Is it a fire hazard to leave sanitizer in your car, especially on a hot day? Firefighters have the answer

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COLUMBUS (WCMH) — As the Coronavirus threat still remains, many of us are carrying hand sanitizer and often leaving it in the car.  

The question has come up if sanitizer could possibly cause a fire. There is a photo that surfaced a few weeks ago from a fire department in Wisconsin, sending the message that people need to be careful leaving their sanitizer in the car to prevent fires like that from happening. 

That photo circling the internet has since been taken down by the fire department. They soon apologized and stated they did not say it was their photo and it was only used to get their point across. 

According to a recent report by Poynter, there have been a few of these hoaxes concerning car fires caused by sanitizer. The first appeared in Thailand, and even Costa Rica and Brazil. 

So, we wanted to find out if this could really happen. 

“It’s not something we really worry about.”  

Columbus Fire Battalion Chief Steve Martin says it is possible but it’s very unlikely. “What catches on fire on anything is the fumes. Liquid doesn’t really burn but when liquid turns into a gas that’s what would ignite if the temperature is high enough to do that.” 

He says the temperature in the vehicle would have to reach about 300 degrees for that to happen. “That would melt your dashboard and even your console.”  

And according to a study done by Arizona State University, “Vehicles parked in the sun, the average cabin temperature hit 116 degrees in one hour. Dashboards averaged 157 degrees, steering wheels 127 degrees and seats 123 degrees.”  

“There’s been some reports that sunlight coming through a water bottle at just the perfect angle can be like a magnifying glass and heat up and area of your car seat that it ignites. So probably anything clear or draws heat from the sun keep it in the shade.”  

“A lot of the hand sanitizers out there are alcohol based and they may be 80 percent alcohol,” explained Chief Martin. “It helps it to not only kill virus bacteria and that kind of thing but it can evaporate quickly.” 

So even if the sanitizer isn’t likely to combust or catch fire, it will evaporate when its left out.  

“Anything in the sun will draw more heat than it would in the shade.”  

The National Fire Protection Association released a video about the issue of sanitizer safety. They say their main concern is when it’s stored in bulk. 

“Some of the stuff now coming out from distilleries to help supplement the demand they can run up to 90% alcohol.” These distilleries store large amounts of sanitizer. 

“If you have five gallons of hand sanitizer you feel you need to have and store it. It’s probably good to have it in a flammable cabinet.” 

Overall, Chief Martin says even though the threat isn’t high it’s good to keep any clear bottle or any alcohol-based substance in a dark place. 

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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