Hand sanitizer fake news: It doesn’t explode in hot cars, trucks, RVs

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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 santizer will not explode if left inside a vehicle in hot weather conditions.
Hand sanitizer will not explode if left inside a vehicle in hot weather conditions.

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: james@jamesraia.com.

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Carson Axtell
3 months ago

You have to wonder who starts these fake news rumors: bored teenagers and other petty miscreants, or people intent on destroying our society’s trust in truth and facts.

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RV Staff (@rvstaff)
3 months ago
Reply to  Carson Axtell

Or, sadly, probably all of the above. 🙁 —Diane at RVtravel.com

Goldie
3 months ago

The hand sanitizer does not explode but it has contributed to several fires. When left in direct sun, the sanitizer has a magnifying effect, concentrating the sunlight as a magnifying glass would. The resulting fire is helped along by the sanitizer once the plastic bottle melts. Be aware of the location of your sanitizer if you leave it in your vehicle.

Dr4Film
3 months ago

From the get-go I knew that this was a fake news story. I’ve always had a small bottle of hand sanitizer in my car for decades under extreme heat conditions in Nevada, Florida & California.

Seann Fox
3 months ago

I never thought for a minute that hand sanitizer would explode. BUT it does make a great campfire starter especially with wet wood.