Electric blankets are blankets with self-contained electrical heating. Through the 1980s these blankets were controlled by a dial or digital thermostat unit through which the user adjusted the level of heating as needed. Electric blankets for double beds and larger beds may feature individual controls for each side of the bed and to suit the differing comfort levels of multiple users.
Electric blankets have been modernized since the 1980s, now offering greater safety and functionality through rheostats in lieu of thermostats. Rheostats gauge not only the blanket’s temperature for regulation, but also the user’s body temperature. This prevents overheating, hot spots, and minor burns.
Electric blankets are now generally utilized like a standard blanket, above the bed sheet and under a top cover. The user sleeps beneath the warming blanket and sheet with the unit controller within reach for necessary nighttime adjustment. They are particularly popular amongst the elderly and bedridden, whether utilized on the bed or over a wheelchair.
In the United States in 2000, five deaths and 76 other injurious accidents occurred as a result of faulty electric blankets. These incidences cost the government, medical institutions, and manufacturers a total of $41.2 million. The majority of these injuries were due to fire, burns, or smoke related incidences.
Electric blankets consist of wiring embedded within the cloth of the blanket. This combination of electricity and cloth create obvious risk of fire, burns, and electrocution. As it is concealed within the blankets, damaged wiring is not immediately visible to consumers during use, adding to the continued risk of shock or fire.
The Consumer Product Safety Commission heavily regulates the recall of electric blankets as they are deemed defective. However, consumers often do not receive the warnings and proceed with use of damaged products long beyond the recall. Many fires, burns, and electrocutions continue to result from older blankets with defective wiring or components. Recent studies have also indicated that enduring exposure to electrical fields such as those occurring around electric blankets may lead to the development of cancer in general users and even miscarriage for those who are pregnant.
General Product Failure
Some examples of general product failure of electric blankets include:
- From August 1999 to July 2001, about 394,000 Biddeford Textile electric blankets were sold within the United States in major department stores and through mail order catalogs. These products were recalled as the plug attachment to the detachable control switch of the blanket was found to be defective and prone to loosening.
- Land’s End, a highly reputable mail order retailer of Dodgeville, Wisconsin, recalled more than 15,000 Polartec Heat electric blankets sold throughout the United States from October 2001 to December 2001. These Polartec Heat blankets exhibited the potential to overheat, stop functioning, and short circuit due to lose wiring connections. After only one report of this type of problem and prior to injuries, Land’s End voluntarily recalled the products.
- Minor skin burns affected three users of the more than 60,000 Bilt-Safe electric blankets that were recalled in 2004 and again in 2008. Eighty-six separate complaints were filed by consumers stating that the blankets overheated, charred, burned, or melted after a faulty temperature controller failed to regulate the blanket. These items were sold at Family Dollar Stores, Le Roux at Home, and Peebles, Inc.
Below is a list of examples of deaths and injuries clearly attributable to defective electric blankets:
- Four minor burn injuries and household damage occurred as a result of overheating by SOIREE and Soft n’ Warm electric blankets manufactured by Perfect Fit Industries. The blankets were sold from September 2002 to February 2003 in Kmart and Belk stores in the United States.
- In 2004, Family Dollar Stores continued to sell defective electric blankets despite repeated employee urging for the retailer to pull the products from its shelves after more than 40 consumer complaints about fire and burn hazard. The blankets were manufactured by International Home Fashions of Bilt-Safe Technologies and were found to cause fire, scorching, smoke damage and personal injuries due to overheating. Nine instances of consumer injury were reported due to skin burns. Because it failed to react to consumer complaints according to the Consumer Product Safety Act, Family Dollar was fined a $100,000 civil penalty.
- After receiving four reports of burn injuries as part of 10 complaints of defect, WestPoint Stevens recalled 11,000 Vellux “Fahrenheit” blankets in April 2003.