Hot Water Safety

In our society, children and water come together often. We drink water, bathe, wash hands, brush teeth, and use water to mix up drinks like cocoa and juice concentrates. But the heat of the water in our homes is not generally set with children in mind; rather, it is set for the heating system (if it involves water), the laundry, and dishwashing. Safety minded parents should consider the temperature of the hot water in their home when childproofing.

Two Important Steps

Many water heaters are set to a temperature of 140–150º Fahrenheit (60º to 65.55º Celsius). Water of “only” 140ºF is great for the dishwasher, but it can cause a third-degree burn on a child in three seconds. The first message we can take away from this is that, for the safety of all occupants, we need to lower the heat of all the water in the household, period.

This is made easier and less problematic by the introduction of booster heaters in many dishwasher models. Using a booster heater gets the dishwashing water to the desired temperature (usually 140ºF) for getting your dishes clean, while keeping children safe, and using less energy.

If you set the water heater to a temperature of 120ºF (48.88ºC), it will take more than 15 seconds for the same burn to occur—over five times as long. But we’re not going to leave it at that. The next step in hot water safety is installing an anti-scald device on every faucet/showerhead from which your child(ren) get (or might get) water. These devices interrupt the waterflow if the water temperature should reach 120ºF or higher.

This means that apartment dwellers or others who may not be able to choose the water heater setting for their whole building can still control the water temperature at each outlet. Nevertheless, it is worth asking the property manager of a multi-family residence with a shared heater about the possibilities.

Additional Safety Measures
There is still more that you can do:
  • Buy a bath thermometer and check the water temperature before bathing your baby or child. 100ºF (37.7ºC) is probably the maximum temperature a child’s bath should have.
  • Limit your child’s access to hot water until he or she is old enough to know about hot water safety.
  • Always supervise your child’s bathtime.
  • Be cautious about using devices that run on cold water (toilet, washing machine) or simply running the tap elsewhere in the house while a child is washing up: the temperature of the water coming out of the tap can change abruptly.
  • Make sure that hot water on the stove—tea water, water boiled for pasta or eggs, etc.—is heated on the back burner and with the handle (if any) on the pot turned towards the back of the stove.
  • Because microwaves heat unevenly, always mix and test any liquid that’s been in the microwave before giving it to a child.

Written by Mary Elizabeth

Related Home Institute Articles

  • Introduction to Showerheads
  • Baby Bath Seat Safety Tips