Are Pressure Cookers Safe? Reducing the Risks

Pressure cookers are so convenient, but how safe are they? If you’ve been wondering, we’re going to delve into the question of whether pressure cookers are dangerous.

Pressure cooker on kitchen countertop

You may have heard stories from years ago of pressure cookers exploding and burning owners. They are powerful devices, so how to you know if they’re safe?

Quick Facts

BurnsThe most common pressure cooker injury is a second-degree burn, which can cover a large percentage of a person’s body and lead to serious health consequences[6].
Faulty ProductsWhile most pressure cookers are safe, some faulty cookers have led to serious burns and other injuries[1].

There have been thousands of pressure cookers recalled in recent years after people were seriously burned by explosions and electrical shocks. Numerous electric pressure cookers and multi-cookers have been recalled in recent years, including Instant Pot-branded appliances and more than one million Crock-Pot pressure cookers due to potential burn hazards. [2, 4, 6].

Modern Safety MeasuresProper usage and maintenance can significantly reduce the risks associated with pressure cookers. Modern pressure cookers have safety features that are supposed to prevent explosions, fires, and other accidents, including special sensors, vents, and a locking lid[1].

Pressure cookers usually include different safety systems, such as depressurization devices allowing the evacuation of steam from inside the cooker when cooking has concluded, valves allowing for the control of internal pressure, and cooker closing and opening safety devices for certain pressure conditions on the inside[7][8].

ReliabilityDespite these incidents, it’s worth noting that millions of households safely use pressure cookers every day. Remember: Always follow your manufacturer’s instructions when using a pressure cooker and regularly check for any defects or wear and tear to keep safe.






The surprisingly long history of pressure cookers

You may be surprised to learn pressure cookers have been around for over 300 years. The first patent was granted in 1679 to French physicist Denis Papin.

Papin’s invention used compressed steam to cook food quickly and efficiently, but it was not until the early 1900s that pressure cookers began to gain popularity in households across Europe and North America.

During World War II, pressure cookers became even more popular as they allowed families to conserve fuel and reduce cooking times. However, despite their usefulness, pressure cookers were also known to be dangerous if not used properly.

In recent years, advancements in technology and safety features have made the modern pressure cooker a much safer kitchen appliance than its earlier counterparts.

Why Causes Pressure Cooker Explosions?

There are some inherent pressure cooker dangers, but modern safety standards and proper use by you can reduce the risk substantially.

Pressure cookers create steam through high heat, which builds up steam pressure inside the cooker. This pressure allows the food to cook at a faster rate than traditional cooking methods.

The problem arises when the pressure isn’t released properly, leading to an explosion that can cause severe burns or even death. Modern pressure cookers that aren’t defective have safeguards against this.

And yet lawsuits and product recalls show that pressure cookers still explode on occasion. It’s hard to be sure of numbers, but some of these accidents are due to user error and others to design flaws or product malfunctions.

Despite this risk, pressure cooking is still a popular option for many home cooks who want to save time and energy in the kitchen. So it’s important to recognize and understand the risks before using a pressure cooker. 

Burn Risks

Even when pressure cookers don’t explode, the extremely hot steam from them can cause burns and scalds due to steam release and food splatter. 

Defective Pressure Cookers

When pressure cookers are defective, it can be due to design flaws or that parts have broken down over time. Be aware of these issues and be careful to maintain and replace your pressure cooker according to manufacturer instructions and common sense.

Inadequate Lid SealsAn inadequate lid seal can result in spilling and expulsion of cooker contents[1]
Faulty Gaskets that Allow Premature OpeningA faulty gasket that allows the premature opening of the pot during high pressure can cause steam and contact burns[1][2][3][4].
Inadequate VentingInadequate venting can cause a pressure cooker to explode[1].
Broken GasketsIneffectively installed seals can see a pressure cooker force your food out of its bowl. The force with which that food can hit your lid can subsequently cause your pressure cooker to explode[3].
Defective Lid LockIf the lock of a pressure cooker doesn’t work properly, it can cause an explosion[5].
Clogged or Malfunctioning VentsA blockage in the valve or a buildup of food and other particles are common causes of pressure cooker explosions[2][3][4][6].




