Fan death
Electric fans sold in South Korea are equipped with timer knobs that turn them off after a set number of minutes.
Korean name
Revised RomanizationSeonpunggi samangseol
McCune–ReischauerSŏnp'unggi samangsŏl

Fan death is a misconception that people have died as a result of running an electric fan in a closed room with no open windows. While the supposed mechanics of fan death are impossible given how electric fans operate, belief in fan death persisted to the mid-2000s in South Korea,[1][2][3] and also to a lesser extent in Japan.[4][5][6]

Origins of the belief

Where the idea came from is unclear, but fears about electric fans date back to their introduction to Korea, with stories dating to the 1920s and 1930s warning of the risks of nausea, asphyxiation, and facial paralysis from the new technology.[7][8]

One conspiracy theory is that the South Korean government created or perpetuated the myth as propaganda to curb the energy consumption of South Korean households during the 1970s energy crisis, but Slate reports that the myth is much older than that – probably as far back as the introduction of electric fans in Korea, and cites a 1927 article about "Strange Harm from Electric Fans".[7][9]

Proposed explanations

Hyperthermia (heat stress)

Air movement will increase sweat evaporation, which cools the body. But in extreme heat and high humidity, sweat evaporation becomes ineffective, so the heat stress placed on the body increases, potentially speeding the onset of heat exhaustion and other detrimental conditions: The American Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) discourages people from using fans in closed rooms without ventilation when the heat index (a combination of temperature and humidity) is above 32 °C (89.6 °F). The EPA does, however, approve of using a fan if a window is open and it is cooler outside, or in a closed room when the heat index is lower.[10]


Hypothermia is abnormally low body temperature caused by inadequate thermoregulation. As the metabolism slows down at night, one becomes more sensitive to temperature, and thus supposedly more prone to hypothermia. Most at risk would be someone in frail health over an extended period of time. Investigative autopsies of purported fan death victims showed that issues like heart problems and alcoholism may have been exacerbated by the temperature drop, thus allowing the victims to succumb to that illness more easily.[11]


It is alleged that fans may cause asphyxiation by oxygen displacement and carbon dioxide intoxication.[11][12][13][14] In the process of human respiration, inhaled fresh air is exhaled with a lower concentration of oxygen gas (O2) and higher concentration of carbon dioxide gas (CO2), causing a gradual reduction of O2 and buildup of CO2 in a completely unventilated room.[15] However, this is true of any room without ventilation, and a running fan will not greatly improve or worsen the problem.

Media coverage

During the summer, mainstream South Korean news sources regularly report alleged cases of fan death. A typical example is this excerpt from the July 4, 2011, edition of The Korea Herald, an English-language newspaper:

A man reportedly died on Monday morning after sleeping with an electric fan running. The 59-year-old victim, only known by his surname Min, was found dead with the fan fixed directly at him.[16]

This article also noted there was "no evidence" the fan caused the death, however. University of Miami researcher Larry Kalkstein says a misunderstanding in translation resulted in his accidental endorsement of the fan death theory, which he denies is a real phenomenon.[17]

Ken Jennings, writing for Slate, says that based on "a recent email survey of contacts in Korea", opinion seems to be shifting among younger Koreans: "A decade of Internet skepticism seems to have accomplished what the preceding 75 years could not: convinced a nation that Korean fan death is probably hot air."[7]

Philip Hiscock, when interviewed by The Star, suggested that fan death's prevalence in Korean beliefs and its potential as a euphemism contributed to the idea's continuation, "Traditional fairy legends (or) contemporary UFO abductions are used for things that are either inadmissible or untellable in present company. The fact that fan death is well known in Korea (and) can be used to postpone explanations or cover up the truth is very interesting and a very traditional way of going about things."[18]

South Korean government

The Korea Consumer Protection Board (KCPB), a South Korean government-funded public agency, issued a consumer safety alert in 2006 warning that "asphyxiation from electric fans and air conditioners" was among South Korea's five most common summer accidents or injuries, according to data they collected.[19] The KCPB published the following:

If bodies are exposed to electric fans or air conditioners for too long, it causes [the] bodies to lose water and [causes] hypothermia. If directly in contact with [air current from] a fan, this could lead to death from [an] increase of carbon dioxide saturation concentration and decrease of oxygen concentration. The risks are higher for the elderly and patients with respiratory problems. From 2003 [to] 2005, a total of 20 cases were reported through the CISS [Consumer Injury Surveillance System] involving asphyxiations caused by leaving electric fans and air conditioners on while sleeping. To prevent asphyxiation, timers should be set, wind direction should be rotated, and doors should be left open.

