House fires are one of the worst things that could possibly happen to you. Aside from claiming many dozens of lives every year, they cause hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars in damages.
Because of this threat, fire safety and fire prevention is key. Most accidental fires start in the kitchen, and there’s lots of stuff in the average kitchen they can catch on fire.
How about coconut oil? Is coconut oil flammable?
Yes, coconut oil is flammable. Although it has a reasonably high smoke point of around 450°F when refined, it will still easily ignite if overheated or if spilled on a hot element.
Coconut oil has been steadily gaining popularity in the past few years due to its combination of flexibility, good overall health profile and its clean taste. However, all cooking oils can ignite and that includes coconut oil.
Oil fires can be particularly hazardous and difficult to put out if you don’t know what you’re doing, even from something as natural as coconut oil.
Keep reading and I’ll tell you what you need to know…
Is Coconut Oil Combustible?
Yes, coconut oil can be considered flammable food by some standards, though refined coconut oil does not meet the technical definition of a combustible liquid according to OSHA.
Does Coconut Oil Ignite at Any Temperature?
Yes, coconut oil will ignite, but only when it reaches a high temperature of around 450° F or 232° C or a bit higher.
Coconut oil is flammable due to its composition of fatty acids that are susceptible to oxidation. When heated to such high temperatures, the oil’s molecular structure breaks down, releasing gasses that can catch fire.
Be cautious when cooking with coconut oil, or when heating it for any other reason, to avoid any potential fire hazards.
Does Coconut Oil React with High Temperature?
Yes, it does. Coconut oil is known for its low melting point and can start turning liquid just above room temperature. This makes it a popular choice in the kitchen and for cosmetics and other products since it’s easy to work with.
However, the same characteristic also poses a risk since rapidly melting coconut oil can easily spread! If it does catch fire, it can result in a major threat.
Furthermore, coconut oil tends to degrade if subjected to elevated temperatures over extended periods. This degradation affects its nutritional value, of course, and can also increase the chances of it catching fire.
Warning: Never Use Water to Extinguish a Coconut Oil Fire!
If you take nothing else away from this article, learn just this one thing: you must never use water to extinguish a coconut oil fire! When water comes into contact with any burning oil, it instantly turns into steam due to the intense heat.
Because water and oil don’t mix, this rapid transition can cause a dangerous or deadly burst of steam which could spray boiling or burning oil in all directions.
This situation can make the fire spread quickly and intensify it, posing a severe threat to life and limb and making a small kitchen fire on the stovetop a horrendous, house-destroying blaze.
Always use smothering, a fire extinguisher, or baking soda to put out an oil fire, and handle such situations with extreme caution. I’ll talk more on that later…
Refined and Unrefined Coconut Oils Have Different Smoke Points
Contrary to popular belief, not all coconut oils are equal when it comes to smoke point and ignition temperature. The most commonly used type, refined coconut oil, has a smoke point of 450° F.
On the other hand, unrefined or “virgin” coconut oil has a much lower smoke point, usually between 340 and 360° F. This difference is due to the processing methods.
Refined coconut oil is bleached and deodorized, which removes impurities and also increases its stability at high temperatures.
In contrast, unrefined coconut oil retains its natural components, making it more characterful as an ingredient but much less stable when exposed to heat, hence the reduced smoke point.
It’s a significant difference in flammability you need to stay mindful of.
Spritzing or Spraying Coconut Oil Will Ignite it Much Easier!
Coconut oil, in its solid or liquid form, generally requires sustained heat before it ignites. However, if you spray a mist of coconut oil or use a coconut oil spritzer, ignition can occur much more easily.
This is because when coconut oil is sprayed, it creates a larger surface area -to-volume ratio; each little droplet is still a fuel source! When exposed to the heat source, the heat can interact with more particles at once and much more easily cause ignition.
Additionally, the tiny droplets in the mist are surrounded by oxygen, which is required for combustion. Therefore, a mist of coconut oil subjected to heat can ignite with destructive results due to the richer “fuel-air” mix.
Will Coconut Oil Make a Fire Worse?
Yes, indeed! Coconut oil, like other types of oil, can readily serve as fuel for a fire. Once it catches on fire, it becomes very challenging to extinguish due to its high energy content and ability to maintain a high temperature.
The situation can get worse as oils have a tendency to run and drip. This can inadvertently spread the fire into hard-to-reach places or even start secondary fires.
Therefore, caution must be exercised when dealing with coconut oil near open flames or heat sources to stop a small fire from turning into a major blaze.
Is Coconut Oil Reactive with Other Substances?
Coconut oil, in general, is not reactive with other common substances you might encounter in your home or kitchen.
This non-reactivity is one of the reasons why it’s such a good cooking oil; it can safely mix with various ingredients without causing adverse chemical reactions!
For instance, you can combine it with different types of vinegar, baking soda, or most other kitchen goods without any problems. In any case, these interactions don’t increase health or fire risks in any way…
However, there are always exceptions to the rule: coconut oil should not be mixed with potent chemicals or cleaners, as their interactions can be unpredictable and potentially harmful.
How Should You Deal with Coconut Oil Exposed to Fire?
When dealing with a coconut oil fire, it’s essential to use a fire extinguisher designed for oil fires, known as a Class B extinguisher.
If you have a multi-class extinguisher, like the commonly used ABC-rated type here in the US, that will also be effective since it can handle oil fires just the same.
These extinguishers both work by smothering the fire and cutting off its oxygen supply so that it goes out. But once more, you must remember to never, ever use water to extinguish an oil fire, including natural oils like coconut oil.
Water will cause the flaming or boiling oil to splatter, potentially spreading the fire or intensifying the flames. Always prioritize safety and call 911 if the fire is out of control or you don’t have the means to fight it safely!
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.