Fire department warning: Hand sanitizer could explode in your car this summer
Just when you thought you were playing it safe.
The Western Lakes Fire Department of Oconomowoc, Wisconsin, shared an explosive photograph Thursday as a warning to all you motorists trying to be hyper-vigilant about the coronavirus this summer.
Leave your hand sanitizer in a hot car and your vehicle’s interior could end up a fire scene.
“By its nature, most hand sanitizer is alcohol-based and therefore flammable,” the fire officials wrote on Facebook May 21, alongside a photo of a driver-side door interior that had been mangled and melted by hand sanitizer.
“Keeping it in your car during hot weather, exposing it to sun causing magnification of light through the bottle — and particularly being next to open flame while smoking in vehicles or grilling while enjoying this weekend — can lead to disaster,” they explained.
The first responders, who use their social media presence to educate their community on common fire hazards, added that clear water bottles also pose an explosion risk. They included a link to the National Fire Protection Association’s YouTube video with more warnings on hand sanitizer combustion.
However, a few citizen journalists on social media were dubious of the bizarre claim, asking the WLFD to provide hard evidence of spontaneous hand sanitizer combustion.
“Has WLFD seen incidents of either of these two things happening?” asked Jeff Meyers. Others replied to Meyers’ query claiming they had parsed the links provided in the original Facebook post, but none pointed to proof of the hand sanitizer blast theory.
Meyers continued, “I’ve found stories of bottles that swelled and ‘exploded’ (due to pressure, not combustion) that were in hot cars, but nothing about bottles of hand sanitizers spontaneously combusting. Additionally I did find some stories that claimed hand sanitizers would lose their effectiveness if left in a hot car. (no mention of fire risk).”
“Please quote your sources,” echoed Sara Morgan.
Claiming the WLFD has an “ethical duty” to back up this claim, Meyers and others had finally goaded a response.
“We thankfully have not and are doing our best to keep it that way,” the fire department wrote. “We would also champion you searching your most trusted and enjoyed sources for more information,” they added in a later response.
And Meyers, ever the investigator (apparently), did just that — after digging for an undisclosed amount of time through comments on fire hazard videos.
“And from the cited youtube video comments,” he followed up alongside a screenshot — a question to the National Fire Protection Association from one Ken K.
“Say my car is sitting in the hot sun in the summer, should I be worried if my hand sanitizer is in the glove box, can it spontaneously combust just from heat?”
The NFPA responded, “Thanks for your question, Ken! The vapors generated at the flashpoint of hand sanitizer discussed in this video still require an ignition source (like a flame from a candle) to cause the vapors being released by the liquid to ignite. For it to spontaneously combust with no other, external ignition source other than self-heating alone, you’d have to reach over 700 degrees F!”
To recap: Yes, hand sanitizer can explode in a hot car — if it’s as hot as a commercial pizza oven. Otherwise, it’s safe to be sanitary this summer, drivers. Godspeed!
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