Being aware of even the smallest fire hazards in your home is essential in minimising your fire risk.
While electrical equipment, candles and open fires are more common sources of house fires, there are a handful of other common household items that you may not have known were highly flammable.
Here are six lesser-known flammable items to be mindful of in your home.
1. Linseed oil
Commonly used to polish furniture and other timber products, linseed oil is a drying oil, meaning it can easily oxidise into a solid form during the drying process. Unlike paint, which dries through the evaporation of solvent or water, linseed oil generates heat while drying through oxidation – the same chemical process that causes fire.
In some cases, the heat produced has the potential to ignite the material being used to apply the polish without any other heat source being applied to it. This is called spontaneous combustion, as it occurs without an existing fire source. It can occur on linseed oil-soaked rags or cloths that are left tightly compressed after use where enough heat is produced and contained without proper ventilation.
To prevent this from occurring, linseed oil-soaked rags should be rinsed then unravelled and dried completely flat before disposal or storage. Dried rags should be stored in a container with a close-fitting lid away from any other combustible materials.
2. Sugar and other cooking powders
When suspended in the air in the form of a dust cloud, sugar has the potential to ignite if it comes in contact with a spark or flame. In fact, any very fine particles that can hang in the air and form a cloud can be flammable.
Tiny sugar particles have the power to set off a small explosion when these fine particles form a cloud. Sugar can ignite at high temperatures, depending on humidity levels and the speed at which it is heated up. This can be seen in sugary foods such as marshmallows, which are quick to char and burn when held over an open flame.
A sugar ‘explosion’ will only pose a serious fire risk if it occurs near other combustible materials. To prevent this, store your sugar and any other powdered foods in sealed containers away from open flames, or heat sources like ovens or stoves.
3. Hand sanitiser
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) issued a regulation that hand sanitisers must contain either 80 per cent ethanol or 75 per cent isopropanol. Both are a type of alcohol, and both are classified as highly flammable.
Though small quantities of hand sanitiser don’t often pose a fire hazard, it’s important to store and use it safely to minimise risk. One way to do so is to ensure sanitiser has completely dried on your hands before you touch a metal surface. If static electricity is produced, the vapour produced by the hand sanitiser has potential to ignite.
In poorly ventilated or humid areas, even a small leakage of hand sanitiser from its container could ignite if exposed to a spark or flame. Ensure you’re storing sanitiser safely, with the lid tightly screwed on and the pump cleaned to prevent dripping.
4. Orange peel and orange oil
Orange peel contains tiny pockets in which oil is stored. More than 90 per cent of this oil consists of a chemical called limonene; a highly flammable liquid.
Orange oil, produced from the skin of oranges, is sometimes uses as household cleaning agent. It’s especially useful when degreasing surfaces, polishing and shining furniture, or as an all-purpose spray cleaner when combined with baking soda and water. To reduce fire risk, never spritz orange oil-based cleaning products near fire sources, including stove tops.
5. Nail polish (and remover)
Acetone, a key ingredient in many nail polishes and nail polish removers, is an extremely flammable liquid. Nail polish formulas vary from brand to brand, but most will either contain acetone or nitrocellulose (another highly flammable chemical).
While applying nail polish, be wary of open flames nearby, as it’s most flammable when wet. As nail polish dries, its acetone content evaporates and therefore reduces its fire risk.
Although acetone is one of many different ingredients in nail polish, nail polish remover is often a solution of 100 per cent acetone. This means it is a more flammable product. If using nail polish remover, wash your hands thoroughly afterwards to reduce any risk, and ensure its container is tightly sealed and stored in a dry, cool place.
If you’re using a lot of nail polish remover at once, squeeze any excess liquid from your cotton ball or rag before disposing of it to reduce the amount of flammable liquid in it. To reduce the risk of fire from storing acetone-soaked rags, always carefully dispose of anything used to apply nail polish remover after use.
6. Lithium-ion batteries
Lithium-ion batteries can pose a fire risk if recharged incorrectly. As these batteries store a lot of power, they should always be treated with caution.
Before plugging in to recharge, ensure the device you’re charging is on a hard surface – leaving it to charge on a soft surface like a bed or couch could lead to heat build-up. Also ensure there are no highly flammable items near your device as it charges.
You should also check that your charging cord is fully unwound before plugging it into power – a cord that is coiled or kinked has the potential to overheat.
Dropping a lithium-ion battery or any impact powerful enough to damage the exterior of the battery could cause the chemicals inside to generate excessive heat, and potentially ignite. Dropping one repeatedly could trigger this reaction.
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