Preventing Scalds and Burns

Each year, 500,000 people suffer from burns, with most younger than 5 or older than 65. Learn these helpful tips from Kohl's SAFE 4 Kids to protect your family from burns.

Nothing warms and satisfies like a cup of hot coffee or hot cocoa. Unfortunately, little ones are all too curious about that steaming drink in an adult’s hand. One spill can result in a serious burn.

“Burns tend to happen more often in the colder months when our lives are filled with hot cocoa, space heaters and fireplaces,” says Renee Zarr, injury prevention educator with the Kohl’s SAFE 4 Kids program. She says young children and older adults suffer more from the effects of burns because they have thin, delicate skin.

Fortunately, burns are preventable. Zarr shares these helpful tips for keeping burns from happening to your family this winter.

Know what causes scald burns

Scald burns — which are caused by hot liquid such as coffee, tea, soup and even hot tap water — are the No. 1 cause of burns. “It’s a common situation that a caregiver is holding both a cup of hot liquid and a baby that kicks the cup, spilling the liquid and getting burned,” Zarr says. “It seems like common sense but it happens often, so don’t hold hot liquids while holding a baby.”

If you slide that hot coffee to the back of the counter where you think little hands can’t reach, be aware that children have a 24-inch reach span. “Even when we encourage people to use the back burners on the stove and turn pan handles away from the front of the stove, it’s because that will give you time to intercept those reaching hands,” explains Zarr.

Consider how often you have opened the microwave, then grabbed for an oven mitt to avoid burning your own hand. Be very cautious about letting a child use the microwave to heat soups and other snacks.

“The microwave is a false sense of security because just 3 minutes in the microwave creates a boiling liquid,” Zarr says. “Kids don’t always have the appropriate cognitive maturity and can drop and spill the hot cup, which could also target others in the splash zone.”

In the kitchen, create a 3-foot zone around hot appliances and demonstrate to kids how far away they should stay.

Bathwater dangers

Kids are naturally drawn to water, so your first line of defense against scald burns is the hot water tank in your home, says Zarr. “Set it between 116 and 120 degrees,” she says. If your tank has no numerical settings, go for the medium setting, or use a bathwater tester and adjust accordingly. “At 120 degrees, it takes eight minutes for the water to heat enough to cause a first-degree burn. This gives caregivers plenty of time to figure out why the water is running,” she says.

And, while it’s easier to bathe a young baby in a sink, recognize that grabbing hands and kicking feet — or a flushed toilet — can boost the temperature higher than a safe 100 degrees in an instant.

Other common hazards

Space heaters, fireplaces and candles all make their way into our lives in winter, so be extra careful to keep curious little hands far away. Also know that it takes 90 minutes for a clothing iron or curling iron to cool down to a safe temperature.

What to do if there is a burn

Apply cool water to the affected area and cover with a dry, clean cloth. “We discourage home remedies like mustard, butter, oil or milk,” says Zarr. Don’t slater the burn with Vaseline or thick ointment; instead, let the burn cool down naturally and slowly. “Then, 12 to 24 hours later, when it’s no longer hot to the touch, you can use an antibacterial ointment like Neosporin because burns are susceptible to infection,” says Zarr. For serious burns, however, seek medical attention immediately.

For more information on common household burns and what you can do to avoid them, visit the Kohl’s SAFE 4 Kids program.

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

Claire Charlton
Claire Charlton
An enthusiastic storyteller, Claire Charlton focuses on delivering top client service as a content editor for Metro Parent. In her 20+ years of experience, she has written extensively on a variety of topics and is keen on new tech and podcast hosting. Claire has two grown kids and loves to read, run, camp, cycle and travel.


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