Fact Check: Can Hand Sanitisers Inside Cars Cause Fire?

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New Delhi: Scary images of a car and its driver going up in flames in Delhi claiming it to due to a sanitiser are circulating on social media. While police are investigating the matter, here’s what experts have to say about it.

“Theoretically, a bottle of sanitiser bursting into fire on its own in a hot car is extremely unlikely – if not impossible,” confirms renowned fire expert DK Shammi in a report published in India Today. DK Shammi is also a fire advisor to the Government of India.

While alcohol-based hand sanitisers are flammable, ethyl alcohol in sanitisers has an auto-ignition temperature of 363 degrees Celsius, which is much more than a car parked in the sun can get to. 363 degrees Celsius is so hot that metals such as lead and tin would melt. 

Is it safe to leave alcohol-based sanitisers inside cars?

There are situations where this can be dangerous. For example, if an open bottle of sanitiser is kept inside a hot car, it evaporates and spreads inside the cabin. If a person enters the car and lights a cigarette, the whole car can go up in smoke.

This is because alcohol’s flash-point is just 21°C. This means it can evaporate and form a highly flammable vapour at such a low temperature. Then all it would take is a spark, which can from an ignition or even the horn, explained Shammi.

Safety guidelines clearly state that sanitisers should be kept in a cool, well-vented place with the lid tightly closed. Also, extreme heat can alter the chemical composition making it less effective.

Experts advise waiting for a few seconds with open windows to dry after wiping the inside of a car with alcohol-based cleaners before turning on the ignition.

 

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