Burns: Household safety and prevention

PDF download is not available for Arabic and Urdu languages at this time. Please use the browser print function instead

Find out how you can prevent your child from getting a burn injury and what to do if a burn does occur.

Key points

  • Apply first aid. Cool down the burn for 20 minutes under running cool water.
  • Never leave your child alone or turn your back when your child is in the kitchen or bathroom.
  • Keep pot handles, electric cords, cups containing hot liquids and any hot item out of your child’s reach.
  • To prevent scalding, lower the temperature of the hot water coming out of your taps to below 49°C (120°F).
  • Even small, superficial burns should be seen by a doctor as soon as possible.
  • If you are unsure how serious your child’s burn is or what to do, see your family doctor or go to the emergency room immediately.

There are many ways for your child to get a burn. Burns can result from contact with any hot object, such as a stove, iron or glass-fronted fireplace, or a hot liquid, such as a cup of coffee. Common household cleaners such as those that contain ammonia or bleach can cause chemical burns. Your child can also get a burn if they play with matches, lighters or electrical cords, and they can get a sunburn from being in the sun for too long. The best way to treat a burn injury is to prevent it from happening. Burns can lead to permanent scars.

General kitchen safety

Most burns happen in the kitchen. Protect your child by following these rules.

  • Keep young children away from the kitchen counter when you are cooking or making hot drinks.
  • Use the back burners of the stove.
  • Keep pot handles turned inward, away from the edge of the stove.
  • Store cookies and other treats away from the stove.
  • Use short appliance cords. Do not let them dangle over the edges of counters or tables.
  • Keep hot liquids away from the edges of tables and counters. Mugs with securely screwed lids, such as a spill-proof travel mug, are encouraged.
  • Never let young children try to pour hot liquids.
  • Do not let your child have hot drinks in the car.

Microwave safety

Foods and liquids heated in the microwave oven can be very hot. They can easily burn your child.

  • Do not let children use the microwave oven by themselves.
  • Let liquids heated in the microwave cool for several minutes before letting your child drink them.
  • Remove plastic wraps from food containers heated in the microwave very carefully. Begin with the corner farthest from you so that the steam does not rise up in your face.
  • Stir microwaved foods well before serving. Food that is too hot can burn your child's mouth.
  • Do not heat baby bottles of milk or formula in the microwave. The heat may not be distributed evenly and there may be pockets of hot milk that could easily burn your baby's mouth or tongue. It is best to heat a bottle on the stove.
  • Always test your baby's formula by dripping a little onto the inside of your wrist. It should feel lukewarm.
  • Overheated bottles can explode. Loosen the lid when heating, then tighten it before giving it to your child.

Household cleaners

Some household cleaners, for example cleaners with ammonia or bleach, can cause chemical burns if they get on the skin or are swallowed. Keep household cleaners out of your child's reach. Store them in a cupboard with a childproof lock. Never mix different cleaners, as doing so could release potentially deadly gases.

What to do if your child receives a chemical burn

  • Remove all clothing, including underwear, gloves and shoes, covered with the cleanser.
  • If the cleaner is a powder, brush your child's skin with a soft cloth.
  • Flush the area immediately with large amounts of water.
  • Take your child to the nearest emergency department.

Bathroom safety

Burns also happen in the bathroom. Burns that are caused by contact with a hot liquid are called scalds. A scald can do as much damage as a flame just as quickly. Water that is 60°C (140°F) destroys skin in only six seconds.

If the water coming from the tap is too hot, it may scald your child. Scalds often happen when young children are left alone – even very briefly.

  • Lower the maximum temperature of water coming out of your taps. Make sure the temperature gauge on your water heater is set at 49°C (120°F) or lower. You may be able to lower the temperature on your water heater yourself.
  • If the temperature of the water coming out of your taps is higher than 49°C (120°F) and you cannot adjust it yourself, ask the electricity, oil or gas company that provides the fuel that heats your water to lower the temperature.
  • If you live in an apartment and do not have access to the water heater, call your superintendent. They may be able to reduce the temperature at the source or you may be able to put in an anti-scalding device on your taps.
  • Always run your child's bathwater yourself. Check the temperature of the water before you put your child into the bath. Bathwater should not be hotter than 38°C.
  • Make sure a responsible person supervises your child the whole time they are in the bath. Do not leave brothers or sisters to supervise younger children in the bath.
  • Never leave your child alone or turn your back even for a second when they are in the kitchen or bathroom. Do not leave the kitchen or bathroom to answer the phone or the door or to get forgotten items.
  • Keep flat irons/curling irons away and out of reach of children. Unplug and set aside in a safe location as they cool down.

More ways to prevent burn injuries

Stop, drop and roll

Teach your child what to do if their clothing catches fire: stop, drop and roll. Your child should not run because this will spread the flames. Rolling on the ground will smother the flames.

Do not hide from fire

Teach your child not to hide if the house is on fire. Instead, the whole family should have an escape plan that is practiced yearly.

Be careful when holding your child

Do not drink hot liquids while you are holding your child or when infants or toddlers are nearby. The most common type of scald is caused by hot tea or coffee. Tell others this is the household rule. Do not smoke while you are holding your child.

Electrical safety

Do not let your children play with electrical cords.

Make sure extension connections, where the two ends of different cords meet, are out of sight.

Safety caps are dummy plugs that fill empty wall sockets. Put them into unused electrical outlets, including those on power bars.

Around the house

  • Keep matches and lighters in a safe place where young children cannot reach them. Teach your child not to play with matches and lighters. They are not toys.
  • Store your iron in a safe place, especially when it is still hot after you have used it. Make sure that the electrical cords from irons and curling irons are not left hanging down over counters and ironing boards.
  • Keep your water vaporizer where your child cannot reach it or use a humidifier instead.
  • Make sure your babysitters and other caregivers know the safety rules that will help prevent burns. All caregivers should also know first aid.
  • Use guards over radiators, or arrange the furniture so that your child cannot touch the radiators when they are hot.

Protecting against sunburn

Do not expose your baby, toddler or young child to direct sunlight in the summer. Their skin is more sensitive and can burn very easily. Keep your child out of the sun between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. That is when the sun's rays are strongest.

Apply sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or higher. The SPF number is marked on the sunscreen container.

Dress your child in clothing that covers the arms and legs. Have your child wear a wide-brimmed hat.

Always supervise your children

Do not leave children alone near campfires, fireplaces, stoves or heaters.

When to see a doctor

A doctor should examine your child’s burn as soon as possible if your child's:

  • burn is restricted to the external layer of the skin (superficial)
  • burn is limited to a small skin area
  • burn is easy to dress
  • pain can be easily managed

Bring your child to your doctor or the emergency room or call 911 if:

  • your child’s burn seems deep, extended to a large skin surface, or is located on the face, hands, feet or groin
  • your child is in a lot of pain
  • you are unsure what to do
Last updated: November 25th 2020