Scald Burn Injury Facts


Young children are especially vulnerable to burn-related injury and death. They do not perceive danger, have less control of their environment and have a limited ability to react promptly and properly to a burn situation. A child in hot water will scream, but may not withdraw from the water. Additionally, children's skin is thinner than that of adults and therefore burns at lower temperatures and more deeply. For example, a child exposed to hot tap water at 140 ° for three seconds will sustain a third degree burn, an injury requiring hospitalization and skin grafts.

Tap water scald burns, which most often occur in the bathroom, are associated with more deaths and injuries than those caused by others hot liquids. Burns resulting from exposure to tap water tend to be more severe and cover a larger portion of the body. Additionally, they result in more hospitalization and are associated with more fatalities than other hot liquid burns.


In 1992, 13 children ages 14 and under died from scald burn-related injuries. Deaths from scald are most common among children ages 4 and under.
Each year, nearly 35,000 children ages 14 and under are treated in emergency rooms for burns from scalds and contact with hot substances. Of these children, more than 65% are children ages 4 and under.
Approximately 16% of scald burn injuries among children ages 4 and under treated in emergency rooms are related to hot tap water.
Scald burns are the leading cause of burn-related injuries among children. Approximately 65% of children ages 4 and under hospitalized for burn-related injuries are treated for scald burns. The majority of these children are ages 6 months to 2 years.
Hot tap water accounts for 24% of scald burns requiring hospitalization among children age 4 and under.
The average length of stay in the hospital for a tap water scald burn is 17 days.


The majority of burns to children are from hot foods and liquids spilled in the kitchen or other places where food is prepared and served, especially among children ages 6 months to 2 years.
Hot liquid and food burns often occur when children upset cups of hot liquid such a coffee; grab dangling appliance cords; grab pots off the stove; or pull hanging tablecloths or place mats.
Tap water scald burns commonly occur when children are left unattended in the bathtub; are placed in water that is too hot; are in the bathtub when another child turns on the hot water; or fall into the bathtub.
The average bathtub scald burn covers 12% of the body surface with a full thickness, third degree burn.
Approximately 42% of scald burns involve more than 10% of a child's total body surface areaand most likely involve the trunk, arms and legs.
Increased use of alternative heating devices, such as wood or coal-burning stoves and kerosene heaters, has led to a surge in the number of contact burns.


Children ages four and under are the greatest risk for scald burns.
In general, children in single-parent families, children in large families and children in high-stress family situations are at greater risk for scald burns, and suffer more scald burns injuries than do other children.
Children living in non-Caucasian, low-income and low-education households are at greater risk for scald burns.


More than 70% of all scald injuries among infants could be prevented through behavioral and environmental modifications.
Safer water temperatures in the home (120°F or below) have been successful in reducing the number of deaths and injuries associated with tap water burns in Washington State.


Many communities have established local ordinances for any new construction which require the installation of plumbing devices that keep water temperatures at or below 120oF and prevent sudden changes in water temperature.


For scald burns sustained by children ages 14 and under in one year, total lifetime societal losses are valued at more than $2 billion. Children age four and under account for 86% (more than $1.75 billion) of these losses.
The average cost of each hospitalized burn case in 1990 was $22,700.


Never leave a child alone, especially in the bathroom or in the kitchen. If you must leave the room, take the child with you.
Set your water heater thermostat to 120°F or less. The lower temperature, the lower the risk of sustaining scald-burn related injuries.
Install anti-scald devices in bathtub faucets and shower heads.
Always test the water temperature before putting a child in the bathtub or in a shower : Put your whole hand in the water, spread your fingers wide and move your hand back and forth through the water for several seconds to check for hot spots.
Use back burners and/or turn pot handle to the back of the stove when cooking. Keep appliance cords out of children's reach, especially if the appliances contain hot liquids.
Never carry children and hot foods and/or liquids at the same time.

11/95: The National Safe Kids Campaign organization can be reached at:

111 Michigan Avenue, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20010-2970
(202) 884-4993

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