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Winter is officially here, which means staying warm as temperatures plummet is a top priority for many. An electric heated blanket can be a great way to achieve that cozy warmth in the wintertime — it can even help you save on high heating bills if your comforters and blankets aren’t cutting it. In addition to providing comfort, the experts we consulted noted that heat therapy can ease muscle and joint pain and help you fall asleep if you suffer from body aches and soreness.
To help you determine whether an electric heated blanket is right for you, we spoke to experts about the benefits of electric blankets, how to shop for them and how to use them safely. We also highlighted options based on their guidance.
What are the benefits of electric blankets?
There are several obvious benefits to electric blankets: They can help heat up cold sheets during the winter before you get into bed or serve as an added heating element around the house when you want to warm up (and potentially lower your utility bill). But their advantages can also extend to wellness — experts told us that they can relieve pain and discomfort for certain ailments and conditions.
“Heat therapy works by increasing blood circulation to the area, which can increase flexibility and soothe any discomfort,” said John Gallucci Jr., a physical therapist and CEO of JAG-ONE Physical Therapy. That means heated blankets can help relieve muscle aches, stiffness, or chronic pain — for people who suffer from conditions with widespread musculoskeletal pain like fibromyalgia, heated blankets are especially beneficial “because of the large surface area that the blanket can heat at one time,” Gallucci added.
Heated blankets can also be useful for older individuals suffering from arthritis, according to Michael Urban, an occupational therapist and director of the Doctorate of Occupational Therapy program at the University of New Haven. He noted that he typically recommends using these blankets in the morning rather than before going to bed since that’s when our muscles need it the most.
“When we first get up, our muscles are very stiff, especially as it gets colder,” Urban explained. If you have arthritis pain in your joints, hips, legs and/or back, he recommended structuring your wake-up routine around laying in bed for about 20 minutes with the heated blanket on before getting up.
Those who are suffering from pain disorders may also have trouble falling asleep — a heated blanket can “be beneficial to warm up cold sheets or for help in drifting off to sleep,” noted Gallucci. However, both he and Urban advised to never fall asleep with an electric blanket on due to fire risks, overheating and disrupted sleep.
Top-rated electric blankets to shop
Since we don't test electric blankets ourselves, we rely on expert guidance about how to shop for them. Our experts told us to ensure electric blankets meet UL or ETL standards, have an auto shut-off feature and allow you to adjust heat settings. The following highly rated electric blankets list features that align with experts' advice.
This plush electric blanket offers 20 different heat settings for you to choose from using the included controller with a convenient LCD display. While the actual temperature of each setting isn’t disclosed by the brand, the settings can be adjusted using the up and down buttons on the controller. You can choose for the blanket to automatically shut off anywhere between one and 10 hours, and the auto shut-off can be adjusted using the controller in one-hour increments. The brand says the blanket is UL-listed, and it features a 12.5-foot-long power cord to easily connect to outlets, according to the brand. It comes in multiple colors, including Red, Beige and Chocolate, and in mattress sizes ranging from Twin to California King.
If you’re looking for a blanket that isn’t too thick, this fleece electric throw from Sunbeam features a basic controller with three heat settings — Low, Medium and High — and a three-hour auto shut-off function. The blanket is ETL-listed and is both machine-washable and dryer safe on a low setting, according to the brand. If you’re looking for a thicker option with more heat settings, Sunbeam also offers this highly rated blanket.
This UL-listed blanket from Beautyrest offers 20 heat settings and features an adjustable auto shut-off function that can be set for up to 10 hours, according to Beautyrest. The blanket has a one-hour preheat option that begins the warming process before you use it, and it’s compatible with smart home outlets and automatic timers so you can adjust the time you want it to turn on, according to the brand. You can select from multiple sizes — ranging from Twin to King — and the Queen- and King-sized blankets come with dual controllers so partners can select their preferred settings.
This ETL-listed Serta Electric Throw Blanket is reversible — one side is made from polyester microplush and the other side features a sherpa lining. It has five heat settings listed as numbers on the controller so you can choose the most comfortable option for you, along with a four-hour automatic shut-off function. The blanket measures 60 inches long and 50 inches wide and comes in various colors, including Chocolate and Bay Blue.
