Since house fires and other accidental fires ones the single biggest threat that any of us will face in our lifetime, it pays to know a little bit about fire safety.
Particularly, since we as preppers tend to stockpile lots of various things, things which might pose a fire hazard, it’s even more important.
Although not everything is a specific fire hazard many things are, including things that you might not expect. Let’s look at vinegar, for instance. Is vinegar flammable?
No, vinegar is not flammable. Vinegar contains acetic acid which is flammable, but the concentrations are too low, and it has too much water for it to be a fire hazard. Vinegar will evaporate if exposed to flames or intense heat.
And that’s all there is to it. Although some folks think vinegar is a flammable due to various unrelated kitchen accidents, vinegar isn’t really a contributing factor unless a hazardous condition exists that would be exacerbated by water.
No matter how much vinegar you have on hand, you don’t need to worry about it contributing to a potentially devastating house fire. But I will tell you everything you need to know fire and attendant risks posed by vinegar below.
Is Vinegar Combustible?
No, vinegar is not combustible and will not ignite practically achievable.
Does Vinegar Ignite at Any Temperature?
No. Vinegar is predominantly composed of water. As such, it does not ignite or catch fire at any temperature. When exposed to high temperatures or open flames, vinegar will simply turn into steam; evaporating to nothing in time.
This transformation happens because the heat acts on the water in the vinegar. Given this lack of flammability, vinegar is totally safe to store and use around heat sources, such as stoves or ovens, with just a little common sense- there is almost no risk of causing a fire.
Does Vinegar React with High Temperatures?
Vinegar indeed reacts to high temperatures, but its behavior is not inherently dangerous. When heated, vinegar will boil and convert into steam due to the evaporation of its water content.
This can cause burns if you are too close to a very hot surface, but is otherwise not a hazard. However, it’s important to note that pouring vinegar on burning or hot oil can create a hazardous situation.
The reason is that the water in the vinegar can cause the hot oil to splatter or erupt into soaring flames carried by the steam, which could potentially lead to severe burns or even start a legit out-of-control fire.
Therefore, caution should always be exercised when cooking and using vinegar around hot oil to prevent such accidents.
But Vinegar Contains Acetic Acid Which Is Flammable…
It’s true that vinegar contains acetic acid, a compound that lends vinegar its unique flavor and aroma. Acetic acid is also used in various products and industrial or laboratory processes and is indeed flammable with a flash point of 104°F to 105°F.
However, in vinegar, the concentration of acetic acid is very low, with the majority of the liquid being water.
As such, even though acetic acid itself could catch fire in sufficient concentrations, the amount in vinegar is too small to pose any fire hazard, especially considering it is in a solution of water.
Therefore, you can safely use vinegar around heat sources without worrying about it igniting. It is the presence of ascetic acid, and its low flashpoint, which has erroneously led some people to believe that vinegar is flammable.
Can’t the Water Evaporate Away, Leaving the Acetic Acid to Ignite?
Good thinking, but no. Rest assured this isn’t a concern: when vinegar evaporates, it takes the acetic acid along with it. There’s no leftover residue or anything of the sort that could potentially catch fire as it evaporates.
Even if you had a large quantity of vinegar exposed to steadily increasing temperatures over an extended period, temps which could cause the water to evaporate, there would be no hazardous material left behind.
The acetic acid would also evaporate, leaving nothing flammable in its wake.
Vinegar Fumes are Harsh, but Almost Totally Harmless
If you’ve ever splashed vinegar on a hot pan while preparing your favorite dish (like pepperonata, my favorite) you’re familiar with the acrid, stinging steam that quickly fills the air.
This pungent smell is indeed due to the acetic acid in the vinegar. But while these fumes can be mildly irritating, especially if you’re exposed to a significant amount, they pose no fire risk.
Even amidst a significant accidental fire, the fumes from vinegar are not combustible and will not contribute to a fire.
Will Vinegar Make a Fire Worse?
No! Contrary to what some may believe, vinegar does not intensify a fire. On the contrary, it might even help to slow down or extinguish a fire.
This is because vinegar is primarily made of water, which is known for its fire-retarding properties. Therefore, in any situation, vinegar will never intensify an existing fire.
Is Vinegar Reactive with Other Substances?
Yes, very. Vinegar can react quite significantly and negatively with certain substances! For instance, when it interacts with bleach, it creates chlorine gas, which is dangerous when inhaled and can cause breathing problems, chest pain, and even pneumonia.
Likewise, vinegar can react with hydrogen peroxide to produce peracetic acid, a strong oxidizer that can irritate or damage the eyes, skin, and respiratory system.
On a less hazardous note, vinegar reacts with baking soda to produce carbonic acid, which then decomposes into water and carbon dioxide gas.
While this isn’t typically dangerous, in an enclosed space with large quantities, the release of carbon dioxide could potentially lead to suffocation.
How Should You Deal with Vinegar Exposed to Fire?
While vinegar itself isn’t flammable and is no direct fire risk whatsoever, certain situations involving vinegar and fire require caution. For example, a sealed glass bottle of vinegar exposed to high heat could break due to pressure build-up, potentially causing injury.
Additionally, if you have a grease fire on your stovetop, you should never attempt to douse it with vinegar. The water in the vinegar can cause the hot oil to splatter, leading to a larger fire and potential severe burns.
In such cases, it’s best to turn off the heat (if safe to do so), cover the pan with a metal lid, use a fire extinguisher, or call the fire department if it won’t go out. You can also douse the pan with a huge heap of baking soda to smother it.
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Tom Marlowe practically grew up with a gun in his hand, and has held all kinds of jobs in the gun industry: range safety, sales, instruction and consulting, Tom has the experience to help civilian shooters figure out what will work best for them.