Skip to Content

Did Your Child or Elderly Parent Get Scalded by a Hot Liquid?


When people think of burn injuries, it's likely that they first think of those that occur from fire, Yet a half-million burns from scalding liquids occur every year in America.

The two most vulnerable populations are those younger than five and older than 65. These scalding burns can be life-threatening. They happen most often when caregivers or parents are stressed, hurried or angry.

Excessively hot water straight from the tap is responsible for 17 percent of all scald hospitalizations for children. A third-degree burn can result from only five seconds of immersion in tap water that is 140º F.

Burns from hot liquids like tea, coffee or soup can be lethal. While much derision arose from the case involving burns from hot coffee sold by McDonald’s, the chain’s own quality assurance manager testified that the restaurant kept their coffee at 185º F, well over the burn threshold and far hotter than other restaurants did.

To illustrate the length of time one has to be exposed to a hot liquid at a certain temperature to develop third-degree burns, consider the following:

  • 133º F for 15 seconds
  • 140º F for five seconds
  • 149º F for two seconds
  • 156º F for one second

Since children and the elderly at the highest risk of being scalded, negligence during bath time at nursing homes or in daycare centers can result in devastating burn injuries.

Kids and senior citizens who need assistance with bathing should never be left alone in the tub — not even for a second. Bathwater temperatures should be set at about 100º F. Lowering the thermostat on the water heater to no more than 125º F in daycare facilities and nursing homes can reduce the likelihood of scalding while still being hot enough to get dishes and clothes clean.

Other ways to prevent scalds are to keep children and others not involved in the cooking process out of the kitchen whenever hot liquids are on the stove. Additionally, turning all pot handles to the back can prevent a pot from accidentally being tipped over.

When transfers from stove to counter or table is being made, a slip-on an area rug can result in a catastrophic, disfiguring burn. The path should always be clear and free of hazards during meal preparation.

If you or a loved one was seriously burned, taking legal action may be necessary.

Source: Burn Foundation, “Safety Facts on Scald Burns,” accessed Jan. 13, 2017