Are Electric Blankets Safe or Dangerous?
The 5 most frequent safety questions we are asked about heated blankets and heated mattress pads:
- Can anyone use electric bedding?
- Is it OK to use an electric blanket during pregnancy?
- Can I use an electric blanket if I have a pacemaker?
- Why can’t diabetics use electric blankets?
- What’s the worry about EMF’s (Electromagnetic Frequency Waves)?
Just as with any electrical appliance, things do occasionally go wrong with electric bedding. For example, a control may not work properly, a blanket may become bunched up which might cause an overheated condition or a heater wire might break. Therefore, it is foolish to allow infants or small children to use these products. Likewise for the same reasons, anyone who is helpless, paralyzed, insensitive to heat or incapable of understanding the control’s operation should never be allowed to use these appliances. Some elderly people with one or more of these conditions sometimes insist on having their electric blanket. Be strong and refuse them. Show “tough love” or you may regret it.
Medical websites differ about the use of electric bedding during pregnancy. Some say: “Absolutely no problem”. Some say: “Never use”. Many say: “Ask your doctor”. We always tell people that in the absence of conclusive proof about EMF’s and to avoid possible overheating of the fetus, it’s better to err on the side of caution and forgo the heated bedding for nine months. Of course, during your pregnancy, you could still use automatic bedding products to pre-warm those icy sheets and then turn it off prior to getting into bed.
Numerous well-known associations, hospitals and doctors advise that electric blankets have not been shown to damage pacemakers or interfere with their functions (see The American Heart Association and the Mayo Clinic statements). Although we personally have never heard of any pacemaker problems due to electric bedding, we always recommend that the individual should check with his or her doctor AND the manufacturer of the pacemaker (e.g. Medtronic, St Jude Medical, etc).
You frequently see warnings that people with diabetes should not use electric blankets or pads. The reason for this goes back to the warning about insensitivity to heat. Diabetics often lose some feeling in their legs or arms and could sustain a burn if they cannot feel that a blanket or pad has become too warm. Of course, if the diabetic wishes only to pre-warm the bedding and then turn off the electric blanket or electric mattress pad when getting into bed, this restriction would not apply.
In the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, some scientists and others began to be concerned over the safety of electromagnetic fields (EMF’s) due to AC electricity. Various studies in that timeframe had raised concerns over the possibility that the EMF’s generated by power companies’ overhead transmission lines and some appliances could cause cancer or other problems especially in children. The United States government became involved and studied over 500 peer-reviewed papers written on this potential problem. The US National Research Council spent around 65 million dollars and finally stated that there was no conclusive evidence that residential EMF’s play any role in the development of cancer, in reproductive issues or in learning/behavioral issues.
Nevertheless, Sunbeam, which at that time was the only major United States manufacturer of electric blankets, altered the design of its products to reduce EMF’s. All blankets produced after 1992 have much weaker electrical fields than their predecessors. The argument over EMF’s has never gone away completely although very few scientists or medical experts continue to believe that they can cause problems.
If you have any concerns about electromagnetic fields caused by AC electricity, you may feel safer with the SoftHeat Low Voltage heated blankets or mattress pads. Their power supply converts the wall outlet 120 volt AC into either 16 or 18 volt DC. You can learn about their low voltage products in our blanket or pad review sections.
If you still have concerns but want to experience the benefits of a warming mattress pad, you may wish to look into the ChiliPad™ which has NO electricity in the pad itself. Instead it circulates water through silicone tubes and will heat or cool that water. They are expensive but the company says that they rapidly pay for themselves in energy savings both in winter and in summer.