Winter warmers – My Great-Gran and her electric blanket

I’m going to tell you about my great-gran this week. You may have a family member with similar ways, or know someone who does, and the lessons I’ve learned from this might help you keep them safe. Or at least choose their Christmas present.

The weather getting colder

This is the time of year when my great-grandmother would always dig out her old electric blanket and set it to warm before she got into bed. No matter how cold the weather, she wouldn’t use it before the last week of November. She’d have loved how mild this autumn has been!

When she passed a couple of years ago, we found out that she had been very lucky. Since getting into PAT testing and electrical safety, I’ve appreciated more and more how dangerous her habits with the electric blanket were.

For a start, my great-gran was a hoarder. She never parted with anything that could still be useful in some small way, and she would wear things out thoroughly even if she had a new one ready to use. Because of this, she was still using her old electric blanket. All her bedding was made before bedding had to be flame-retardant, and her electric blanket was no exception.

During the summer months (by gran’s definition, from the end of January!) her electric blanket was folded and put in the airing cupboard. Other items would get stacked on and around it all through the year, meaning that the blanket would get squashed and creased.

Electric blanket safety tip #1 – Never fold an electric blanket.

Folding and creasing can damage the internal wires, breaking down the insulation and allowing heat and sparks to be generated inside the blanket. They should either be rolled or stored flat.

Now gran’s blanket must have been over 20 years old, judging by the plug. (Regulations changed in 1984, which is how we can tell.) She had a ‘brand new’ one in a box, which was about 15 years old.

Electric blanket safety tip #2 – Replace your electric blanket at least every 10 years.

Newer blankets have shutoff functions to prevent overheating. And even if they are well treated, the Fire Service recommends:

Make sure your blanket is tested by an expert at least every three years. You can ask the shop where you bought it about testing and servicing, or contact the trading standards department at your local council – they often have free testing days.

(Fire Service UK, November 2015)

It’s also worth checking that the electric blanket hasn’t been recalled – Morphy Richards had to pull these blankets after they found a safety issue with them.

Gran used a hot water bottle most nights – her house had no central heating, because she didn’t believe in it and thought it caused illnesses – which brings me straight to our next tip.

Electric blanket safety tip #3 – Don’t use a hot water bottle at the same time.

We all know water and electricity do not mix. Aside from the risk of burns because of overheating, the injuries from a leaking hot water bottle in the bed are too horrible to contemplate. The same goes for getting into bed wet, handling the blanket with wet hands, or getting the blanket wet in any other way. And never turn on an electric blanket to dry it out.

Now one thing gran had done right was tie her blanket to the bed so it didn’t move or crease during the night. However, over the years a couple of the ties had worn out, so she started using safety pins to secure it.

Electric blanket safety tip #4 – Don’t pin the blanket to the bed.

You risk damaging the wires inside the blanket, and pins, being made of metal, conduct electricity very well. Don’t sew new tapes on either – if the blanket is showing any sign of damage at all, it’s best to replace it.

Gran’s blanket, which she had used every winter for many years, showed many of the danger signs:

  • Worn and fraying fabric
  • Creasing and folding
  • Missing tie tapes
  • Signs of scorching and/or overheating
  • Damaged flex
  • Damaged control unit
  • Over 10 years old

You can look for the BEAB safety mark to give you an idea of a blanket’s age – if it’s a round symbol, the blanket is definitely over 10 years old and should be replaced.

There are around 5000 fires every year in the UK caused by electric blankets, and over 99% of those are believed to be caused by blankets over 10 years old. Every year I racked my brains about what to get my great-gran for Christmas. If I’d known then what I know now, I’d have bought her a new blanket.


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