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Trust Index: Could hand sanitizer ignite in your car?

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – You may have seen the social media post warning people about the dangers of leaving hand sanitizers in hot vehicles. Our Trust Index wanted to know if the warning about fire danger held water.

The Facebook post that went viral said hand sanitizers could catch fire if left in the sun came from the Western Lakes Fire District and showed a photo of a burned-out car door beside its warning about hand sanitizer. The placement gave the impression this damage was caused by a fire caused by hand sanitizer.

The firefighters wrote, quote, “By it’s nature, most hand sanitizer is alcohol-based and therefore flammable. Keeping it in your car during hot weather exposing it to the sun causing magnification of light through the bottle, and particularly being next to open flame while smoking in vehicles or grilling can lead to disaster. Please respect the possibilities and be fire safe.”

Many people in the comments questioned the photo and the claim.

The source of the photo is not clear, but it’s not new. We found it in a Brazilian news article from April after the photo circulated online there with similar questionable claims.

We asked the head of Jacksonville’s firefighter union whether excessive heat could cause a hand sanitizer bottle to explode. He said hand sanitizer is flammable if the alcohol content is over 90%, but only if there’s an ignition source.

”Someone even said the sun going through a glass bottle, you know, like when you were a kid, you’d use glass to light the leaf on fire" said Randy Wyse, president of the Jacksonville Association of Firefighters. "That could happen. It’s a rarity. It could get hot enough to make it happen. It doesn’t have to be a cigarette or a flame, just the spark underneath the dash when you start your car or just an arc is an ignition source, if the flammability range is correct.”

The Western Lakes Fire Department has since removed the photo from their post and posted an update, to clear up misunderstandings, writing in part:

Its post went on to remind people that wet hand sanitizer on a surface can burn if it comes in contact with an open flame.

Our conclusion is on this claim is that the photo that circulated with the warning of hand sanitizer does not appear to be the result of a hand sanitizer explosion in a car. But firefighters do remind that hand sanitizer can be flammable and, while it would be rare, could catch fire if focused sunlight generated enough heat.

So, like you should with most Facebook posts, even from seemingly reliable sources, be careful.

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