A fire department is warning that because of hand sanitizer’s high alcohol content it could explode in a hot car. The Western Lakes Fire Department in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin, posted a picture on its Facebook page of what can happen. It shows a smoking driver’s door panel that is melted in spots. Accompanying the image is this warning: “Keeping it in your car during hot weather, exposing it to the sun causing magnification of light through the bottle, and particularly being next to an open flame while smoking in vehicles or grilling while enjoying this weekend, can lead to disaster. Please respect the possibilities and be fire safe.” It’s a great car safety tip. But can hand sanitizers really explode in hot cars?
As you can imagine social media immediately challenged the post
Backing up the post is a link to more information in a PDF from the National Fire Protection Association. There is also a link to a YouTube video that was recently uploaded. As you can imagine social media immediately challenged the post.
Hand sanitizer is in universal demand due to its ability to break down the COVID-19 virus quickly on hands and surfaces. Some are even making their own with a combo of 70% isopropyl alcohol and 30% gel.
According to station WLNS the image isn’t from Wisconsin or even the US. It actually came from Brazil and it shows the aftermath of hand sanitizer that somehow came in contact with an open flame. Perhaps a cigarette?
“We frequently see the same issues and damage from smoking in vehicles”
Someone commented about the image, “Determined cause of this photo? Pressurized container?” The response is, “It’s a fire in a door panel. We frequently see the same issues and level of damage from smoking in vehicles.”
Another Facebook poster wrote, “It’s not going to ignite unless exposed to an ignition source. The car temperature would have to get well over 300 F degrees for it to combust on its own. So unless you’re putting an open flame to it, you don’t have to worry about fire.” Why do random Facebook posters know this but the fire department doesn’t?
The fire department defended their post by reminding the poster that they were right but that the liquid in the container could easily reach 300 F degrees from light being focused through the clear plastic or glass. “This is the difference we’re talking about,” the fire department said. But not so fast.
It looks like the risk of hand sanitizer blowing up inside a hot car is zero
The National Fire Protection Association says that the vapors from hand sanitizer would require either an ignition source like a flame from a candle. Without an ignition source the ambient heat inside of the vehicle would have to be over 700 F degrees. So it looks like the risk of hand sanitizer blowing up inside of a hot car looks to be zero.
A recent study by Arizona State University found in extremely hot weather a car’s interior gets to 160 F degrees. So the naysayers were right. Hand sanitizers can’t just explode in a hot car. And in fact the image posted was from an open flame burning directly on the bottle.
Most of the time you can rely on postings like this from police and fire departments. But most of the time you shouldn’t take any advice or information as solid. Unless it’s from Motor Biscuit.