You know your laptop heats up when you're using it. Most people, however, don't know how hot it can actually get.
One local Hillsboro, Ohio woman shared her horrible experience with us, in hope that others will learn about the hidden danger that laptops can present.
Falls asleep while doing schoolwork
Rachel Hudson is both a college student and a young mom, so it was no surprise she recently dozed off while doing her schoolwork on the couch one evening.
"I happened to be exhausted, and I fell asleep for a little while," she said. "And when I woke up, I realized I was in pain, and where my laptop had been resting on my leg, it gave me a second-degree burn and it was already blistering."
When she lifted the 5-year-old Gateway laptop, she couldn't believe how hot the bottom was. "The vents are right there, and that was the area that was laying on my skin," she said. "And that's what got extremely hot."
By the next morning, she realized the burn was so severe that she needed a doctor's care.
"I was shocked that my laptop was capable of doing that much damage," Hudson said.
More common than people think
It turns out that thousands of people have suffered laptop burns, according to WebMD, which even has a name for it: toasted skin syndrome.
Cleo Allen owns a computer repair shop, Pro Techs, on Central Parkway in Cincinnati.
"We've definitely seem them hot enough to burn people," Allen said.
Although Hudson's was a Gateway, Allen says any brand of PC can overheat, and says ironically the worst place to use a laptop is directly on your lap. It's also risky to put your device on a pillow or blanket, where you block the air vents underneath.
"The unit needs to be able to pull that air in and push the hot air out, so it can keep it cool," Allen explained. He said Macs do not have this problem as much as Windows PC's, since they vent heated air through the hinge, instead of under the machine.
But even if you keep the bottom well ventilated, Allen says there’s another thing that will make your laptop run hot: dust buildup.
The dust problem
If you have a laptop more than a couple of years old and you've never cleaned it out for dust buildup, there’s a chance it's running hotter and hotter, but that you won't notice it until it develops a real problem, or you get burned like Hudson.
"The dust actually blocks the fan vents, and then builds up on the fan, and keeps the fan from sending the heat out, so it just builds up in the system," Allen explained.
Allen suggests spraying the vents with a can of compressed air at least once a year to keep the air passages clear. He says you don't even need to open up the laptop, though if you take it to a shop, they will open it and blow out the fan as well as the vents.
We contacted Gateway, where the company promised to investigate Hudson's case further. They have requested she send it to them so they can inspect it, to determine why it was running so hot.
Meantime, Hudson is taking Cleo Allen’s advice, and says she will never again use her PC on her lap, or on a pillow. "I don't carry a thermometer for my laptop, so I never would have imagined it to get that hot," she said.
But Allen has one piece of advice. "Don't use it when it is laying on a pillow or a bed, or just on a couch," he said.
If you frequently use a laptop in bed, you can purchase special pads or stands from Amazon and other sellers.
They help keep it cool, and in addition make it easier to work due to improved ergonomics. That way you're safe and you don’t waste your money.
“Don't Waste Your Money” is a registered trademark of Scripps Media, Inc. (“Scripps”). The information included in this article was obtained independently by Scripps reporters. While purchases from links inserted in this article may result in a commission for Scripps, no Scripps reporter benefited from that commission.
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