Accidental fires are one of the most unpredictable, unforgiving and destructive disasters that can happen to a person. In moments, a small fire can turn into a raging inferno that will consume your whole house and everything in it.
This can be a near-total material loss; all of your belongings and supplies, gone up in smoke. It’s grimly ironic, then, that the very things you keep might actually fuel the fire!
Learning what is and what isn’t a fire hazard is just another facet of preparedness. Let’s look at something seemingly harmless like baby oil. Is baby oil flammable?
Baby oil is not flammable, and has a high flash point of around 335 °F (168 °C). But it can and will ignite if exposed to high temps long enough or to direct flame, even though it is technically considered non-flammable.
Sounds pretty horrible when you consider what it’s used for, right? Actually, you don’t need to be too afraid: it takes some doing to set baby oil on fire.
One errant spark or a warm day isn’t going to cause it to brew up, thankfully! But baby oil is not fireproof, either.
You need to know exactly what to expect from it in terms of fire hazard, especially if you have a large quantity stashed.
Keep reading and I will tell you what you need to know.
Is Baby Oil Combustible?
Yes, baby oil is considered combustible according to OSHA standards for liquids.
What Kind of Oil Does Baby Oil Contain?
Typical baby oil has a simple ingredients list: The primary ingredient is mineral oil, comprising about 98% of the total content. Mineral oil is made from petroleum and is flammable, of course.
This mineral oil is only a fraction of the fragrances that give the oil its characteristic scent. Some variations may also include additional additives like aloe vera, vitamin E, and so forth for added benefits.
Does Baby Oil Ignite at Any Temperature?
Yes, baby oil can ignite, but it requires a relatively high temperature to do so. The ignition point of baby oil is around 335 °F or 168 °C.
This means that under normal household conditions, it’s unlikely to catch fire. However, if the oil comes into contact with a heat source exceeding this temperature, it can ignite relatively quickly.
Accordingly, you’ll always want to store baby oil, like all oils, away from high-heat sources and any source of sparks or open flames.
And yes, baby oil can still ignite after it is applied- even to your baby! It’s unlikely to do so unless you make a deliberate effort, but it’s something you will need to keep in mind, just to be safe.
Does Baby Oil React with High Temperatures?
Yes, it does. Baby oil, like many other oils, undergoes a breakdown when exposed to high temps. This process, known as thermal degradation, will eventually lead to the release of combustible gases and vapors as baby oil nears its flash point.
Prior to this point, most baby oil will start to degrade and even change color as other ingredients start to break down or undergo phasic separation prior to igniting.
Note that even after reaching the flash point, baby oil still needs a source of ignition nearby to catch fire; the autoignition temp is quite a bit higher yet!
In all cases, these processes are gradual and depend on the duration and intensity of the heat it is exposed to.
Never Use Water to Extinguish an Oil Fire!
In the realm of fire safety, one inviolable rule stands out above all for common folks like you and me: never, ever use water to extinguish an oil fire, including fires involving baby oil!
Water and oil do not mix. You probably already knew that, but it takes on a harrowing new significance when fighting fires.
Due to their different densities, when water is poured onto an oil fire it sinks to the bottom of the oil, heats up rapidly, and turns into steam almost instantly, causing the burning oil to splatter.
This sprays burning, boiling oil in all directions, causes a huge eruption, and often spreads the fire even further.
This phenomenon can escalate a once-manageable fire into a dangerous and uncontrollable one, and is a common blunder made when a small kitchen fire brews up. I’ll talk more about fighting a baby oil fire in the next section…
Will Plant-based Baby Oil Still Catch Fire?
Yes, plant-based baby oil and “organic” baby oils can still catch fire. The flammability of such oils is still high due to the presence of combustible organic compound, many of which have lower flashpoints than mineral oil.
For instance, some plant-based baby oils have ingredients like apricot kernel oil, calendula, olive oil, and jojoba seed oil.
Each of these has its own specific flash point, beyond which it start producing flammable vapors as described above, meaning ignition is likely.
Moreover, components like triterpene alcohols, carotenoids, polyphenols, and squalene found in these oils can also contribute to their flammability.
Don’t think for a second that the natural stuff is more fire-safe than classic baby oil; it isn’t!
Will Baby Oil Make a Fire Worse?
Absolutely, baby oil can make a fire significantly worse. This is because all common oils, including baby oil, serve as a ready fuel for fires.
Besides fueling a fire, flaming oil can run, splash and drip which might spread a fire farther and quicker than it could otherwise.
Is Baby Oil Reactive with Other Substances?
I searched far and wide, and as best as I could find, baby oil does not react with other substances commonly found in your home.
Composed primarily of mineral oil and fragrance, baby oil is chemically stable and shows minimal reactivity. It doesn’t easily combine with substances and chemicals.
How Should You Deal with Baby Oil Exposed to Fire?
Handling a fire involving baby oil requires specific measures to put it out quickly and safely. Ideally, use a Class B or Class K fire extinguisher, either designed for flammable liquids like oil, to douse the flames in a few seconds.
Your common residential and commercial ABC-rated fire extinguisher, which tackles various types of fires, will also work effectively.
In the absence of an appropriate extinguishing agent, smothering the fire can also be an option, but be cautious of reignition.
Oils will continue to release flammable vapors when heated above their flashpoint, and if hot enough or on a hot surface could reignite as soon as they get more oxygen. For a small fire, keep your wits and smother an oil fire with a metal lid or fire blanket.
And another reminder: never attempt to extinguish a baby oil fire with water, as this can increase the severity and danger of the situation in an instant!
The safety of yourself and your family should always be your primary concern, so don’t hesitate to evacuate and call for help the moment the fire seems beyond your abilities.
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.