When temperatures drop, the idea of an electric blanket begins to sound more and more appealing. Past CHOICE tests showed there are no concerns with the electrical safety and durability of modern electric blankets (but accidents can happen, see Safety precautions, below). There is an Australian standard for electric blankets (AS/NZS 3350.2.17:2000), so look for it when shopping. Otherwise, your main purchase criteria should be features and cost.
If you just want a basic blanket, any will do the job, so shop around for price — you should pay $30 to $60 for one in shops such as Target, Big W, Kmart and Harvey Norman. Or if you’re looking at spending more, CHOICE did electric blanket reviews for up to $500, with added comforts like a wool-pile cover (which can be used as underlay in the summer), dual LCD controls and automatic temperature adjustment.
What to look for
- Overheat protection senses abnormal temperature variations and switches the blanket off if it gets too hot.
- A fitted blanket is easier to put on and take off and also keeps it flat and taught on the mattress.
- If your feet get particularly cold, look for a blanket with an extra-warm foot zone.
- If you’re likely to change your blanket’s settings during the night, look for a control with raised markings (so you can identify the settings in the dark) and/or a light (which indicates that the blanket is switched on). If you’re willing to pay a little more, an illuminated LCD screen makes it even easier to see your settings in the dark.
- Before you purchase an electric blanket, feel how thick the material is. Ideally it will be thick enough so you can’t feel the heating elements. A fleecy synthetic electric blanket is more comfortable to lie on.
- Dual controls allow you to control the temperature on your side of the bed independently.
- Programmable settings Allow you to pre-set a maximum heat setting at a set time – say 10 minutes before you usually go to bed.
- Waterproof electric blankets, such as the Sunbeam Safe & Sound Waterproof (RRP $139) are suitable for children. They contain a waterproof membrane that stops spills reaching the heating wires.
- Removable controls Mean you can safely wash your electric blanket.
But where there’s electricity, there’s potential danger. According to data from the NSW Fire brigade, 20 household fires have been caused by electric blankets in NSW from 1st July 2008 till June 2009. The NSW Fire Brigades recommends people test their electric blankets before using them.
To test an electric blanket, lay it flat on top of the bed and switch it on for five minutes. Visually inspect and feel the wires; make sure they are operating correctly and are undamaged. Other things to ensure you use the blanket safely are:
- Read the instructions and follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for use and care.
- Turn the power off and remove the plug when the appliance is not in use.
- Make sure your blanket isn’t wider than the mattress.
- Do not leave electric blankets switched on all night.
- Don’t switch the blanket on while it’s folded or when there’s something on the bed (such as books, clothing, a folded blanket, pillows or a pet). Any of these may lead to localised overheating.
- Place the blanket flat on the mattress with the switches at the pillow end, and secure it thoroughly.
- Keep the electric cord and switch outside the bed.
- Be careful with pointed or sharp objects that could damage the heating element.
- Some models can’t be used on futons, rubber or foam mattresses, a water bed or under a mattress protector. Check this before you buy.
- Don’t use an electric blanket for an infant, an immobile person or someone insensitive to heat.
- Don’t use it together with a hot water bottle (which may leak) or when it’s wet.
- Have your blanket checked by a qualified professional every three years. Manufacturers usually recommend you take it to one of their service agents — check their web site.
- Don’t wash an electric blanket unless the manufacturer specifically recommends it.
- If you want to take your blanket off the bed in summer, fold it neatly but not tightly, or roll it around a cylinder, and store it in a dry place.