A recent post on social media warns that hand sanitizer is a fire hazard if left in a hot car. Here, we dig into whether that's really true.

By Emily VanSchmus
June 08, 2020
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This article originally appeared on Better Homes & Gardens.

After two months of sheltering in place and practicing social distancing measures, I’ve got my safety routine down. I don't leave home often, and anytime I go out I wear my homemade face mask and take hand sanitizer with me. Lately, I’ve been keeping a small bottle of hand sanitizer in my car so that once I return from a Trader Joe’s run I can disinfect my hands right away. But this week, a viral Facebook post from a Wisconsin fire department made me rethink part of my safety routine.

The Western Lakes Fire District of Oconomowoc, WI, took to social media to spread the warning that hand sanitizers have the potential to catch on fire when left in a warm car. In the last week, their viral Facebook post has been shared more than 6,500 times. You might be aware that plastic water bottles can become a fire hazard in your car due to direct sunlight. And because hand sanitizers are typically stored in similar plastic containers, they pose the same risk. However, sanitizer contains alcohol, so the potential fire could be even more dangerous.

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The fire district's Facebook post reads, “While infrequent, there have been cases in the recent past where reflecting light placed through a clear bottle was able to focus onto a combustible surface and cause a fire. This has primarily been through water bottles but since hand sanitizer is often stored in the same vessel we wanted to pass it along for your safety. The principle is identical and obviously an additional issue would occur if it happened in the presence of an alcohol-based product.”

Like me, many commenters noted they've been storing sanitizer in their cars over the last few months and have yet to experience any consequences. The National Fire Prevention Association even declared that while alcohol-based liquids are extremely flammable, keeping hand sanitizer in your car does not pose a significant safety risk.

While it's unlikely that your sanitizer will catch fire or spontaneously combust simply by sitting in your car, the Western Lakes Fire District points out that it can still be a fire risk when exposed to a flame. You should never use or store hand sanitizer around an open flame: Smoking in your car or taking sanitizer to a barbecue and using or placing it next to a grill flame can be more dangerous than leaving a bottle in your car. Because hand sanitizer contains so much alcohol (the CDC says it needs to have 60% alcohol concentration to be effective), they’re particularly flammable.

If you do store hand sanitizer in your car, be sure to follow these safety tips:

  • Don't smoke or use a lighter in a car that contains hand sanitizer
  • Keep sanitizer out of direct sunlight (the glove compartment is generally a safe choice)
  • Use a sun shade during the day to lower the inside temperature of a parked car
  • Rather than leave it in the car, keep sanitizer in a pocket or purse as you run errands

After taking in all of the information, I transferred my travel-size hand sanitizer from my car to my purse so I can still use it before and after I go through the Starbucks drive-through (which just reopened!) without worrying about leaving it in the car. While it appears the chances of it catching fire are slim, I'd rather be safe than sorry.