Posted on: September 8, 2020 at 4:48 pm
Last updated: October 16, 2020 at 3:16 pm

Amidst the global COVID-19 pandemic, people everywhere have been taking the recommended precautions by health care professionals in order to keep themselves and their families safe, including wearing a mask, practicing social distancing, washing hands frequently, and using hand sanitizer.

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For this reason, hand sanitizer sales have gone up dramatically. People are keeping the little bottles everywhere- the glove compartment of their car, inside their front door, in their purse, in their bathroom, and on their kitchen counter- in order for it to be easily and readily available.

Despite how common these products are, however, they can be dangerous, and fire departments are warning that hand sanitizer fires are becoming a more prevalent risk. One woman in Texas learned that first-hand, and is now using her story as a precautionary tale for others.

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Hand Sanitizer Fire

Mother of three, Kate Wise, was having a normal, low-key Sunday evening. She applied some hand sanitizer, a practice that had become habitual since the coronavirus came to Texas, and then decided to light a candle. That is the moment that changed everything.

The hand sanitizer caught fire, the bottle exploded,and quickly spread to engulf her entire body in flames. Her two youngest daughters, who were there to witness the terrifying event, ran to the neighbours for help, while Wise managed to pull her burning clothes off and get herself, her diabled daughter, and her pets out of the house.

“It can be something as small as lighting a candle,” Wise said. “Because of the hand sanitizer, it just lit my whole … everywhere I had hand sanitizer on my hand, it just lit my hand with fire.” [1]

Wise is currently being treated in the ICU. Her friend, Kathryn Bonesteel, has launched a GoFundMe page to help Wise with her medical expenses and is now warning others about buying off-brand products, which is what Wise had been using at the time of the incident.

“We’re all buying what’s easily available. We look to stores we trust like Amazon to purchase the products that we need to protect ourselves and our families,” Bonesteel said [1].

Wise is hoping that her story will be a warning to others, and is most upset by the fact that her young daughters had to witness such a horrifying event.

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“It’s something that you never want your kids to see,” Wise said. “Like, you just being up in flames so I think that part kind of killed me just because it’s something I never wanted them to have to go through.” [1]

Read: Advice from a woman who survived COVID-19, the 1918 flu — and cancer

Hand Sanitizer- A Fire Safety Hazard?

This is not the first time there has been a fire connected to bottled hand sanitizer. Back in May, fire officials in Wisconsin began warning the public against leaving bottles of hand sanitizer in your car on a hot day after there were reports that a bottle had exploded in someone’s car.

 “Keeping it in your car during hot weather, exposing it to sun causing magnification of light through the bottle — and particularly being next to open flame while smoking in vehicles or grilling while enjoying this weekend — can lead to disaster,” the Western Lakes Fire District said [2].

Since then, several experts have spoken out about the claims made by the Western Lake fire Department and others, arguing that the internal temperature of the car would need to reach 572 degrees fahrenheit in order for hand sanitizer to combust.

Precautions when Using Hand Sanitizer

The National Fire Protection Association says that individuals need to consider the flash point of hand sanitizer when assessing its flammability. The flash point is the temperature at which a liquid gives off enough vapor to ignite in the air, which for alcohol-based hand sanitizers is roughly 63 degrees fahrenheit.

This means that when hand sanitizer is stored at room temperature, it could catch fire if exposed to flame [2].

For this reason, officials are warning people to practice caution when using hand sanitizer, especially in certain scenarios. Since most hand sanitizer is alcohol-based, it does give off flammable vapours that could ignite, so it should be kept away from open flames or sources of heat.

When using hand sanitizer, you should always rub your hands together until they are completely dry, and you should practice extra caution if you are smoking, lighting candles, or using a gas stove immediately after applying hand sanitizer [3].

Keep Reading: Long-term symptoms, complications of COVID-19

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Brittany Hambleton
Team Writer
Brittany is a freelance writer and editor with a Bachelor of Science in Foods and Nutrition and a writer’s certificate from the University of Western Ontario. She enjoyed a stint as a personal trainer and is an avid runner. Brittany loves to combine running and traveling, and has run numerous races across North America and Europe. She also loves chocolate more than anything else… the darker, the better!

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