Why You Should Absolutely Never Use Damp Potholders

When you're cooking with an oven that can get up to 500 degrees Fahrenheit, an occasional small burn may be hard to avoid. In fact, over 500,000 of us here in the U.S. need to be treated for burns every year, according to the American Burn Association, and almost three-quarters of burns happen at home (via Eskenazi Health). When you're multitasking, in a hurry, or just not paying attention to what you're baking, it's easy to see how you could get burned by pulling something out of the oven.

The American Burn Association also advises using oven mitts or heat-resistant pot holders to pull your food out of the oven, which you already knew — but it also adds a key warning to avoid substituting them with towels. Not only are towels too thin to effectively block your hands from heat, but they could also catch on fire if they're exposed to high enough temperatures for too long. And the only thing worse than using a towel? Using a wet towel. In fact, wet towels and potholders are some of the worst devices you could use.

Moisture conducts heat faster than air

It's usually okay to pull food out of the oven with a potholder, as they can typically resist heat up to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. But it's very important not to use a wet potholder or a wet towel or oven mitt, for that matter. Water conducts heat up to 25 times faster than air, so it's much easier to burn yourself using a wet (or even damp) potholder. The moisture on the mitt will quickly turn to steam, giving you a steam burn. And no matter how quickly you work, it's nearly impossible to avoid getting burned. 

According to research from Oklahoma State University, you can get a third-degree burn in just one second by using a wet oven mitt at 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Using saturated potholders can have additional consequences, like burning your hand almost instantly which may lead you to drop whatever you're holding, splattering hot food, and potentially broken glass everywhere. To ensure you don't accidentally grab a wet mitt without realizing it, try switching to a silicone one. 

Not only is silicone waterproof and can often withstand higher temperatures than other materials, but these types of mitts often have a better grip and are less likely to slide off your hands. As a final note, it's important to make sure your hands are dry too. As researchers from Oklahoma State mentioned, a wet hand can conduct heat in a similar fashion, even if it's protected with a mitt.