See also


  1. ^ "[그것은 이렇습니다] 선풍기를 켜고 자면 질식 또는 저체온증으로 사망한다는데…". 2 August 2020. Archived from the original on 2021-05-13. Retrieved 2021-05-13.
  2. ^ "선풍기 켜고 자면 죽는다? 세계 특이한 미신". Archived from the original on 2021-05-13. Retrieved 2021-05-13.
  3. ^ "선풍기ㆍ에어컨 바람이 사망원인?". 18 July 2008. Archived from the original on 2021-05-13. Retrieved 2021-05-13.
  4. ^ "よく聞く「扇風機をつけっぱなしにして寝ると死ぬ」ってホント?". NAVER まとめ. Archived from the original on 2019-05-26. Retrieved 2019-05-19.
  5. ^ 「扇風機に当たったまま寝ると死ぬ」はホント!クーラーでも. 日刊SPA! (in Japanese). 15 August 2011. Archived from the original on 7 June 2019. Retrieved 19 May 2019.
  6. ^ Ima sugu sore o yamenasai : dokutā morita no yameru dake de kenkō ni naru gojū no hinto. Subarusha. 20 May 2016. ISBN 978-4799105207.
  7. ^ a b c Jennings, Ken (Jan 22, 2013). "Is Your Electric Fan Trying to Kill You? Fan death in Korea, the dangers of wearing red in the Philippines, and other momisms from around the world". Slate. Archived from the original on January 22, 2013. Retrieved January 22, 2013.
  8. ^ " Strange Harm From Electric Fans] Archived 2013-02-03 at the Wayback Machine", Jungoe Ilbo (Domestic and International Daily), July 31, 1927, "The rotating fan blades create a vacuum directly in front, and the intensity of the resulting air flow always results in an insufficient supply of oxygen to the lungs." (in Korean)
  9. ^ Herskovitz, Jon; Kim, Jessica (2007-07-09). "Electric fans and South Koreans: a deadly mix?". Reuters. Archived from the original on 2013-11-08. Retrieved 2013-07-21.
  10. ^ Excessive Heat Events Guidebook Archived 2011-08-09 at the Wayback Machine, United States Environmental Protection Agency. "Annex B: Use of Portable Electric Fans During Excessive Heat Events ... Don't Use a portable electric fan in a closed room without windows or doors open to the outside. ... Don't Use a portable electric fan to blow extremely hot air on yourself. This can accelerate the risk of heat exhaustion. ... Annex C: Excessive Heat Events Guidebook in Brief ... Don't direct the flow of portable electric fans toward yourself when room temperature is hotter than 90 °F."
  11. ^ a b Surridge, Grant. (2004-09-22). "Newspapers fan belief in urban myth." JoongAng Daily, via and Retrieved on 2007-08-30.
  12. ^ Adams, Cecil (1997-09-12). "Will sleeping in a closed room with an electric fan cause death?". The Straight Dope. Chicago Reader, Inc. Archived from the original on 2012-05-10. Retrieved 2007-08-02.
  13. ^ Watanabe, Toshifumi, and Masahiko Morita. (1998-08-31). "Asphyxia due to oxygen deficiency by gaseous substances." Forensic Science International, Volume 96, Issue 1, Pages 47–59. Retrieved on 2007-09-06.
  14. ^ Gill, James R., Susan F. Ely, and Zhongxue Hua. (2002). "Environmental Gas Displacement: Three Accidental Deaths in the Workplace." Archived 2007-09-30 at the Wayback Machine The American Journal of Forensic Medicine and Pathology, 23(1):26 –30, 2002. Retrieved on 2007-09-06.
  15. ^ ""Concentrated Carbon Dioxide in Western Pennsylvania."" (PDF). Archived (PDF) from the original on 2007-10-08. Retrieved 2007-09-06.
  16. ^ "Summer death revives fan death myth". The Korea Herald. 2011-07-04. Archived from the original on 2011-11-25.
  17. ^ "South Korea's Quirky Notions About Electric Fans". NPR. Archived from the original on 2017-06-12. Retrieved 2018-04-05.
  18. ^ Piercy, Justin (August 19, 2008). "Urban legend: That fan could be the death of you". Toronto Star. Daily News Brands (Torstar). Archived from the original on July 27, 2013. Retrieved May 20, 2020.
  19. ^ "Beware of Summer Hazards!" (Press release). Korea Consumer Protection Board (KCPB). 2006-07-18. Archived from the original on 2007-09-27. Retrieved 2007-09-01.