If you carry hand sanitizer in your vehicle, don’t worry about leaving it in the vehicle during hot weather. Despite mainstream internet and television reports that it may explode, it won’t. It’s a myth.
While flammable and quick-burning when ignited, it will not catch on fire if left in a vehicle during extreme conditions, according to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA).
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.
Hand sanitizer myth: It’s ok to carry in cars
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 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.
Article Last Updated: June 19, 2020.
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A sports, travel and business journalist for more than 45 years, James has written the new car review column The Weekly Driver since 2004.
In addition to this site, James writes a Sunday automotive column for The San Jose Mercury and East Bay Times in Walnut Creek, Calif., and a monthly auto review column for Gulfshore Business, a magazine in Southwest Florida.
An author and contributor to many newspapers, magazines and online publications, James has co-hosted The Weekly Driver Podcast since 2017.