Alcohol Based Hand Sanitizer Left In A Car Cause It To Combust

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The Windshield ShatterFix team investigate the claim that a bottle of hand sanitizer may  start a fire in one's car on a hot day.

A Big Rumor

As of May 28, India has reported 1,82,000 cases of COVID-19 out of which 86,984 are active. Till date 67,692 have recovered from the disease and 5,164 Indians have lost their lives to the deadly virus. In the fight against COVID-19, Masks and sanitizers have become an essential part of our daily lives. 

Netizens on social media have been sharing a video with the claim that a bottle of sanitizer if left in a car, may cause it to combust. 

Images showing a burnt car is also doing the rounds with similar claims.

The claim is misleading.


Are Alcohol-Based Hand  Sanitizer Flammable (ABHS)?  

According to the Centers for Disease Control And Prevention (CDC), ABHS  consist of ethyl alcohol, which can readily evaporate at room  temperature into an ignitable vapour. It is considered a flammable  liquid. 

Although the incidence of fires related to ABHS is rare, it is vital that ABHS is stored safely and bulk dispensers with ABHS in it are  installed and maintained correctly. 

Spontaneous Combustion Of Hand Sanitizer  

According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), USA, for hand sanitizer to spontaneously combust, it has to be exposed to extreme  heat (over 700 degrees Fahrenheit).

A study published in May 2018 in the journal Temperature said that a car parked on a  95-degree day would have an average temperature of about 116 degrees.

It also said that the temperature of the dashboard may reach close to 160 degrees, which is much less than the 700 degrees necessary for spontaneous combustion.  

However, hand sanitizer still presents fire safety concerns.

According to the  association, "All of this said, hand sanitizer still presents fire  safety concerns, especially when stored in bulk quantities."  

"Theoretically, a bottle of sanitizer bursting into fire on its own in a  hot car is extremely unlikely - if not impossible," India Today quoted  renowned fire expert DK Shammi, who is also a fire advisor to the  Government of India, as saying.  

He, however, warned that in a specific scenario if a person, whose car is parked outdoors on a hot sunny day for a couple of hours with an open  bottle of sanitizer on the dashboard, enters the car and before driving  away, decides to light a cigarette, it is possible that the car may combust.


What Is Flashpoint?  

According to NFPA, Flashpoint is a technical term used to characterize  the propensity of a liquid to burn. It is defined as the temperature at  which a liquid gives off enough vapour to become ignitable in the air.  

At that temperature, however, an ignition source like a flame from a candle or a lighter is required for ignition to occur.  

Reportedly, the flashpoint of alcohol in sanitizer is just 21°C.  

The current daytime temperature in Delhi is double that. Therefore, if one leaves an open bottle of sanitizer, it will evaporate quickly into the atmosphere due to the heat.

"If the sanitizer  bottle kept in a car is not airtight, the vapors will keep on  accumulating inside the closed car and it will become like a gas  chamber. Then all it will take to start a fire is a small spark which  can be from the ignition or even horn," Shammi added.

Further, safety  guidelines about sanitizers mention that it must be stored in a cool, well-ventilated place with the container tightly closed.

Therefore, it is not  advisable to leave an open bottle of sanitizer in the car on a hot sunny  day. While a small bottle of hand sanitizer in one's car might not lead to spontaneous combustion, it would be wise to not store hand sanitizer in direct sunlight inside the car.