With the digital controller, this fleece blanket lets you select from six heat settings using the up and down arrows as well as view and program its 10-hour auto shut-off timer. The brand says the blanket has comfortably thin heating wires and it’s machine-washable and dryer-safe in case of stains or debris. The heated blanket is UL- and ETL-listed and the brand offers a 5-year manufacturer’s warranty for peace of mind.
Are electric blankets safe?
Regardless of how you plan to use your electric blanket, there are always precautions you should take to ensure you’re using it safely. Experts told us you should never leave an electric blanket on when you leave the room or when you’re asleep. Many electric blankets have an automatic shut-off feature so it’s not heating when you don’t need it, but it’s always wise to double-check that your blanket is off once you’re done using it.
According to Urban, the wellness effects of a heated blanket become muted over time as your body adapts to it, “and then there's no more gain being delivered from that ongoing heat.” He added there is also the risk for individuals who have diabetes and other medical conditions for decreased sensation, which can impair their ability to know if the blanket is too hot — this can increase their risk of burns after an extended period of time.
“Even in the world of therapy, when we use heat, we're only using it for a short duration and not for hours and hours,” said Urban. He said he usually keeps heat on patients for about 30 minutes at a time.
Rather than sleeping with an electric blanket, experts recommend using it to heat up the bed and then turning it off before you go to sleep.
Electric blankets and fire hazards
As with any electric heating device (like a space heater or heating pad), an electric blanket can pose a fire risk. Heating pads and electric blankets are the cause of about 500 fires each year, and almost all of these fires involve electric blankets that are more than 10 years old, according to Brianne Deerwester, communications coordinator for the Electrical Safety Foundation International.
Erin McDermott, senior communications manager for the National Safety Council, noted a few things to avoid when using an electric blanket:
- Never use an electric blanket with a heating pad at the same time.
- Do not use an electric blanket that has cracked, frayed or charred cords.
- Avoid putting anything on top of the electric blanket when it’s in use, including other blankets or pets. These can cause the devices to overheat.
- Never fold an electric blanket that’s in use since it can overheat and start a fire.
Electric blankets also aren’t pet-friendly, according to Gallucci. “Pets can be drawn to the warmth provided by the heated blanket, but one should be aware that these blankets can pose some risk to our pets if they claw, scratch or chew on the blanket when plugged in,” he said.
Safely storing your electric blanket
“Electric blankets must always be unplugged or turned off when not in use,” said McDermott, who added that you should never fold or store your blanket until it’s completely cool. Additionally, be sure not to store your blanket anywhere where the wires are exposed to water, extreme cold or heat or other conditions that may damage the wires or internal mechanisms of the blanket.
How to shop for an electric blanket
When shopping for an electric blanket, there are several features that our experts recommended considering.
Automatic shut-off and timer
As discussed above, you should purchase a heated blanket that’ll automatically turn off after a certain amount of time. The auto shut-off feature can be effective at reducing fire and burn risks.
Some electric blankets will have a timer feature to dictate the amount of time you want the blanket to be on before automatically turning off. “If you're going to use it at night, you can set that timer and once you fall asleep, it turns off rather than sleeping the entire night with it on,” said Urban.
Adjustable heat settings
Some electric blankets come with various heat settings to control how much heat you’re actually getting. Adjustable heat settings can typically help you choose which temperature works best for you, with some even having a pre-heat option for heating up your bed sheets. “Everyone is unique when it comes to the right temperature so having many options will prove beneficial,” said Gallucci.
Reliable safety features
When purchasing an electric blanket, be sure to only purchase from reputable retailers in order to avoid counterfeits that may not have built-in safety features. According to Deerwester, these safety features should be certified and tested by a Nationally Recognized Testing Laboratory (NRTL). “NRTLs test and certify electrical equipment and other products to ensure that they meet current safety standards and are safe with proper use,” she said.
Each one of our experts recommended certifications with national safety testing organizations like Underwriters Laboratories (UL), which reliably tests safety standards including those for heated bedding, and Intertek's Electrical Testing Labs (ETL).
“Choosing a blanket that has a machine-washable cover will ensure ease of cleaning when necessary,” said Gallucci. But even if an electric blanket boasts that it’s machine-washable and dryer-friendly on a low setting, it’s best to carefully follow the care and maintenance instructions before throwing it in the wash. Our experts noted electric blankets shouldn’t be washed too frequently due to the risk of exposing wires to water.