Health & Wellness

Remember: Most Hand Sanitizer Is Flammable

It turns out that fire safety is a concern, after all

By Caitlin Finlay


Some months ago, reports that hand sanitizer left in a hot car could burst into flames spread quickly online. The reports weren’t true: while research showed that the temperature inside a car would need to reach 300° Celsius (572° Fahrenheit) to cause sanitizer to combust, a study conducted at Arizona State University found that the internal temperatures of cars reach only about 70° Celsius, or about 160° Fahrenheit.

Nevertheless, most sanitizers are alcohol-based and can, in fact, create a fire hazard if used incorrectly.

A Texas woman is recovering after a horrific accident in early September left her with severe burns on 18% of her body. She had recently applied sanitizer to her hands, and when she then lit a candle, her hand caught fire. The flames then came in contact with the bottle of sanitizer and caused an explosion.

Most hand sanitizers are alcohol-based and are therefore flammable. (The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends an alcohol content of 60% to 95% for effective hand sanitizers.) When the sanitizer dries and evaporates, it creates a flammable vapour.

In report in a USA Today report, the CDC pointed out that while the risk of fires from hand sanitizers is low, the products must be stored and used correctly. The US National Fire Protection Association has published a video explaining hand-sanitizer fire safety and storage.

Health experts and hand-sanitizer brands recommend applying the sanitizer to your hands, rubbing your hands together, and waiting a minute or more for the sanitizer to dry completely. Once the sanitizer has dried, you should wave your hands about to displace any vapours in the air and wait a few minutes for the vapours to dissipate—especially before attempting to strike a match or light a candle, cigarette, or barbecue.

Sanitizers should be stored away from any heat or ignition sources—such as flames, sparks, objects with static electricity, and electrical outlets—and should not be stored in large quantities. Any spilled sanitizer should be cleaned up with water immediately and any ignition sources removed from the area.

Photo: Unsplash/Kelly Sikkema.