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Mother and Child

How parents can help children avoid scald burns

Brrrr — it’s cold out there. It’s February in Wisconsin, and I expect this weather, but I have to admit, it’s starting to wear me down. I’ve been trying different things to keep warm, like hot chocolate, or my favorite comfort food, macaroni and cheese. And there’s nothing like a hot shower after shoveling snow!

As a nurse in the Burn Program at Children’s Wisconsin, I want you to know that serious scald burns can be caused by wet heat, like steam or boiling water. Sadly, I’m seeing a lot of scald burns lately, which are easy to prevent.

I encourage you to review the following prevention tips to help keep you and your family safe this winter.

Hot liquids

Hot chocolate, coffee and soup can warm us up but also can burn a child’s skin very quickly. Don’t drink or carry hot liquids while holding a child, and remember to place hot liquids where children can’t reach them.


Don’t carry or hold a child while cooking on the stove. Instead, move a high chair into the kitchen (within your reach or sight) before you start.

Using the stove

Try to keep pots and pans on the back burner of your stove and turn pot handles inward. Use oven mitts or potholders, and keep hot foods and liquids away from table and counter edges. Be careful if your oven mitt is wet. Combined with heat, the moisture can cause a scald burn.

Using the microwave

Be careful removing your food from the microwave. Many people forget that food containers get extremely hot in the microwave and often end up spilling food on themselves, causing a scald burn. Remember to slowly open containers, because steam can burn fingers and faces. Microwaves also can heat unevenly and create hot spots, so avoid using them to heat baby formula or milk.

Kids should only use a microwave by themselves if they are tall enough to reach it safely and able to understand that steam can cause burns.

Hot baths and showers

The water heater probably is the last thing on your mind, but a small adjustment can give you one less thing to worry about. To prevent accidental scalding, set your water heater at 120 degrees Fahrenheit (the manufacturer’s recommended setting). Consider installing anti-scald devices on water faucets and showerheads to avoid potential burns. Check the water with your wrist or elbow before giving your baby a bath.


Using a steam vaporizer to help fight a cold? Place it on a level surface, and keep it out of the reach of small children. Better yet, replace it with a cool-mist humidifier.

Spring will be here before we know it. Until then, stay warm and stay safe!