Modern Safety Mechanisms and Features in Pressure Cookers

Modern pressure cookers come with quite a few safety features that make them safer to use than older models. It’s a great idea to look for these features when you’re shopping for a pressure cooker.

Always look for pressure cookers that carry certification marks or labels showing that they comply with relevant safety standards like UL (Underwriters Laboratories), CSA (Canadian Standards Association) or CE (European Conformity).

  • Locking Lid: A lock prevents the lid of the cooker from being opened while the pressure cooker is still under pressure
  • Pressure Release Valve: This is designed to release steam when the pressure inside the cooker becomes too high, preventing the cooker from exploding.
  • Pop-up Indicator: A pop-up indicator is a visual signal that lets you know when the pressure inside the cooker has reached a safe level.
  • Gasket: A gasket is a rubber seal that helps to create a tight seal between the lid and the pot, preventing steam from escaping.
  • Safety Pressure Valves: Safety pressure valves are designed to release pressure when it reaches a certain level, preventing the pressure cooker from exploding.
  • Stainless Steel Body: A stainless steel body is less reactive with food and is more durable than other materials.
  • Encapsulated Base: An encapsulated base is designed to prevent hotspots from forming, ensuring that food is cooked evenly.
  • Visual Pressure Indicator: A visual pressure indicator lets you know when the pressure inside the cooker has reached a safe level.

Tips for Using a Pressure Cooker Safely

Once you buy a well-made pressure cooker with all those great safety improvements, you need to make sure you’re using it safely.

Pressure Cooker Safety: Basic Rules

Always read the instruction manual that comes with your pressure cooker before using it. If you have questions, call the manufacturer or look for YouTube videos showing the proper way to use your model pressure cooker.

Get familiar with the various parts and functions of the cooker. Never use a pressure cooker for any purpose other than its intended use.

Here’s a checklist of things to do and watch for. 

1. Check Your Equipment Before Cooking: Before using your pressure cooker, make sure to check the lid, steam valve, inner pot, and handles for any cracks, obstructions, or looseness.
2. Don’t Overfill the Cooker: Do not fill the pressure cooker more than two-thirds full with solids or half full with liquids to avoid food being ejected from the pressure release valve.
3. Use Enough Liquid: Always use enough liquid to create and maintain pressure in the cooker.
4. Take Care When Cooking Foods That Froth: Foods that froth, such as beans and grains, can clog the steam release valve and cause pressure to build up inside the cooker. To avoid this, do not fill the pressure cooker more than half full with frothy foods.
5. Never Open the Lid Before the Pressure Releases: Never open the lid before the pressure has been released, as this can cause hot steam and food to escape and burn you.
6. Stay Away From the Steam: Keep your face and hands away from the steam release valve when releasing pressure.
7. Replace the Sealing Ring When Necessary: The sealing ring can wear out over time, so it is important to replace it when necessary to ensure a tight seal.
8. Don’t Pressure Fry: Do not use a pressure cooker for deep frying, as this can be dangerous.
9. Safely Maintain Your Pressure Cooker: Clean your pressure cooker after each use and maintain it properly to ensure that it functions safely.
10. Follow the Manufacturer’s Instructions: Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions for your specific pressure cooker to ensure that you are using it safely and correctly.

Safety Tips For Pressure Cooking Accidents

Although the vast majority of pressure cooking experiences go smoothly, accidents can happen. It’s important to be prepared for any mishaps.

The most common emergency situation when using a pressure cooker is an unexpected release of steam. This can occur if the valve is not secured well or if the pressure cooker becomes clogged with food debris.

If this happens, immediately turn off the heat source and allow the steam to escape through natural release or manual release according to your model’s instructions. Never try to force the cooker open as it can cause severe burns from hot steam or boiling liquid inside.

Another potential emergency situation is a malfunctioning pressure regulator. If you notice that your pressure regulator is not functioning correctly, stop using your device immediately and contact your manufacturer for assistance.

Similarly, any cracks or damage to the pot should be addressed immediately by replacing it with a new one.

First Aid for Burns

If you do get a burn, run cold water over any the area for at least 10-15 minutes. If necessary, seek medical attention promptly. For minor burns, aloe vera gel or burn gel with aloe vera and lidocaine can help with pain and speed healing.

By keeping these tips in mind and preparing yourself for possible emergencies beforehand, you’ll be able to use your pressure cooker with confidence and without worry!