Scald burns – caused by hot liquids, steam or foods – are very painful and may require prolonged treatment.  These burns affect all ages and may result in lifelong scarring and even death.  Annually in the United States and Canada, over 500,000 people receive medical treatment for burn injuries; roughly half of these are scalds.


Most scald burns occur in the kitchen or bathroom and according to the Northwest Burn Foundation, scald burns are the second leading cause of death of children (newborn to 4 years of age) in Washington.  “Continuous supervision of young children is the most important factor in preventing tap-water scald burns,” says State Fire Marshal Charles Duffy.  Young children and older adults have thinner skin which makes them more vulnerable to deeper burns; however, people of all ages can be burned in 30 seconds by a flowing liquid that is 130°F, 5 seconds at 140°F and only 1 second at 160°F.


Prevention of a scald burn is always preferable to treatment and can be accomplished through simple changes in your behavior and environment.  The State Fire Marshal’s Office offers the following safety tips:


In the bathroom –

·         Lower the temperature settings on water heaters to 120°F or less.  An easy method to test this is to allow hot water to run for three to five minutes, and then test with a candy, meat or water thermometer.  Adjust the water heater and wait a full day to allow the temperature to change.  Re-test and readjust as needed.

·         When filling the bathtub, turn on cold water first and mix in warm water carefully.  Check the water temperature by rapidly moving your hand through the water; if it feels hot to an adult, it is too hot for a child.

·         Install anti-scald devices on water faucets and shower heads.  Anti-scald devices, anti-scald aerators, and scald guards are heat-sensitive devices that stop or interrupt the flow of water when the temperature reaches a pre-determined temperature and prevent hot water from coming out of the tap before scalding occurs.


In the kitchen –

·         Establish a safe area, out of the traffic path between the stove and sink, where children can safely play but still be supervised.

·         Provide safe toys for children, not pots, pans and cooking utensils, to occupy a child’s attention.  Young children are unable to distinguish between a “safe” or “play” pan that they perceive as a toy and one used for cooking, which they may reach for on the stove.

·         Use oven mitts or hot pads when cooking or baking and turn pot handles inward.  All appliance cords need to be kept coiled and away from counter edges.  Curious children may reach up and grab handles or cords.  Cords may also become caught in cabinet doors causing hot food and liquids to spill onto you or others.  The grease in deep fat fryers and cookers can reach temperatures higher than 400°F and cause serious burns in less than 1 second.

·         Never heat baby bottles of formula or milk in the microwave, especially those with plastic bottle liners.  When the bottle is inverted, plastic liners can burst, pouring scalding liquids onto the baby.

·         Microwave-heated foods and liquids may reach temperatures greater than boiling without the appearance of bubbling.  Stir and test food thoroughly before serving or eating.


For more information on scald burn prevention, please visit the American Burn Association website at or the Northwest Burn Foundation website at