Hot water bottles - The hidden dangers

Summary: Every year, around 200 people in Australia are admitted to hospital with serious burns related to hot water bottles. Check out the steps you can take to stay warm and safe this winter.

Published: 8 July 2015

Karen and Michael’s kitchen at night

Michael: Karen, where’s the hot water bottle?

Karen:  I haven’t seen it since last winter. Look in the junk cupboard.

Michael:  Never find anything in the junk cupboard, coz it’s full of junk.

Michael: Ok… good.

Michael: Ahhhhhh!!!!  KAREN!!!!(yelling)

Introduction by  voiceover

Every year, around 200 people are admitted to hospital with serious burns related to hot water bottles.
These are not just superficial burns. Some burns can even require skin grafts and weeks of hospitalisation.

It’s a frightening statistic but one that can be easily avoided if we understand the hidden dangers associated with hot water bottles and we learn how to use them safely.

Yvonne Singer, Burns educator, Alfred hospital: Burns from hot water bottle scan vary from minor superficial burns, scalds, right through to deep full thickness burns. The most severe cases – the patients may need to stay with us for several weeks undergoing surgery and skin grafts.

They’re extremely traumatic. They’re extremely painful. And the pain doesn’t just stop at the time of the injury. It goes on for the entire process until the wound actually heals. They’re physically and psychologically draining.

Hot water bottles seem like such a harmless thing but the dangers are very real… people need to understand that.

Peta-Marie Penfold, Hot water bottle victim: I suffer from Rheumatoid arthritis and I used to use hot water bottles to ease the pain of my joints.


Peta-Marie: Good night, bubby.

Husband: Good night, darl. You ok?

Peta-Marie: Yep, I’m ok.
Peta-Marie: On the night I was burnt, I had filled one of several hot water bottles that I had used regularly.

Sometime after I’d filled the water bottle I was lying in bed and I noticed my lap was all wet.


Peta-Marie: DARREN!! DARREN!! (screaming)

Peta-Marie: The bottle had split along the top about an inch long. I didn’t feel it immediately. I don’t know why I didn’t feel the water… because of the arthritis, maybe. My husband got me into the shower and then called an ambulance.

It was very painful. I went straight to emergency and I ended up in hospital for two weeks.

I was diagnosed with full thickness burns on my belly, upper thigh and leg. I had to have skin grafts on my belly and leg.

I always saw my hot water bottle as a source of comfort and a way to relieve my pain. But now I’d like everyone to know that using a hot water bottle is full of hidden dangers.

Karen and Michael’s kitchen at night

Michael: Karen, where’s the hot water bottle?

Karen: I bought new ones… one each.

Conclusion by voiceover

Buy a new hot water bottle at the start of each winter and follow the instructions for filling and use.

Don’t fill your hot water bottle directly with boiling water from a kettle.

Boiling water, not only burns badly but damages and weakens the material that the hot water bottle is made from.
Be sure to remove any excess air from the bottle before you fill it.

Another major cause of burns is when a hot water bottle is left on one part of the body for too long. These burns can occur gradually without you knowing. Use a towel or specially designed cover and avoid leaving the hot water bottle on one area of skin for more than 20 minutes at a time.

Hot water bottles should never be given to babies or young children, as their skin is too sensitive.

Older people with sensitive skin and people with reduced feeling in parts of their bodies should avoid using hot water bottles.

Never sit or lean on a hot water bottle as this can cause them to burst or leak.

And only use a hot water bottle to heat the bed – take it out before you get in.

This winter, follow these simple guidelines to stay warm and safe.

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