Scalds are the most common type of burn in young children. In fact, a hot cup of tea or even a bath that’s too hot can cause scalding and burn your child, just like a fire can.
Facts about scalds and scalding
Hot drinks are the major cause of scalds. A freshly poured hot drink will burn a child instantly.
Other common causes of scalding include boiling water, hot tap water and hot baths, as well as hot food, soups and sauces. Hot water can scald up to half an hour after it’s been boiled.
Children under two years are most at risk of scalding from hot liquids in kettles, teapots, saucepans and cups.
The safe bath temperature for newborn babies is around 36°C. For older children, it’s between 37°C and 38°C. Grown-ups tend to have baths in water between 41°C and 42°C.
The best way to prevent burns and scalds is to keep your children’s play area away from your kitchen. Also keep hot food and liquids away from children.
Preventing scalds in the bathroom
The best way to prevent scalds in the bathroom is to reduce the temperature of hot water at the basin, bath and shower taps to 50°C. By law all new hot water systems must be set at this temperature.
It’s important to remember that 50°C isn’t a bathing temperature. You still need to mix cold water with the hot water coming out of your taps to get the right bath temperature for babies and children.
If your hot water system was installed before 5 August 1998, talk to a licensed plumber about installing a device to reduce the temperature of the hot water coming out of your bathroom taps.
Here are more tips to reduce scalding risks in your bathroom:
- Always run cold water first.
Never leave a small child in the care of an older child.
Never leave your child alone in the bathroom.
- Take your child with you if you have to answer the door or the telephone.
- Keep the bathroom door closed if the room isn’t being used.
Each year hot tap water causes serious scalds to many small children around Australia. More than 90% of these scalds occur in the bathroom. At 60°C it takes only one second to cause a full thickness scald. At 50°C it takes five minutes. Read more about safe bath temperature
and bath safety
Preventing scalds in kitchen and dining areas
These safety precautions will help protect your child from scalding in cooking and dining areas.
- Have hot water delivered to the kitchen tap at 50°C maximum to prevent serious scalds.
- Teach your child about the dangers of hot things.
Equipment and appliances
- Keep kettles, teapots and hot drinks at the back of the bench or centre of the table so your child can’t reach them.
- Make sure kettle cords don’t hang down within reach of your child. Use appliances with short cords so your child can’t use the cord to pull the appliance closer.
- Use the back burners on the stove. Turn pan handles towards the back of the stove. Install a stove guard.
- Carry plates to the pans on the stove, instead of carrying hot pans across the kitchen to the plates.
- Test the temperature of soups, stews and other liquid
dishes before serving them. Stir microwaved foods to even out any hot or
cold spots, and test the temperature before serving.
Eating and drinking
- Put your baby down at a safe distance when you’re drinking something hot. Don’t have hot drinks when holding or breastfeeding a baby or child.
- Use spill-proof mugs with wide bases and narrow rims. This reduces the risk of scalds – but it doesn’t get rid of the risk altogether.
- Use placemats instead of a tablecloth to help stop hot food and drinks spilling on your child. Children sometimes tug on tablecloths, which brings everything down on top of them.
First aid for scalds and burns
Follow these steps for a child with a scald:
- Make sure the area is safe, and that there’s no further risk of injury. Take the child to a safe place if possible.
- Take off the child’s clothing immediately, but only if it isn’t stuck to the skin. Remove any watches or jewellery the child is wearing – but only if you can do so without causing any more pain or injury.
- Treat the burn with cold tap water only. Cool the burned area under running cold tap water for 20 minutes. This will reduce tissue damage and pain. This can be done for up to three hours after the burn. Hold the child to provide comfort and warmth.
- Cover the burn using a clean dressing or cling wrap. Seek medical assistance.
Call an ambulance if the burn is:
- to the face, airway, neck or genital area
- larger than the size of the child’s hand.
Definitely go to the doctor or to a hospital or medical centre if:
- the burn or scald is the size of a 20-cent piece or larger
- the burn looks raw, angry or blistered
- the burn is deep, even if the child doesn’t seem to feel any pain
- the pain persists or is severe.
If you’re not sure how severe the burn is, contact a doctor, hospital or medical centre immediately.
What not to do with scalds and burns
Don’t peel off any clothing that’s stuck to the burn. Don’t break any blisters.
Don’t apply ice, iced water, lotions, moisturisers, ointments, creams or powders to the burn. These will only need to be removed to treat the burn properly. Butter or flour can make the damage worse.
If the burn is large, don’t cool it for longer than 20 minutes. This is because hypothermia can happen quickly in children.