Curling irons are a common item in a lot of people’s homes. For many people, using a curling iron is as routine as brushing teeth, so it may come as a surprise then, that they could be a major fire risk. Are curling irons that dangerous?
A curling iron can start a fire. It can reach temperatures of up to 428°F (220°C), which is hot enough to ignite leather and some types of paper. An electrical issue due to faulty wiring in the iron can also start a fire.
The rest of this article will discuss, in much more detail, how curling irons work and why they are a fire risk. It will detail some simple fire safety tips and tricks you can use in your home to reduce the risk of fire.
How Do Curling Irons Work?
To understand how curling irons can cause fires, it helps to understand how they work.
Curling irons work by electric heating. This is the process of converting electrical energy into heat energy. An electrical current is passed through a resistor which generates heat. The resistor works by slowing down the electrical current and releasing the excess energy as heat. This thermal energy is then transferred to the curling iron barrel, which causes it to warm up.
Why Are Curling Irons a Fire Risk?
Curling irons are a fire risk on two counts. Firstly, they get extremely hot. They can even get hot enough to ignite certain materials, but more on that in a moment.
Secondly, they are powered by electricity, which can be hazardous for several reasons I will detail below.
As I am sure you are aware, if you have ever accidentally grazed your ear with your curling iron, they get very hot indeed. In fact, according to Electrical Safety First, curling irons and hair straighteners can reach temperatures upwards of 220°C (428℉).
They also take a long time to cool down once they are switched off, up to 40 minutes in some cases. This means that even when they are properly switched off and unplugged, they remain a fire hazard for quite a while after use.
This is a danger because all materials have something called an autoignition temperature. This is the temperature at which a substance or material will start to burn without a spark or flame. Just the heat from the curling iron is enough to set some materials alight.
This is a concern because it means your curling iron doesn’t even need to malfunction to be a fire risk. Just forgetting to switch it off can start a fire.
The table below lists some common household materials and their autoignition temperatures.
|Temp. Heat Damage Begins
|Temp. Material Ignites
From the table, you can see that there are quite a few materials your curling iron may come into contact with that can burn at 220°C (428℉). This goes to show just how important it is to be aware of where you are placing your hot curling iron. Once a fire starts, it can spread very quickly.
According to the Electrical Safety Foundation International (ESFI) an estimated 51,000 fires per year are caused by an electrical fault, accounting for 500 deaths and over $1 billion in property damage.
Curling irons are not the only thing that can have an electrical fault. The data combines information from fires caused by all sorts of appliances and electrical malfunctions. Modern curling irons are designed to be at low risk of an electrical fault, but it can still happen. More commonly, though, electrical fires will be caused by the following factors:
- Outdated or broken outlets
- Faulty wiring
- Overloaded plug sockets
- Faulty or overloaded extension cords
It is important to make sure your curling iron is not damaged, and that it is plugged into the outlet safely. You should also check your outlets regularly for damage.
What a Curling Iron Fire Looks Like
If you need any further convincing about how vital that proper usage and storage of curling irons and other hair appliances are, the video below shows how easily a fire can start with just a moment of carelessness:
In the video, you can see that it is only a matter of seconds before the dressing gown thrown over the hair appliances starts to smoke. After this, it is a mere three minutes before the entire room is engulfed in flames.
The American Red Cross states in this article that, on average, you only have two minutes to escape a fire before it is too late. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to reduce the risk of fire in your home.
Fire Safety Tips
You can put a few general practices in place in your home to prepare yourself in case you are ever unfortunate enough to experience a house fire.
General Fire Safety
- Make sure you have smoke alarms installed in your home. There should be one on each floor and one in every sleeping room. They should be checked every month to make sure they are working.
- Have a fire escape plan. Discuss with your family the best ways out of your home in the event of a fire. Make sure you practice your plan, especially if you have small children.
- Once you are out, stay out. Do not enter a burning building under any circumstance. Wait for the fire department to arrive.
Curling Iron Safety
- Choose a curling iron with an automatic shut off. Many modern curling irons now come with an automatic shut off feature that will turn the heating element off after a certain time.
- Always place a hot curling iron onto a heatproof mat. A heatproof mat such as this one, will protect surfaces from heat damage and stop them from catching fire.
- Never place a curling iron on a bed or near clothes. Bedding and clothing can be extremely flammable and should be kept far away from heated appliances.
- Always unplug your curling iron once finished. This reduces the risk of an electrical fire.
- Do not use your curling iron near water because water conducts electricity. Therefore, it can cause a fire by electrical malfunction if it gets into the curling iron’s inner workings.
In conclusion, it is clear that while curling irons do pose a double risk for fire in the home, there are plenty of measures that can be taken to reduce the chances of a fire starting. Modern curling irons are manufactured to be as safe as possible, and as long as they are used and stored correctly, the risk of fire is minimal.
If you are prone to panicking trips home on your lunch break to check if you did turn your curling iron off, it’s probably best to invest in one with an automatic shut off feature.
The key thing to remember is to make sure the curling iron is turned off and unplugged after use and left to cool for at least 40 minutes on a heatproof mat. Also, make sure your home has enough smoke alarms, just in case.