mother and daughter in bathrobes

Burn Awareness Week occurs in the month of February.

A large share of burn traumas is related to household incidents, specifically hot water in faucets and cooking accidents. Do you know how to prevent scalds in your household? Here are some quick tips on how to keep everyone safe and scald-free!

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What Is a Hot-Water Burn?

A hot-water burn, or scald burn, is a burn that occurs from hot water or steam. About 112,000 Americans are treated each year for scald burns.

Scald burns can happen easily — in the kitchen from boiling water or steam, or in the shower from water that is too hot. Hot water heater temperatures should be set at a maximum of 120 F.

The severity of scald burns varies, depending on the heat of the water or steam and how long it touches your skin. Second- or third-degree burns are possible if your skin is exposed to hot liquids for an extended period of time. Children and older adults are at higher risk for scald burns. It can take less than a minute for a child to get third-degree burns from water that’s too hot.

Avoiding hot water burns in the kitchen

  • Establish a “safety zone” in the kitchen for your children, away from the stove and sink.
  • Place young children in high chairs or playpens at a safe distance from burn hazards while preparing or serving food.
  • Cook on back burners whenever possible.
  • Turn all pot handles towards the back of the stove.
  • When removing lids, don’t forget about steam. Always lift lids away from your body.
  • Use dry oven mitts or potholders when moving hot, food-filled pots and pans.

Avoiding microwave burns

  • Supervise young children when they are using the microwave.
  • To avoid steam burns, take tight lids off of food containers, use vented lids, or puncture plastic coverings.
  • Let cooked items sit in the microwave for a minute or two before removing them.
  • Open heated containers slowly and away from your face.
  • Do not heat liquids beyond the boiling point.

Avoiding hot water burns from a faucet or sink

  • Do not allow young children to adjust water temperatures unsupervised.
  • When filling a bath, fill cool water first and then hot.
    • Turn off the hot water first when finished.
    • Always check the temperature before entering.
  • When bathing younger children, face them away from the faucet so that they cannot reach for the knobs.
  • Clearly mark all faucets with “hot” and “cold” settings.
  • Keep water heater temperatures set at 120 F or lower.

Hot Water Burn Treatment

Immediate treatment is necessary to prevent further damage from hot water burns.

  • Run the burn under cool (not cold) water for 20 minutes to cool the burn, or use a cool compress.
  • Do not use ice, ice water, butter, or ointments.
  • Remove clothing near the burn, but do not remove clothing that is sticking to the skin.
  • Cover the burned area with a clean, dry cloth.
  • If you have blisters, do not break them.
  • If the burn is severe, visit the nearest doctor or Emergency Department.

For more information, visit UPMC’s Department of Emergency Medicine online.

Editor's Note: This article was originally published on , and was last reviewed on .

About Trauma & Emergency Medicine

Emergencies can happen in the blink of an eye or in a heartbeat. And when they do, minutes matter. UPMC’s Emergency Medicine and Trauma Care services are ready to provide world-class care, no matter how serious your emergency. All our Emergency Departments have a full-time staff of emergency specialists at the ready 24 hours a day. We use advanced technology to diagnose and treat your condition and coordinate with your doctor to provide the best care possible. We also have specialized trauma care at several of our hospitals. If you or a loved one is experiencing a medical emergency, call 911 or visit the nearest Emergency Department.