Is Hand Sanitizer a Fire Safety Hazard? Here's What Experts Say

Experts say that although alcohol-based hand sanitizer is flammable, the possibility of the substance starting car fires is unlikely

Western Lakes Fire District

Fire officials in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin are warning about the dangers of leaving hand sanitizer in your car when the weather is warm.

The Western Lakes Fire District shared a photo of a burned car door, explaining that keeping clear bottles inside a hot car could be potentially disastrous.

"By its nature, most hand sanitizer is alcohol-based and therefore flammable," the Western Lakes Fire District said in a post. "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."

Experts have weighed in on claims similar to those made by the Western Lakes Fire District, saying that the possibility of alcohol-based hand sanitizers starting car fires is unlikely.

According to a report by Poynter, hoaxes concerning car fires caused by hand sanitizer first appeared in Thailand, Costa Rica, and Brazil.

The first hoax involved a video of two men getting into a car that catches fire. However, AFP Thailand’s fact-check found that the video was from 2015 and depicted an incident involving two men who used a lighter and aerosol spray in a confined space.

Poynter reported that a car would need to reach an internal temperature of 572 degrees Fahrenheit to cause hand sanitizer to combust, and a study by Arizona State University found that temperatures inside cars only reached approximately 160 degrees Fahrenheit.

The Western Lakes Fire Department responded to the controversy surrounding its post, saying that the post was taken in different directions from their original goal. The fire district explained that the image used in the post was not from their district and was not caused by an exploding container of hand sanitizer, explaining that their post was intended to help prevent fire or injury caused by hand sanitizer use.

NBC 5 News
The Western Lakes Fire District edits their Facebook post to clarify the use of a photo showing a melted car door.

However, while hand sanitizer is unlikely to combust inside a hot car, the National Fire Protection Association said that the substance is still highly flammable and should be stored appropriately.

According to the National Fire Protection Association, when considering the flammability of hand sanitizer, individuals should consider the substance's flash point, or the temperature at which the liquid gives off enough vapor to ignite in air.

For alcohol-based hand sanitizers, the flash point is roughly 63 degrees Fahrenheit, meaning that if the liquid is stored at room temperature, it could ignite if it comes in contact with a flame.

The National Fire Protection Association said alcohol-based hand sanitizers evaporate quickly when applied to the skin, so individuals should not be concerned about a flammability threat when using it on their hands.

Storing hand sanitizer, especially in large amounts, does pose a fire risk, the National Fire Protection Association said. Quantities of hand sanitizer above 5 gallons should be stored in a flammable liquids cabinet or in areas protected by an automatic sprinkler system.

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