Every day, 300 children are taken to emergency rooms because of hot-water burns. In fact, burns are the second leading cause of death for children under age 5—in part because their skin is so much thinner than that of an adult.
“Whereas adults could sustain a hand held in hot water for several minutes, young children can only have it in for a few seconds before getting burned,” explains Robert Kennedy, MD, emergency medicine specialist at St. Louis Children’s Hospital. “These few seconds can lead to lifelong scarring—or even death. That’s why it’s so important to turn down the hot-water temperature [in your home].”
Most hot-water heaters are set for 140°—a temperature that could burn a child in as little as 2.5 seconds. Dr. Kennedy recommends changing your temperature setting to 120°, which allows more than 30 seconds reaction time before burning occurs.
Checking and Changing Hot-Water Settings
- Early in the morning (before anyone has used the hot water), turn on the hot water and leave it running for two minutes.
- Hold an outdoor thermometer or candy thermometer in a stream of running water until the temperature starts rising.
- If the temperature is higher than 120°, turn it down. Gas water heaters have an external thermostat near the bottom, and electric water heaters have two panels screwed to the top and bottom of the tank (or one panel to the side). Electric water heaters should be set to “low” or “energy efficient.”
- Wait 24 hours and then test the water temperature again to see if it’s in the safe range.
- If the temperature didn’t go down, consult a professional.