For all of the many disasters that you might prepare for, one of the most common and the most devastating is the house fire. An equipment malfunction or a small accidental fire can quickly turn into a raging inferno, one that can destroy your home and everything in it.
This fire will be aided by the materials and chemicals in your home, and especially those stored in bulk. So then, it’s a good idea to understand that the specific fire hazard potential of various goods and supplies.
How about something as it seemingly harmless as Vaseline? Is Vaseline flammable?
Vaseline is not flammable, and has a flashpoint of approximately 400°F. It is not a major fire hazard in its usual form and method of storage. But, Vaseline jelly can ignite and burn due to open flames, and if heated sufficiently, it can emit flammable vapors.
Generally, you don’t need to worry about keeping a jar of Vaseline or other petroleum jelly in your bathroom or in your medicine cabinet.
You don’t even need to worry if you have a large stash of it stockpiled. But it’s still a good idea to know precisely what sort of fire hazard Vaseline poses and under what conditions.
I’ll tell you exactly that in the rest of this article…
Is Vaseline Combustible?
No, Vaseline is not considered combustible under ordinary circumstances.
Wait, Isn’t Vaseline a Petroleum Product? Petroleum is Flammable!
While it’s true that Vaseline is derived from petroleum, it’s not as flammable as one might think. There’s a common misconception that because Vaseline originates from and has petroleum products, it must inherit its highly combustible qualities.
Thankfully, the truth is that Vaseline is produced by an intensive refinement process, which significantly reduces its overall flammability.
So while petroleum is indeed highly flammable, Vaseline is not. It’s this high level of refinement that makes Vaseline safe for everyday use and storage all around your home without the risk of catching fire.
Does Vaseline Ignite at Any Temperature?
Vaseline, in its typical semi-solid “jelly” form, doesn’t easily catch fire. Exposure to direct, intense flames can ignite it, but even then, it doesn’t burn too well on its own compared to lots of other stuff we store in and around the house.
However, when mixed with other potential fuels like cotton balls, Vaseline burns steadily and readily (making this a popular prepper and camper trick for DIY firestarters).
This is because the cotton acts as a wick of sorts, allowing the fire to catch and burn more effectively. Even so, under normal use and storage circumstances, Vaseline is not at risk of igniting from anything save intense, direct flame.
Does Vaseline React with High Temperature?
Yes, Vaseline does react to high temperature in various ways. The primary ingredient in Vaseline, petroleum jelly, is a blend of hydrocarbons that undergo chemical changes when subjected to high heat.
When heated to a certain point, the substance will melt and become a liquid instead of its standard semi-solid state. If the temperature rises further, it can ignite and burn.
But as I said Vaseline doesn’t easily ignite on its own without an external ignition source, such as an open flame.
It’s also important to note that the burning process of Vaseline is fairly slow due to its thick and greasy consistency; it does not leap and roar or combust like gasoline, for instance.
Per the Manufacturer, Vaseline Will Release Flammable Vapors When Heated to 400F or More
Once special hazard to be aware of with Vaseline is its tendency to emit combustible vapors when overheated.
While it might sound alarming, the fact that Vaseline can emit flammable vapors when heated to around 400 °F (205 °C) or higher is more of a theoretical hazard than a practical concern.
At extreme temperatures, Vaseline starts to break down and release combustible gases which can in fact ignite or intensify a fire (if an ignition source is present).
However, under normal circumstances, neither Vaseline nor any other household items should be exposed to such high heat unless the house is already on fire and well underway.
In any other circumstances producing these temperatures, human survival is already out of the question due to the extreme heat alone, so the flammability of Vaseline becomes a secondary concern.
So, in short, while it’s good to keep in mind if you have a huge quantity on hand, this isn’t something you need to worry over.
You can keep Vaseline in a hot garage, in your car, or any other sweltering area with no worries.
If Vaseline Melts, it Will Become More Likely to Catch Fire
As temps rise, Vaseline begins to lose consistency and start to melt. Although it doesn’t emit flammable vapors until it reaches an extremely high temperature as detailed above, it becomes easier to ignite once it has melted.
This is a significant concern if a large quantity of Vaseline or other petroleum jelly melts due to a nearby fire or other intense heat source.
The melted Vaseline could potentially leak or spill, creating a risk of s fire and spreading uncontrollably. Therefore, it’s crucial to store large quantities of Vaseline well away from intense localized heat sources and to handle it cautiously if it has melted.
Will Vaseline Make a Fire Worse?
Vaseline can potentially exacerbate a fire under certain conditions. If a small pot of Vaseline comes into contact with fire, it’s likely to burn up quickly and pose minimal additional risk.
However, large quantities can create a significant combustion hazard. When heated to extreme temperatures, those flammable vapors and propensity to melt can intensify an ongoing fire.
As such, it’s essential to consider where and how you store Vaseline, especially in large amounts, to prevent it from contributing to a fire’s severity.
Is Vaseline Reactive with Other Substances?
Vaseline, in its pure form, is generally stable and non-reactive with most substances. However, it’s not completely inert.
Given certain conditions, it can react with strong oxidizing agents, leading to combustion. It can even spontaneously ignite in the presence of high quantities of oxygen.
This reaction, however, is quite unlikely under normal circumstances, and only a possibility if someone is undergoing oxygen therapy or in some industrial or lab settings.
Accordingly, the primary concern with Vaseline isn’t so much its reactivity with other substances but its potential to sustain a fire once ignited.
How Should You Deal with Vaseline Exposed to Fire?
In the event of a fire involving Vaseline, standard firefighting methods can be used, with some considerations. Ideally, you would use a CO2, dry chemical, or chemical foam fire extinguisher.
These types of extinguishers work by smothering the fire, which is effective against a Vaseline-based fire.
Water can also be used, but its effectiveness may be limited because Vaseline repels water and won’t be diluted by it. This could potentially hinder firefighting efforts, but is a trivial concern for a small household pot or jar.
It’s always crucial to have the right type of fire extinguisher on hand and to know how to use it effectively, but assuming you aren’t battling a blaze originating from a huge drum of Vaseline you can attack it normally.
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.