Lifestyle & Human Interest

Updated: Fire Department Removes Post Claiming Not To Leave Hand Sanitizer in Your Vehicle


UPDATE, May 26, 2020: After the publication of this article, the Western Lakes Fire District removed their post from Facebook. In their original post, WLFD linked to the National Fire Protection Association’s video, “Fire safety considerations for hand sanitizer.” The video describes how hand sanitizer is ignitable if met with a “viable ignition source,” but it does not mention the risk of car fires.

“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!” NFPA wrote in the comments section of the video.

This article has been updated to include the Facebook post with WLFD’s statement. The article appears as originally written.

Summer is coming — for some of us, the temperatures are already there. With the onslaught of the heat, there are precautionary measures we know to take.

Don’t leave babies in the car. Don’t leave pets in the car. Don’t even leave plants or frozen food in the car — they’ll be ruined because nothing can survive the heat that gets magnified inside the car.

Watch out for mirrors, which might catch and focus the light and start a fire. Don’t leave water bottles out, because they, too, might trap and focus the light, starting a fire.

While the conditions for a water-bottle-related fire have to be just right, it is possible — if not prevalent.

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“The conditions must be just right,” Oklahoma’s Midwest City Fire Department spokesperson, David Richardson, told Today. “The bottle has to have liquid, the liquid has to be clear, the bottle has to be clear and sunlight has to pass through it at the right angle.”

Of course, one easy way to avoid this danger while staying hydrated is to keep water in a container that is not clear and cannot focus light into a fire-starting beam.

Now, with increased cleanliness measures, the Western Lakes Fire District in Wisconsin is warning people of a new potential danger: hand sanitizer.

“Let’s start today with a little education!” the department shared on Thursday. “We’ve chatted in the past about clear water bottles being kept in your vehicle when the weather is warm.”

Do you keep hand sanitizer in your car?

“That still holds true and so does hand sanitizer! By its nature, most hand sanitizer is alcohol-based and therefore flammable. 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.”

“Please respect the possibilities and be fire safe.”

Many people in the comments contested the information, saying that it would be very unlikely for a bottle of hand sanitizer to combust as the temperature would have to be very high inside the car, so the fire district clarified their position.

“You are correct that the car temperature would not have to reach 300 F,” the department responded. “However, the interior of the container would which is very possible due to focused light through clear plastic. This is the difference we are talking about.”

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Others questioned the photo use, claiming that it looked more like the result of a window control switch malfunctioning and catching on fire. When asked what the photo was of, the fire district confirmed that it was from a door panel fire, but that they see similar damage from smoking-related incidents.

It seems that while it would be very unlikely for a container of hand sanitizer to randomly combust, it is possible for it to act like a water bottle and burn the interior of a car, and it’s true that it’s a flammable substance which, if exposed to flame through a fire or lit cigarette, could pose more of a problem than it’s meant to solve.

According to WPLG, there have been several recent incidents of people needing burn treatments on their hands because they used hand sanitizer and then got too close to an open flame — though you don’t even have to be that close for the sanitizer to catch on fire.

As always, it’s good to be aware of your surroundings and mindful of your actions, especially when using a substance that could ignite.

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