If you like to keep warm in bed and you find piling on the extra blankets or using a hot water bottle doesn't keep the winter chill away, you might want to consider buying an electric blanket.
Electric blankets are an ideal way to generate heat inside your bed. They come in a variety of styles and sizes to suit almost any mattress. An electric blanket can cost anywhere between $20 and $500 — although most have an asking price of around $70. There are a few things you need to consider before buying an electric blanket, so let's take a look at the basic features.
How an electric blanket works
Electric blankets contain an integrated electrical heating device that spreads warmth through your bed. Most electric blankets produce heat via carbon fibre wires embedded in the fabric.
You can alter the warmth of most electric blankets by adjusting the setting on the controller mechanism — this may be attached directly to the mattress or hang separately on the attached cord. The number of settings can range from three to 10, depending on the electric blanket.
A good quality electric blanket will warm your bed quickly and thoroughly. The highest heat setting will be more than enough to keep the winter chill at bay. (You might even feel a bit too toasty!)
Most double bed (or larger) electric blankets come with dual controllers — this allows each person to adjust the heat level on their side of the bed, without affecting their partner. Some electric blankets also have programmable settings — which allow you to set a specific time that you want the blanket to switch on, as well as the desired temperature. Some electric blankets feature a fast heat-up time, so the bed is ready at the set temperature in as little as 10 minutes. The timer can also automatically switch off the electric blanket after a desired period — for example three hours — so you don't fall asleep and accidentally leave the blanket on all night.
Size and fabric
Electric blankets come in many shapes and sizes to suit a variety of bed types — so make sure the blanket is the same size as your bed. Most electric blankets will indicate the size on the packaging (single, double, queen or king sized, etc).
You can also buy blankets especially designed for children, and these are generally labelled as waterproof electric blankets. They will have a waterproof membrane on the top, which protects the heating wires in case of any spills reaching the heating wires or going through to the mattress. Some models also have a polyester fleece to provide additional protection.
Most electric blankets are made of synthetic material, but some use natural products such as wool. Ideally, the electric blanket's fabric should be reasonably thick — otherwise you might be able to feel the embedded wiring through the top layer, which may make it uncomfortable to sleep on. Do you suffer from hay fever or asthma? Electric blankets with antibacterial fibres are also available. The fabric is designed to inhibit the growth of bacteria and mould, which can be a breeding ground for dust mites.
If you have a non-standard mattress type, such as a futon, latex, foam or waterbed, check that the blanket is safe to use on these materials, as not all electric blankets are recommended for use with them.
Fitted vs. Non-Fitted
Fitted electric blankets are coverlets that match the contours of your mattress. They remain nice and flat during your night's rest and are generally more comfortable to lie on. If you choose a fitted electric blanket, be sure it closely matches the size of your bed.
Non-fitted electric blankets (also known as 'tie-down' blankets) do not fit around the corners of your mattress. Instead, they lie on top of the mattress and usually come with ties to help keep them in place. Non-fitted electric blankets are usually more affordable, but they can be fiddlier to fit on the bed, as you will have to lift the mattress to slide the ties underneath. Also note that if it is not tied securely, a non-fitted blanket may slide around on the mattress — especially if you toss and turn during the night. As a rule of thumb, make sure the electric blanket isn't wider than your mattress.
Electric throw blanket
Electric throw blankets are designed to be used anywhere around the home. They resemble a traditional blanket, but with inbuilt electric heating. Electric throw blankets are a good choice if you want to keep warm on the sofa while watching TV, etc. Electric throw blankets may also help you save money on your energy bill — unlike room heaters and reverse cycle air conditioners they do not need to heat the entire room.
You may have heard horror stories about electric blankets catching on fire. Don't panic, as in nearly every case, these accidents were caused by very old or damaged blankets. All blanket models must pass the Australian standard for electric blankets (AS/NZS 3350.2.17:2000) before they reach store shelves. In other words, they have all undergone thorough safety tests.
With that said, any product that uses electricity is potentially dangerous. Make sure you read the manufacturer's instructions carefully before use, and try not to leave it on for extended time periods, or overnight. Naturally, if you accidentally spill liquid on the blanket, it's a good idea to switch it off immediately at the power point. It's a good idea not to switch the electric blanket on if it is folded or crumbled, or if there are heavy items on the bed.
If you're still concerned about safety, look for an electric blanket that has overheat protection: these blankets automatically switch themselves off if they get too hot. Your electric blanket should last about 10 years, but you may need to replace it sooner if it's showing signs of wear and tear.
Many electric blankets use machine-washable fabric; check the manufacturer's instructions first. This makes them easier to clean and maintain. You should also periodically check your blanket for frayed or protruding wires, and when storing the electric blanket in the warmer months take it off the bed and fold it neatly away. Most manufacturers recommend getting your blanket checked by one of their service professionals every three years; their Web site should have more details on how to do this.