Is It Ever OK to Sleep with a Space Heater On?

published Feb 6, 2019
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(Image credit: David Telford)

For as awesome as having an electric space heater can be during the cold weather season, they often come with a lot of safety risks.

We called on Jim Bullock, a retired FDNY Deputy Chief and President of New York Fire Consultants (NYFC) for advice on how to manage our space heaters properly at home. From when to turn yours off to places you should never put one, here are 10 expert tips for handling your space heater safely this winter.

Choose auto-shut-off styles only

“When purchasing an electric space heater, only look for heaters with automatic shut-off features (to help prevent them overheating).”

Turn them off before you snooze (and unplug before you bounce)

“Never leave an operating heater unattended and always unplug it when not in use.”

Mind your cords

“String out power cords on top of your area rugs and carpeting. Placing anything, including furniture, on top of the cord might damage it and create a potential fire hazard.”

Only plug yours into a wall outlet

“Do not use your heater with a power strip or extension cord. Overheating of a power strip or extension cord could quickly result in a fire.”

Keep flammables at least three feet away

“Keep combustible materials, such as furniture, pillows, bedding, papers, clothes, and curtains at least three feet from the front of the heater and away from the sides and rear.”

No bathrooms!

“Unless the heater is specifically designed for bathroom or outdoor use, don’t use one in damp or wet areas. Parts in the heater could get damaged by the moisture and create a bigger safety hazard down the line.”

(Image credit: Dmitry Galaganov)

Watch how you unplug

“Unplug your heater when not in use by pulling the plug straight out from the outlet (and inspect the cord periodically for damage when you do).”

Don’t share

“Never plug any other electrical device into the same outlet as your heater. This could result in overheating.”

Keep your little ones away

“Heaters should be kept away from children and pets and only placed in a child’s room with supervision.”

Stay level

“Keep your space heater on a flat and sturdy surface (such as the floor) and never on top of furniture, where they can easily get knocked over and start a fire.

Looking to buy one? Here are Apartment Therapy’s latest picks for the best space heaters.

(Image credit: Arthur Garcia-Clemente)

Some Safety Tips for Electric Blankets, Too

Barbara Guthrie, Chief Public Safety Officer at UL, schools us on the dos and dont’s of using electric blankets this season.

1. DON’T use if you’re sensitive to heat: “It’s important to remember that electric bedding should not used for an infant or an immobile person, or anyone insensitive to heat, such as a person with poor blood circulation. Damage to the product or misuse could increase the risk of fire, electric shock, and thermal burns. An overheating condition may not be obvious to the user but can result in a thermal burn if exposed long enough.”

2. DO use the blanket to heat up the bed. “Just remember to turn it off before you go to sleep. ”

3. DO keep your blanket in good condition. Follow the manufacturer’s directions for proper cleaning and storage. Check for worn areas, loose plugs or other damage like cracks and breaks in the wiring, plugs, and connectors, and look for charred spots on both sides. Throw out any blanket that shows signs of damage.

4. DON’T let your pets near one. “They can nibble the wires, which can create a shock or fire hazard.”

5. DO store it correctly. Never fold an electric blanket when using it—the wires inside the blanket can become damaged, causing the blanket to overheat and maybe even spark. Store the electric blanket by rolling, not folding, it.”

6. DON’T put bedding or anything else on top of an electric blanket when you’re using it. “And never use it along with a heating pad, since heat can become trapped in the bedding layers and cause burns. Never use electric blankets on sofa beds, pullout beds, or mechanically adjustable beds as the heater or control wires could become pinched or frayed. When you’re done using the blanket, turn it off and unplug it.”

7. DO look for the UL Mark. “Only use blankets that have been approved by nationally recognized testing agencies, such as UL. Never buy an electric blanket from a secondhand shop or garage sale.”