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Household Safety: Preventing Burns, Shocks, and Fires

Reviewed by: Kate M. Cronan, MD

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

In General

  • Prevent house 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 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, and choose a meeting place for once you are out of the house. Practice the fire 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

  • Put a screen fireplaces and wood-burning stoves and always keep kids 3 feet away from them. 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.
  • Make sure to 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) away from kids and away from beds, curtains, or anything flammable.
  • If you use a humidifier or vaporizer, use a cool-mist model 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 can't control the water temperature (if you live in an apartment, for example), install an anti-scald device, ask about an anti-scald device, which isn't expensive and 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 you have grounded circuit breakers in the bathroom.
  • 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. (It's a good idea to 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.
  • Unplug all kitchen appliances when not in use and keep cords far from reach.
  • Make sure to 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.

Electrical Equipment and Appliances

  • Put child-safety covers on all electrical outlets.
  • Get rid of equipment and appliances with old or frayed cords and extension cords that look damaged.
  • Tie extra cord from lamps or other electrical equipment with a twist-tie to prevent injury from chewing on cords. You also can buy a holder or spool specially designed to hide extra cord.
  • Put TV and stereo equipment against walls so small hands can't reach back surfaces or cords. It's best to attach TVs to the wall.
  • Make sure all wires to seasonal lighting, such as holiday tree lights, are properly insulated (for example, make sure they don't have exposed or broken wiring). Tie any extra cord with a twist-tie and unplug lights when they're not in use.
  • Check electronic toys often for signs of wear and tear. Throw away or repair any object that sparks, feels hot, or smells odd. Replace batteries in electronic toys regularly and look for any signs of corrosion in the toys.
  • Clean the clothes dryer vent of lint after each use.
  • Don't run electrical wires under rugs or carpet.
  • Don't overload electrical sockets.
  • Keep any decorative items away from windows, doors, and ceilings. Make sure anything you have near the ceiling is not blocking any sprinklers you may have put in.

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 15 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: August 2019