by Nick Gromicko, CMI®
A nightlight is a small, low-powered electrical light source placed for comfort or convenience in indoor areas that become dark at night.
Facts and Figures
- Before they were powered electrically, nightlights were usually long-burning candles placed in fireproof metal cups, known as tealights in some countries. (Tealights in the U.S. refer to very short and wide candles that can be purchased within or without an aluminum tin cup that are commonly used inside a decorative glass holder. They are also known as votive candles.)
- There are roughly 90 million nightlights purchased each year in the United States. In 2001 alone, more than 600,000 of them were recalled by manufacturers for safety reasons.
- Defective nightlights can cause fires, burns and electrocutions.
Nightlights are typically installed to create a sense of security and to alleviate fears of the dark, especially for children. They also illuminate the general layout of a room without causing the eyestrain created by a standard light, helping to prevent tripping down stairs or over objects. This is an important safety measure for older adults, for whom falls are the leading cause of injury-related deaths, according to the National Association for Home Care and Hospice. Nightlights may also be used to mark an emergency exit.
A wide variety of nightlights is available to homeowners; bulbs vary from incandescent to energy-efficient options, such as light-emitting diodes (LEDs), neon lamps, and electroluminescent bulbs. Some of these devices are equipped with a light-sensitive switch that activates the light only when it’s dark enough for them to be required, saving electricity and the effort needed to manually turn them on and off. Some designs also incorporate a rechargeable battery so they will continue to function during power outages.
Nightlights present the following hazards:
- fire. Nightlights can become excessively hot, causing them to melt and pose a risk of fire if they come in contact with flammable materials, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). The CPSC receives roughly 10 reports annually of fires that were caused when nightlights ignited toilet paper, pillows, bedspreads and other flammable materials. In many of these cases, the nightlight was installed so close to the bed that falling blankets or pillows made contact with the nightlight and started a fire. For this reason, nightlights should not be plugged in next to bed coverings, curtains, and other potentially flammable objects and materials. InterNACHI inspectors can also make sure nightlights are not covered with tape, cardboard or any other material that might cause them to overheat. Homeowners may consider using nightlights equipped with mini neon bulbs instead of higher-wattage bulbs;
- poisoning. So-called “bubble" nightlights are special, decorative nightlights that contain a dangerous chemical called methylene chloride. If the vial breaks, the unit should be thrown away immediately and precautions should be taken to avoid skin contact with the leaking chemical; and
- electric shock. Nightlights pose the risk of electric shock when used outdoors or in locations that may become wet, such near sinks or hot tubs, or in garages or covered patios. They should never be plugged into an extension cord, surge-protector strip, multiple-outlet strip, or other movable types of receptacles. Electric shock is also possible if the nightlight overheats and melts.
The following are a few of the many nightlight models that have been recalled due to electrical and fire hazards:
- Molenaar™ brand, model numbers 2017 and 2019 that are shaped like a rectangle and a house, respectively, and include the etched engraving "71980 U.S.A": 315,000 units recalled;
- Forever-Glo™: 35,000 units recalled;
- LED Rocketship PalPODzzz™ Portable Nightlights: 26,000 units recalled; and
- Energizer™ Light-on-Demand Wallplate Nightlights: 3,000 units recalled.
In summary, nightlights are used for comfort and safety, although homeowners should take precautions when purchasing and using these devices.