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The Why, Where and How to Safely Store Flammable Liquids at Home

The Why, Where and How to Safely Store Flammable Liquids at Home

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You could be scarily surprised by the sheer number of flammable liquids you have stored around your home. Some are obvious that you need to take extra safety precautions, others, not so much.

Watch this video showing the reaction of common household items when exposed to a naked flame… Younger viewers – these are done in a controlled lab. Not at home so don’t try it.

Naturally, you’re not going to be doing that with any of your products. However, much of the dangers posed from flammable materials are not related to the flash point of combustible materials. The flash point is applicable to the temperatures flammable materials are stored at.

Once ignited, the real threat is from the noxious fumes released from the gases as they vaporize into the air, which is why more people die from smoke inhalation than the burns caused by household fires.

Nonetheless, all flammable materials need carefully stored in the home with two safety considerations in mind.

  1. The threat of temperatures being too high risking combustion, or an open flame igniting the material.
  2. If there is a fire, the combustible material will cause the flames to spread fast and sporadically. The less fuel a fire has, the more controllable it will be, making the job of firefighters easier, and quite possibly, with the right fire safety equipment on hand, you could get the fire out yourself before major damage is done. Even if you do manage that, in the unfortunate situation of a house fire, call the fire service to have an inspection because the higher temperatures could be a cause for a secondary fire (fire rekindle) to break out. Ever notice how fire departments sometimes stay behind after a fire is extinguished? It’s because there’s a higher risk of a fire rekindling itself.

A List of Highly Flammable Household Items You Likely Have in Your Home

  • Nail polish
  • Furniture polish
  • Paint thinner and turpentine
  • All aerosols – they contain butane
  • All cooking oils
  • Non-dairy creamers
  • Rubbing Alcohol
  • Hand sanitizer
  • WD40, and most other oils and lubricants
  • Stain removers – both for removing carpet stains and laundry stain removers
  • Hair sprays, and hair mousses
  • Paints
  • Linseed oil / Flaxseed oil

Eliminating Possible Sources of Ignition is the Safest Way to Store Flammable Products at Home

Fire safety begins by considering the risks. The main risk with flammables is combustion. They will ignite if the conditions are right. Even safes when opened after a fire, can ignite because of oxygen being introduced to the higher temperature inside the safe.

Possible ignition sources include: 

  • Sparks coming from electrical appliances. Anything with a motor can spark if the motor blows.
  • Sparks from welding equipment used in workshops.
  • All electrical power tools can cause sparks when in use.
  • Sparks from pilot lights on gas cookers, gas boilers, and ovens.
  • All hot surfaces such as furnaces, wood burners, lamps and light bulbs.
  • Sparks can also be caused by a build-up of static electricity such as lint accumulating in tumble dryers.
  • Lit cigarettes.

Eliminate the potential for sparks near flammables and never smoke near where flammable material is stored. It’s safer to have no smoking signs around where you’re storing combustible material.

Lowering the Risk of Spontaneous Combustion from Flammable Materials

In the four years between 2005 and 2009, spontaneous combustion or some type of chemical reaction were the cause of 14,000 fires across the U.S, half of which were residential homes!

The most notorious cause of spontaneous combustion is oily rags after being used for applying furniture polish or varnishes, sometimes for wiping excess paints. The most susceptible are rags used for applying products containing linseed or flaxseed oil.

The reason they catch fire has nothing to do with naked flames and everything to do with temperatures and air flow. If an oily rag is packed tight enough, the lack of airflow can cause the material to heat up to a high enough temperature causing it to ignite.

For that reason, flammable products need stored where there’s good ventilation. Preferably, outside.

Safe Use and Disposal of Rags used for Polishing (or for working with varnishes, paints, and oils)

  • Use disposable cloths and dispose of them carefully, making sure they’re left outside to air dry before putting in the trash. This can take two days depending how soaked the rags are. You’ll know it’s dry when the substances have solidified onto the cloth. While they’re wet, they’re at risk of igniting.
  • If you are using re-usable cloths, air dry them. Do not put them in a dryer. Even after they’re washed.
  • Handwash only!

