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Household Safety: Preventing Burns and Fires

You can't keep kids free from injuries all the time. But these safety tips can help prevent burns and fires in your home:

In General

  • Prevent house and apartment fires by making sure you have a smoke alarm on every level of your home and in each bedroom. Check these monthly and change the batteries twice a year. If you live in an apartment, make sure the owner or a maintenance company checks the alarms on a regular schedule. If you don't have smoke alarms, ask your local fire company how to get them.
  • Replace smoke alarms that are 10 years or older.
  • Make a fire escape plan with two ways out of the house. Choose a place for everyone to meet after they are out of the house. Apartments need an escape plan too. Practice the escape plan regularly.
  • Keep an emergency ladder on upper floors of your home in case there is a fire. Keep the ladder in or near the room of an adult or older child who knows how to use it.
  • Put a fire extinguisher in the kitchen and learn how to use it.
  • If you smoke, don't smoke in the house, especially when you're tired, taking medicines that can make you drowsy, or in bed.
  • Keep matches, lighters, chemicals, and lit candles out of kids' reach.

Living Room

  • If you have a fireplace, keep a screen in front of it. Always keep kids 3 feet away from fireplaces and wood-burning stoves. Radiators and electric baseboard heaters also might need to be screened.
  • Teach kids never to put anything into the fireplace when it is lit. Also make sure they know the doors to the fireplace can be very hot and cause a burn.
  • Have all chimneys checked and cleaned regularly.

Bedrooms

  • Choose sleepwear that's labeled flame-retardant (either polyester or treated cotton). Cotton sweatshirts or pants that aren't labeled as sleepwear often aren't flame-retardant. If you use cotton sleepwear, make sure that it fits your child snugly.
  • Make sure any nightlights aren't touching fabric like bedspreads or curtains.
  • Keep electric space heaters at least 3 feet (91 centimeters) from beds, curtains, or anything flammable. Never place a space heater where a child or pet could accidentally knock it over.
  • If you use a humidifier or vaporizer, use a cool-mist type rather than a hot-steam one.

Bathrooms

  • Set the thermostat on your hot water heater to 120°F (49°C), or use the "low-medium setting" — a child can be scalded in 5 seconds in water at 140°F (60°C). If you live in an apartment and can't control the water temperature, ask about  an anti-scald device, which can be easily installed by you or a plumber.
  • Always test bath water with your elbow or the inside of your wrist before putting your child in it.
  • Always turn the cold water on first and turn it off last when running water in the bathtub or sink.
  • In the tub, turn kids away from the faucet or fixtures so they're less likely to play with them or accidentally turn on the hot water.
  • Make sure older kids are especially careful when using irons or curling irons. Unplug these items after use. When cool, store out of reach of young children.

Kitchen/Dining Room

  • Have a 3-foot "no play" zone around the stove where kids are not allowed to be. Keep rolling or moving toys out of the kitchen.
  • Keep hot drinks and foods out of reach of children.
  • Don't drink hot liquids or soup with a child sitting on your lap, or carry hot liquids or dishes near kids. If you have to walk with hot liquid in the kitchen (like a pot of soup or cup of coffee), make sure you know where kids are so you don't trip over them.
  • Don't hold a baby or small child while cooking.
  • Turn pot handles toward the back of the stove every time you cook.
  • Block access to the stove as much as possible. (If you can, install a stove lock and stove knob locks.)
  • Don't warm baby bottles in a microwave. The liquid may heat unevenly, and create pockets of hot breast milk or formula that can scald a baby's mouth.
  • Avoid using tablecloths or large placemats. A small child can pull on them and overturn a hot drink or plate of food.
  • When you're not using them, unplug kitchen appliances that a child can reach. Keep cords out of reach.
  • Use cabinet locks on cabinets containing cleaning products. Many can cause burns. Always store cleaning products in their original containers, never in milk or plastic jugs.

Outside/In the Car

  • Don't use fireworks or sparklers.
  • Use playground equipment carefully. If it's very hot outside, use the equipment only in the morning, after it's had a chance to cool down during the night.
  • Remove your child's safety seat or stroller from the hot sun when not in use because kids can get burns from hot vinyl and metal. If you must leave your car seat or stroller in the sun, cover it with a blanket or towel.
  • Before leaving your parked car on a hot day, hide the seatbelts' metal latch plates in the seats to prevent the sun from hitting them directly.
  • Don't forget the sunscreen when going outside. Use a product with an SPF of 30 or higher. Apply sunscreen 20–30 minutes before going out and reapply every 2 hours or more often if in water.
  • Keep babies under 6 months old out of the sun.

Even with these safety tips in place, kids still can get hurt and accidents do happen. But being prepared will help you to act quickly and confidently if an emergency happens.

Reviewed by: Kate M. Cronan, MD
Date reviewed: July 2022