Fair Trading advises wheat bags can cause fire and urges caution with heating and using them, including a great tip to help prevent them drying out:

Caution urged in use of wheat bags

5 July 2013

It’s cold and miserable, and all you want to do is crawl into a nice warm bed. But if you think a wheat bag is a good way to heat it up think again.

Fire & Rescue NSW (FRNSW) and NSW Fair Trading are urging residents not use wheat bags as bed warmers and take care when heating in the microwave. The warning comes after the coroner found an elderly woman died as a result of a fire caused by a wheat bag placed in her bed.

FRNSW Commissioner Greg Mullins said firefighters were seeing an emerging trend of fires and injuries involving wheat bags.

“Fires have been caused by wheat bags being overheated in the microwave and wheat bags catching alight when they’ve been used as bed warmers. Just this morning in Watsons Bay, two elderly people were treated for smoke inhalation after a wheat bag they were heating in the microwave caught fire and filled the unit with smoke.

“Since January 2011, there have been 35 reported fires involving wheat bags, and 17 injuries. The majority of the people injured have been elderly.

“Wheat bags are designed to be used for aches and pains and that’s what they should be used for. Wheat bags can ignite and are not designed to replace hot water bottles for warming beds, especially by children or elderly people.”

In another recent incident in Glen Innes, a woman heated two homemade wheat bags in the microwave, then placed them in her bed while she was in the shower. By the time she returned to the bedroom – just a few minutes later – the bedroom was engulfed in flames and 80% of the house was lost in the fire.

NSW Fair Trading Commissioner Rod Stowe said consumers needed to be aware of the dangers with wheat bags and in particular, plush toys containing wheat.

“These products are available nationally ranging in price from $8 to $20 and in child appealing characters, including a lady bug, cow, duck, tiger, pig, hippo, giraffe and puppy dog,’’ he said.

“There are a number of companies importing such products and they are marketed for children and therefore there is a risk of them being given to children to take to bed to keep them warm. There is a real risk these products could be used contrary to the manufacturers’ instructions, which in most cases are in fine print on the packaging.’’

Wheat bag safety tips

  • Don’t overheat the wheatbag by placing it in the microwave longer than specified by the manufacturer.
  • Don’t leave the wheatbag unsupervised in the microwave.
  • Place a glass of water in the microwave when heating wheat bags – this ensures the bag does not dry out or overheat.
  • Don’t let anyone, particularly children or the elderly, sleep with a wheat bag.
  • Don’t use the wheat bag to warm your bed up, as it may spontaneously ignite.
  • Don’t reheat the wheatbag before it has properly cooled
  • A wheatbag should be cooled down on a non-combustible surface before storing.