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FACT CHECK: Can hand sanitizer catch fire in your car?

Can leaving your hand sanitizer in a hot car cause it to catch fire? Getty Images

Can leaving a bottle of hand sanitizer in a hot car cause it to catch fire? Well, the short answer is yes, but it’s unlikely.

Photos of a burned-out car door have been circulating on the internet, with the caution that leaving a bottle of alcohol-based gel in the car could lead to a fire. 

The Western Lakes Fire district posted this image on Facebook, saying that because hand sanitizer is alcohol-based, if sunlight refracts through the clear bottle in the right way, it could cause the gel to ignite. 

 

 

“By its nature, most hand sanitizer is alcohol-based and therefore flammable. Keeping it in your car during hot weather, exposing it to sun causing magnification of light through the bottle,
—-and particularly being next to open flame while smoking in vehicles or grilling while enjoying this weekend—-can lead to disaster.

Please respect the possibilities and be fire safe,” they wrote.

It’s unclear where the photo was originally shared from, but fact-checking website Poynter says that the stories were originally shared in Thailand. 

According to Poynter, Brazilian fact-checkers found that it would take temperatures in excess of 570 degrees for hand sanitizer to spontaneously combust, well above the recorded temperatures registered inside most cars parked in the summer heat. 

National Fire Protection Association

 

The nonprofit National Fire Protection Association which provides training and standards for firefighters says that hand sanitizer can be a dangerous material.

With the makeup of most alcohol-based hand sanitizers being made up of 70% ethanol or isopropyl alcohol, the flashpoint is only around 63 or 64 degrees Fahrenheit.

Guy Colonna, the director of NFPA’s engineering technical services says that puts the flashpoint at basically room temperature. That means that no more added heat is needed for those flammable vapors to be given off.

“Once those vapors concentrated in those right proportions of fuel vapors with the oxygen in the air, then the only thing that’s missing in order to make them ignitable is a viable ignition source.”

That’s why shipments or storage of more than 5 gallons of hand sanitizer are regulated.

Should you be worried about hand sanitizer starting a car fire?

No, experts say.

While there is a slight chance that the sun could refract through a clear bottle of hand sanitizer, much like the way paper can be burned with a magnifying glass, those chances aren’t very great.