By James Raia
Don’t worry. The rumor about hand sanitizer exploding if left in a vehicle during hot weather is an internet myth.
While flammable and quickly burning when ignited, hand sanitizer will not catch on fire if left in a vehicle during extreme conditions, according to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA).
Hand sanitizers use either ethyl or isopropyl alcohol as the basis for their formulas.
“These alcohols have a low flashpoint,” said Guy Colonna, the Director of Standards for NFPA. “The flashpoint is the temperature at which the liquid begins to give off vapors.”
Colonna said for the alcohol used in sanitizers, the flashpoint is somewhere between 60 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit. But he added a 10-ounce bottle of hand sanitizer is not enough to cause a fire as long as it’s a sealed container.
Colonna says the container would need to be open, and have all the vapors from it collect in a small, confined area. Then, there would need to be something to ignite the collected vapors.
“You need an ignition source hot enough, like an open flame, or a spark, or something that is near 700, 800 degrees, and that is not going to happen in a car,” he said.
Recently, a photo began making the rounds on social media, showing the burned interior of a car that supposedly caught fire from a bottle of exploding hand sanitizer. The posts alleged the sanitizer spontaneously burst into flames because of the heat that built up inside the vehicle on a hot day.
The photo and explanation were even re-posted by fire departments and many reputable news agencies warning about the dangers of hand sanitizer in your car.
It turns out the photo originated in Brazil and had nothing to do with hand sanitizer.
Although a bottle of hand sanitizer in a car won’t explode, there is one issue with leaving it in a hot vehicle: The heat can change the properties of the alcohol, breaking it down and making it lose its effectiveness.
Editor: Fact-checker Snopes.com covers this topic very thoroughly here.
James Raia, a syndicated columnist in Sacramento, California, publishes a free weekly automotive podcast and electronic newsletter. Sign-ups are available on www.theweeklydriver.com. He can be reached via email: firstname.lastname@example.org.