Dealing with Combustible Dust in the Home

There are items in your kitchen that are extremely hazardous in certain conditions.

See how these common kitchen items – like your instant coffee and flour – can explode (unsuitable for younger viewers):

The video requires age verification for viewing, because if a young and curious kid sees that, the last thing you want them to experiment with for fun is using your kitchen grains and granules to see what happens when the items are in dust form and exposed to a flame.

Still, this is the type of information that’s freely available online, so if your kid can work the internet, that’s the curiosity hazards that can destroy lives, homes and livelihoods.

All there is to say here is anything that can form a dust cloud, meaning it’ll linger in the air, is ignitable. It’s something to be aware of because storing these over a gas burner risks the powders spilling over a naked flame, then boom! Your innocent flour tub just turned your gas burner into a flame thrower.

The safest precaution in kitchens to prevent combustible dust going up is to store them in airtight containers with sturdy and secure lids that won’t accidentally release easily.

If there’s dust spilled, use a brush and shovel to pick up the majority of it, before vacuuming. Vacuums can create a static discharge, causing a spark, risking igniting dust particles.

Spilled powders: Brush first, vacuum last. Don’t store powders in your kitchen close to gas burners due to the risk that small particles from spilled powders can ignite from the spark of the pilot light.

The Ideal Storage Area for Volatile Liquids

  • Store oils, wood varnishes, paints and paint stripper outside your home. Perhaps a garden shed, workshop or a well-ventilated garage. Detached outbuildings are safest.
  • There should be no possible ignition sources around where these items are kept.
  • Have a ‘warning’ sign clearly visible so any guests you have around know not to smoke, or for workers coming around to know where they need to be extra careful with their power tools.
  • Install smoke detectors to alert you and your neighbors if a fire does start.

Safe Storage of Household Liquid Flammables

  • Dark cupboards (like, under the sink) is ideal because it’s out of sunlight and stored at room temperature, and away from ignition sources.
  • The room should be dry and kept at room temperature with sufficient ventilation.
  • If you’re storing more than 10 gallons of flammable liquids in or near your home, use a fire safety cabinet and follow the advice from the manufacturers that come with it.
  • If you need to use shelves, use heavy-duty shelving to support the weight and only store flammables at a low height. The higher the shelf, the more likely it is that containers will split if they fall, the shelf breaks, or you accidentally drop it when reaching for it.
  • If your home has more than one floor, keep all your flammables on the ground floor. It’s the easiest floor for firefighters to access.

Fire Safety Equipment for the Home

  • For those living in high-rise flats with a baby at home – consider an emergency evac harness.
  • For rooms where flammables are stored, whether that’s your kitchen or a detached outbuilding, a fire blanket will prove invaluable. In the event a spark causes a fire, you can put the blanket over it to extinguish it. If it’s too big to put out, use it as a shield to protect you from burns.
  • Homes with more than one floor can be better equipped for an evacuation with a fire escape ladder on each upper floor.
  • If you feel the amount of flammable liquids you have in or near your home is risky, do invest in fire extinguishers. Especially, if you’re storing a lot of flammables, such as paints, varnishes, woods, gasoline in your garage, or backyard workshop. Put firefighting equipment in with them.
  • If you need to store flammable liquids near fabrics, or anything that’s likely to catch fire, use a flame retardant. You can buy spray-on fire retardant sprays suitable for most fabrics including curtains as well as the wood used in your kitchen cabinets. Carpets and rugs too.
  • For safety in family homes, use a lockable cabinet. A fire safety cabinet is only needed for high amounts of combustible material, but they are safer than just any lockable cabinet.

As all homes will have flammable liquids of some sort around, it’s well-worth taking the time to create a family emergency evacuation plan, and go through it together so everyone knows how to get out of the house fast, without lacing up running shoes.

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