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No, Hand Sanitizer Won’t Set Your Car on Fire: Nascent Myth Busters

Post by Sebastian the Editor on May 27, 2020
This image has been circulating social media for the past few weeks with warnings about hand sanitizer and cars, and has now made its way to radio and tv. The information being shared is incorrect, and we want to set the record straight.
Photo of a car door that has been damaged in a fire
Myth: The image being circulated is from a car fire involving hand sanitizer

Fact: The source of the image is uncertain. It has not been linked to a fire involving hand sanitizer.  It first began circulating on Whatsapp in April 2020. Most of the posts were from Brazilian users.  The posts shared in Portuguese claimed that the image was from a car fire were a bottle of hand sanitizer ‘spontaneously combusted’. This hasn’t been proven and there is no evidence backing these claims.

Fact: Yes, hand sanitizer is flammable.

Hand sanitizer is 60-80% alcohol. Alcohol is extremely flammable. Care should be taken when using hand sanitizer and bottles shouldn’t be stored near open flames, for example a bbq or while smoking.
Myth: Hand sanitizer can spontaneously combust in your car.
Fact: For hand sanitizer to spontaneously combust, it would have to be exposed to at least 700° F (371° C)1. A car parked in the sun for an hour on a 37° C day (100° F), only reaches 47° C (116° F). The dashboard reaches only 69° C (157° F). That level of heat is extremely unsafe for people and pets, but nowhere near hot enough to cause hand sanitizer to spontaneously combust.
A graph showing the temperature in a car on a hot day

Graphic by Safwat Saleem/Arizona State University

Myth: The sun shining through a bottle of clear hand sanitizer bottle can start a fire.
Fact: Technically, yes. The clear plastic bottle could act as a lense and focus heat into a flammable beam. But, it is extremely unlikely. “The sun, the bottle, and a flammable source would all have to be in perfect alignment on a rather hot day to ignite a fire. “2 (Snopes, 2020). If you are still concerned, store your hand sanitizer away from the car window, such as in a glove box or under your seat.
Conclusion: Unless you are storing drums of hand sanitizer in your car, you do not have to worry about it catching on fire.  If it does, you have the best of the worst luck and get a prize for your misfortune.
Sources for further research:
1. Can hand sanitizer spontaneously ignite in a hot car? by the Natural Fire Prevention Association. https://community.nfpa.org/community/nfpa-today/blog/2020/05/22/can-hand-sanitizer-spontaneously-combust
2. Will Hand Sanitizer Combust If Left in a Hot Car? by Dan Evon on snopes.com https://www.snopes.com/fact-check/hand-sanitizer-explodes-hot-car/
Study: Hot cars can hit deadly temperatures in as little as one hour by Leslie Minton of Arizona State University https://health.asu.edu/study-hot-cars-can-hit-deadly-temperatures-little-one-hour

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