Just read the answer Cecil gave, but he didn’t touch on one thing ( unless I missed it ): The ozone created by the electric motor. Couldn’t THAT be a causative factor in these deaths?


Korea uses AC house current just like every other modern
country. It therefore makes sense to use AC motors. AC
motors (like in a fan) don’t create ozone. Even most DC
fan motors these days are brushless and don’t create any
ozone either.

  • jam

this is an easy one. as a veteran who spent several years in Korea, this discussion comes from the common korean use of Andal(not sure if it is spelled right). this is a heating system used in Korean housing consisting of cylindrical shaped blocks of coal burned in order to heat the house. since the heating system is in the floor, the room needs to be well ventilated otherwise you risk asphyxsiation from the fumes. i know this for a fact as several GI’s died of this while i was stationed there.

Yep, that’ll be it for sure. Those weird whirbs in Korea
are always burning their heaters in the summertime. . .

Okay, more seriously, there is an aspect of what makes
an urban legend tick in what hiwaydog says. The fan
legend is easier to believe because the winter deaths
are real and caused by something unexpectedly insidious.
To someone who can’t understand carbon monoxide
poisoning happening in a room --even with an open window–
something like the fan nonsense makes as much sense.
They both feature trying to get relief from the seasonal
weather while sleeping and a terrible, punishing result.
People wrongly conflate the two issues in their minds.

Carbon monoxide is a real danger.

Electric fans are not.

  • jam

Thanks Guys! That makes sense.


Welcome to the SDMB, and thank you for posting your comment.
Please include a link to Cecil’s column if it’s on the straight dope web site.
To include a link, it can be as simple as including the web page location in your post (make sure there is a space before and after the text of the URL).

Cecil’s column can be found on-line at this link:
Will sleeping in a closed room with an electric fan cause death? (12-Sep-1997)

moderator, «Comments on Cecil’s Columns»

I don’t know what you guys are talking about – this fan-death thing is totally real! It happened to this guy I heard about at my college. After that, they banned hot plates and there hasn’t been a single fan death since. For once, college rules make sense!

The Korean Fans of Death have spread!!!

All the way to Japan!!!

My Mom, who is Japanese (coincidentally, like me) used to admonish me about prolonged exposure to fans, too. I was under the impression that it had something to do with that when there skin has prolonged exposure to the breeze, it couldn’t breathe properly. It also seemed to be that if the breeze were from a natural source, this wouldn’t happen.

I’m not saying that any of this makes sense.

Sleeping in a closed room with a fan running is very common among third-shift workers in the USA. I worked third for several years, and I know many people who sleep that way every day. It’s the only way they can sleep through the noise of ordinary daytime life, such as noisy children. I never heard of any of those folks dying of asfix, uh, assfyks, er, Korean fan syndrome.

Wow. My wife can’t get to sleep in a quiet room, so for the 20 years I’ve slept with her, we’ve always had an electric fan running in the room - summer or winter, windows closed or open (almost never). Not for circulation, but for the noise.

Guess we’ve cheated death.

For the first time ever, I’m going to post a “me too”.

Me, too! :smiley:

Then again, John Belushi died in a room with a fan. The fan gave him too much dope.

I can’t believe I found this here! My husband and I were teaching English in Chonan (Korea), and we heard about this right before we came home. We were having dinner with some American friends and a couple of the Koreans that they worked with, and we were all talking about how hot it was. They told us to be sure not to sleep in a closed room with the fan on because we could die. We thought this was ridiculous but didn’t spend too much time arguing with them.

The very next day we saw this article in the paper. We cut it out and saved it. My husband is getting a PhD in folklore and he’s always interested in these urban legends. He says someone really needs to do some work on modern Korean folklore. There’s so much there, but only the historical kind has been “studied.”

Well, I’m not in Korea but I am in NJ so thats sorta the same. Anyway, during this last summer, this has actually almost happened to me.I was in the room with a window fan and the door was closed. After a while I found it really hard to breathe. I opened the door but the fanpulled it shut. so i pryed the door open and stuck a book in the way so it wouldn’t close. After that it was fine. As long as you have proper ventilation, it’s okay. Otherwise, I hear CO2 poisening isnt very painful.

I almost died from leaving a fan on overnight.

It was one of those big ceiling fans. Around 4am, it came off its mounting and the whole assembly went crashing down onto the bed.

I wasn’t directly under the fan, so it only hit my legs. Still.

Maybe that’s what the Koreans are going on about.

I work in a hospital. I used to have a bad habit of removing the cap from my pen with my teeth. (Just a note. While in a hospital don’t put things in your mouth unless you know EVERYWHERE they’ve been.) A nurse told me that chewing on pen caps is the number one cause of unexplained hepatitis transmission in hospitals.

That struck me as odd. While I did get the message to think about where I was while sucking on a strange pen, it occurred to me that if the hepatitis transmission was unexplained, how did they KNOW it came from the pen. I expect that they simply stopped looking for other possible causes once they had a culprit.

The same idea with the fan deaths. Start with a million people. If 1/100th of 1% of them are likely to die in their sleep in the next year, that would be 100 sudden deaths in a year. If 50% occur in the warm months, that would make 50. Presumably, the people of Korea don’t listen to warnings about fan deaths any more than Americans do to Surgeon General warnings about tobacco, so we’ll say 50% of people have fans running. That means 25 people die in their sleep with running fans out of a population of 1 million.

If there is common belief that fans cause death, then autopsies are less likely when the fan is blamed. So, while the fan may not cause the death, the commonness of the belief makes it an easy scapegoat.

The lesson is, don’t confuse before and after with cause and effect. We need to understand a mechanism of action in order to be really sure one thing is causing another. Or at least VERY GOOD double blind studies.

Otherwise, we are likely to believe that Bill Clinton is to blame for the good economy, even though no one can mention a single thing he did to make it good.

However, as I was typing this, I did have a thought of a possible (not likely, just possible) cause.

Is it possible the fan made it possible to fall asleep in a room where the oxygen level was uncomfortably low. In other words, made you comfortable when you would have, in absense of the fan, opened a window.

This would be similar to the danger of an eclipse. The eclipse doesn’t make the suns rays more dangerous. It just makes it possible to stare at the sun without feeling pain. Staring at an eclipse won’t blind you any faster than staring at the sun will. You simply aren’t tempted to stare at the sun under normal circumstances.

So, could it be that the fan just makes you comfortable in a dangerously stuffy room? HMMMMM?

I don’t think so. How much O2 does a sleeping human being consume in 8 hours, compared with the amount in a sealed room? I do know that people sit in parked automobiles with the windows tightly closed for hours on end (i.e. in winter) with no ill effects. I suspect that even in a sealed room, the O2 content would decline by no more than a few percent.

This is UL material to me.


Just a couple of inputs.

Who sleeps in a closed room in Korea in the summer? When I lived there (9 years), I had all the windows open, fans in them, and fans pointed at me (and still sweat my butt off).

Also, even when a house is sealed up, there is still a lot of air flow. One house I lived in we had plastic taped to the windows (in the winter) and the curtains still moved everytime the wind blew.

Kid_Gilligan said:

It seems to me there’s another way to interpret that remark. You have patients come down with hepatitis. There are no traditional explanations, so it is unexplained hepatitis transmission. Subsequently, you notice the person sucks and/or chews on pen caps. Suddenly the transmission vector becomes known. It’s no longer unexplained - it was unexplained until the pen cap connection was made.

 Cars are quite porous.