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Unforeseen consequences of shaking bedding out on the balcony

Accidental falls while attempting to shake dust off bedding through a window or balcony claim lives almost every year in Korea

May 28, 2023 - 16:00 By Lee Jung-joo

A blanket and comforter hang over the balcony of an apartment unit. (Getty Images)

On May 8, a 49-year-old man died after falling from the balcony of his apartment in Seodaemun-gu, Seoul. According to the police, the man, a resident on the 15th floor, appeared to have accidentally fallen while attempting to shake dust off his carpet.

The tragic incident is the latest example of what Koreans refer to as "death by falling while shaking a comforter," which claims lives nearly every year.

In 2021, a woman in her 60s fell to her death from an apartment in Jincheon, North Chungcheong Province, trying to shake dust from her bedclothes. Before that, a 90-year-old woman lost her life in 2019 doing similar activities. She was shaking a comforter out of the window while standing on a 50-centimeter-high drawer in Jin-gu, Busan. In 2018, a 55-year-old man also took a fatal fall from his home, while standing on a 36-centimeter stool in front of a window and attempting to shake off dog hair from his covers.

The dangers of bedding dust control

Before the great “apartmentization” of homes in the '80s and '90s, most Koreans lived in single-story houses with gardens. During this time, it was common for them to take their bedding outside and shake them out in the sun. It was part of housekeeping routines as traditional mattresses and comforters for sleeping on the floor could not be washed regularly due to their bulky size.

Now homes are much higher up, but some people still stick to this time-honored method of keeping their bedding fresh and clean: shaking them out through the window or the balcony.

The problem is that there is significant risk involved in this practice, as evidenced by the abovementioned cases.

According to Kong Ha-sung, a professor in Woosuk University's Department of Fire and Disaster Prevention, in Newton’s second law of motion, a force that can drag a person off a balcony is proportional to the weight of the bedding, and the net force put into it when shaking off its dust, which can increase the bedding’s weight.

By law, balcony railings are required to be at least 1.2 meters high to prevent falls. However, there are also those like the 90-year-old woman and the 55-year-old man who stand on top of something to prop themselves up to shake out their bedding, which puts them at more risk of a fall.

Preventative measures

Instead of shaking the dust off of their blankets directly from their windows, Kong recommends taking the bedding out to the ground floor, away from any windows.

“Shaking out bed covers that are bulky and heavy can be dangerous if you are more than two floors above ground. If you insist on dusting off your bedding personally, it is best to do it on a flat surface, outdoors.”

Kwon, a housewife in her 50s, used to shake her comforters vigorously out on the balcony to remove dust collected over time. But she doesn’t anymore.

"Now, I use my dryer. It requires less energy, is more time-efficient, and is a lot safer."

These days, large-capacity dryers have become essential appliances in Korean homes, she explained, adding that they make laundry possible regardless of the weather and come with a feature that shakes dust from bulky items like blankets.