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Fact Check: Can Hand Sanitizer Start a Car Fire?

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A number of internet stories have begun circulating about hand sanitizer igniting cars and causing massive fire damage, all with just a little bad luck. As always, it can be difficult to tell what's real and what's fiction, and in an age where most of us carry a little sanitizer on hand, it can be scary to think the bottle will explode in the heat. So is it really as dangerous as people say?

As a general rule, you probably shouldn't leave closed containers of flammable substances in your car, if at all possible, but not because they're absolutely gong to explode or start a fire. Because it contains alcohol, hand sanitizer is indeed flammable, but it's more stable than the story suggests. The fundamental misunderstanding behind the story is about the difference between the flash point and autoignition temperature of hand sanitizer.

Poynter reported that the flash point of hand sanitizer is about 63°F, which led to fears of it lighting up on hands and in hot cars. But 'flash point' does not refer to the temperature at which a substance automatically ignites. Flash point means the point at which a substance will catch fire if it comes into contact with an ignition source, such as a flame. If the sanitizer doesn't come into contact with an ignition source at this temperature, it won't catch fire. This and evaporation are reasons why you can put it on your hands on a hot day without fear of catching fire. The real concern is autoignition temperature, which refers to the temperature at which a substance will automatically catch fire. For hand sanitizer, this is a little less than 600°F. Your car will get hot on the inside, but it will never get that hot!

Watch out for internet hoaxes!

Photo: Pixabay