microwave. But they still need to protect their hands,” she says.

Thicker skin on our hands means our brains are slower to detect heat and “by the time it’s out of the microwave and in mid-air, it’s so hot they want to get it out of their hands. Make sure your child wears an oven mitt and also realizes that the food is hot for a long time before it’s OK to be eaten,” she says.

Each year, 500,000 people suffer from burns, most younger than 5 or older than 65. Here are some ways you can prevent scalds and burns in your child.

Turn your water heater to 120 degrees

“At home, you may have your water heater set too high. We encourage everyone to set it to 120 degrees or a medium setting,” Zarr advises. Children don’t know that warm water comes from a blend of hot and cold pipes, so they go straight for that red knob at the sink. “But even if curiosity gets the best of them, at 120 degrees, it takes eight minutes for water to become hot enough to cause a first-degree burn. That’s long enough for caregivers to hear the water running and prevent a scald,” she says.

Be mindful at bath time

Today’s parents may follow advice from older generations about the best ways to bathe babies, too often running water in the kitchen sink. “I understand why, because baby is at chest level and it’s not hard on your back,” Zarr says. Potential scalding can occur when baby reaches for the hot faucet or someone in the home flushes the toilet, forcing scalding water from the tap. Babies have thinner, more delicate skin, so their bath water should be no warmer than body temperature.

“Babies can’t articulate that they are being scalded, and unless your hands are in the water, you won’t know how hot it is,” Zarr says. Instead of using the sink, put your infant tub on a stable counter surface. Never encourage bath time as play time. If kids don’t associate it with fun, they won’t head for that red knob when your back is turned.

Treating burns

Burns are highly susceptible to infection, so apply cool water and cover with a clean, dry cloth, but never put mustard, butter, oil, milk or other home remedies on the affected area. After 12 to 24 hours, use an antibacterial ointment like Neosporin.

If a blister forms, do not pop it, Zarr says. “What is happening under that blister is new skin is generating. The blister will eventually dry up and fall off, leaving new skin and no worries for infection,” she says. If it does pop on its own, keep the area clean with antibacterial soap.

For more information on how to prevent scalds and burns at home, plus other ways to keep your children safe, visit the Kohl’s SAFE 4 Kids program at childrensdmc.org/ks4k.

Brought to you by Children’s Hospital of Michigan Foundation and Kohl’s Cares.

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