Alcohol-based hand sanitiser cannot catch fire, without a spark, just because it's in a hot car

24th Jun 2020

Claim

Alcohol-based hand sanitiser can become heated when left in hot cars leading to flammable vapours being released, these can then ignite in normal air conditions and set fire to flammable components in the car.

Conclusion

This is incorrect. Alcohol-based hand sanitiser cannot catch fire at the temperatures found in cars without a spark.

A number of Facebook pages linked to the NHS and doctors’ surgeries have shared the claim that alcohol-based hand sanitiser left in hot cars can catch on fire spontaneously due to the hot weather.

This is incorrect. As we have previously stated, the flammable ingredients in hand sanitiser would need to be at much higher temperatures, over 350°C, to combust without a spark. Vapours given off by antibacterial hand gel can ignite, with a spark, at temperatures as low as 22°C, but this does not mean it would ignite on its own in a warm car. 

A number of posts attribute the information to NHS Property and Services.

We reached out to NHS Property and Services about the posts and asked where it heard the claim from. It stated that it was advised by representatives from Unison, a trade union, and it issued the advice internally out of concern for its staff 

It provided the following statement:

“At the end of May, NHS Property Services (NHSPS) received notifications from safety officers at Unison, who raised media reports from US Fire Authorities that hand sanitisers were catching fire in vehicles.

“As part of our COVID-19 strategic pandemic plans, NHSPS has acquired significant levels of hand sanitisers to keep our frontline engineers safe.

“At NHSPS we take our duty of care toward our frontline staff very seriously. As such, in response to the notification we received, our health and safety team issued an internal message to highlight the potential risks associated with hand sanitisers in vehicles. With the hot summer approaching, there was concern for our facilities management staff who would be transporting this material.

“This decision to raise awareness across colleagues was made in good faith. It is now our understanding that the risks associated with hand sanitisers in vehicles only become apparent when in contact with a spark. We will be issuing a formal alert to our frontline teams to clarify this situation.”