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The Catch 22

Whether you are a shower person or a bath person, we’ve all had that instance where you’ve got in and the water has been too hot. In most cases, you swiftly remove yourself with no harm being done. But in some cases that hot water can do serious harm and leave you scalded – especially for those who have thinner skin such as the young and the elderly, or vulnerable people who may have trouble verbalising pain or reacting to a situation.

Make no mistake about it, serious scalding incidents don’t just leave burns and scar tissue, they can be deadly too. Anyone can be a victim of scalding and it is likely to happen in your own home – the place you should be the safest.

In the home, hot water will be stored at around 60oC, with the temperature at the tap normally around 55oC.  If you were to run a bath at that temperature, without adding any cold water, it would only take seconds to get a serious deep tissue burn. The Department of Health recommends the temperature for bathing should be no higher than 43oC and showering at no higher than 41oC. For babies, the temperature should be no higher than 37oC.

So why is hot water stored at such a high temperature? Wouldn’t it be easier to store it at 43oC? Here’s where the catch 22 comes in - raising the temperature of the water to 60oC or over kills off bacteria such as Legionella. This type of bacteria grows in conditions where the water temperature is between 20o to 45oC degrees. If it is inhaled in the form of water droplets, or vapour (via a shower, whirlpool/spa bath etc.) it could develop into Legionnaires’ disease, which is a potentially fatal type of pneumonia.

So we heat water to kill potentially life-threatening bacteria, but then put ourselves at risk when we turn on the tap. So what can you do to protect yourself?  The CIPHE has the following tips:

1) When running a bath always put the cold water in first and then bring it up to the required temperature. 

2) Always test the temperature of a bath or shower before getting in or letting small children in.

3) When it comes to showering, a thermostatically controlled shower is the best option. A thermostatic mixing valve (TMV) in the shower takes a hot and cold supply and blends the water to a ‘safe’, controlled temperature at the outlet.

4) TMVs which blend hot water to a safe temperature can be installed in baths, basins, showers and bidets, so you can protect all water outlets in the home from the risk of scalding.

Find out more about scalding