Pretty much everyone knows by now that house fires are a major contributor to property destruction and, sadly, the loss of human lives. Part of being prepared is being fire-safe, and to do that you’ll need to perform a risk assessment of your own home.
A big fraction of house fires start in the kitchen; that’s because there’s always something generating high heat in there and plenty of flammable substances to get the fire going.
Let’s look at cooking oils, for instance. Cooking oils have many uses, but are they flammable? Can you actually start a fire with cooking oil?
No, cooking oils are not technically flammable, but are combustible and the source of many kitchen fire hazards. They have high flash points of between 325 °F and 600 °F. However, the smoke point and ignition temperatures of cooking oils vary depending on the type and how processed the oil is.
This should not be a surprise to anyone who has been cooking for any length of time. Pretty much everyone knows that oil that has been overheated will start to smoke and shortly after that it will catch on fire.
Spilling a little bit of oil is also a great way to start a raging fire in your kitchen.
Whether you’re the chef in your household or not, you need to know how to deal with the fire hazard posed by cooking oil. Keep reading and I’ll tell you everything you need to know…
Are Cooking Oils Combustible?
Yes, some cooking oils can be considered combustible depending on what standards you choose to apply, e.g. OSHA, NFSA, etc.
This is because most are not considered truly flammable, but will still catch fire at a higher temp.
Does Cooking Oil Ignite at Any Temperature?
Yes, cooking oil can and will ignite if it is overheated. The ignition temperature of cooking oil is completely dependent, though, on what type of oil it is.
Some oils have a much higher smoke point than others, making them suitable and to a degree safer for high-heat applications. Other oils, though, have a much lower temperature at which they will ignite.
This means that even a relatively minor mishap like turning up a pan too hot could result in a fire.
But don’t worry, we’ll go into each common kind of cooking oil along with their smoke points and ignition temperatures below.
Does Cooking Oil React with High Temperature?
Yes, cooking oil will react and react negatively to high temperatures in accordance with its smoke point.
The smoke point that you’ll often see referenced when discussing cooking oil and reference throughout this article refers to the temperature at which it starts to break down thermally.
Obviously, this is the point at which you can detect visible smoke, typically a bluish or gray-black color. At this point, and usually a bit before, the oil will start to change color and impart a decidedly unpleasant taste to any food that is cooked in it or with it.
Some research and advocates also suggest that this is the point at which compounds in the oil start to break down and turn harmful, potentially leading to negative health outcomes although this is debatable.
But practically speaking, the old saying holds up: where there is smoke there’s fire, and if you’re seeing smoke rising from your oil you know that it will only take a little more heat to ignite it usually.
Is Vegetable Oil Flammable?
Yes, vegetable oil is flammable. Vegetable oil is one of the most common cooking oils, and it’s one with a relatively high flash point in relation to its smoke point.
Vegetable oil has a flashpoint of around 600°F, give or take, but a smoke point that is much lower around 400°F to 450°F.
Is Canola Oil Flammable?
Yes, it is. Canola oil is another ubiquitous cooking oil, and has flash and smoke points very similar to vegetable oil at 600°F and 400°F, approximately, respectively.
Is Olive Oil Flammable?
Yes. Olive oil is one of the most versatile in beloved of all cooking oils, but it’s one with a drastically low flash and smoke point compared to canola and vegetable oils.
Olive oil has a smoke point that varies between 325°F and 420°F depending on whether it is regular olive oil, virgin or extra virgin.
The flash point of olive oil is between 375 °F and 415 °F again depending on the type and blend.
Is Peanut Oil Flammable?
It sure is, like all cooking oils. Peanut oil is especially popular for high temp applications thanks to its high smoke and flash points.
Peanut oil has a smoke point of approximately 450 °F, with a flashpoint that is around a 600 °F.
Is Coconut Oil Flammable?
Yes, coconut oil is flammable. Coconut oil has been steadily gaining popularity both for its versatility and good taste and also for its supposed healthy nature.
It enjoys a modest smoke point of between 350 °F and 450 °F, assuming it is refined, but it has a relatively low flash point of around 440 °F.
Is Avocado Oil Flammable?
Yes, avocado oil is also flammable. Greatly beloved by health food aficionados, avocado oil has a remarkably high smoke point of around 500°F, give or take. This is also the flash point.
Is Grapeseed Oil Flammable?
Yes. Grapeseed oil is popular for other delicate cooking applications, but has a relatively high smoke point of 420°F and a flashpoint around 600°F.
Will Cooking Oil Make a Fire Worse?
Yes, you had better believe it will! Cooking oils are often the primary cause of a fire, being relatively easy to ignite and it continually used around high heat or flame-producing appliances like ovens and stove tops, and sometimes on grills.
Aside from serving as a primary fuel, cooking oil can also be a secondary vector for spreading a fire because the liquid oil will splash and run, and if it is already overheated it will ignite other flammable materials that it comes into contact with.
If you have a large quantity of cooking oil stored, and it is reached by flames that are already burning, the resulting blaze will be nothing short of an inferno.
Is Cooking Oil Reactive with Other Substances?
No, at least not a meaningfully reactive with anything that I was able to find.
That is to say that cooking oil will not react hazardously or harmfully with anything that is likely in your house or your kitchen, and it doesn’t react harmfully with any other substance in the context of fire safety with one notable exception.
As you already know, oil and water do not mix. If you try to use water to put out a cooking oil fire, not only will they still not mix but you’re not going to put the fire out.
You will, in fact, make it worse. I’ll tell you all about it in the next section.
How Should You Deal with Cooking Oil Exposed to Fire?
The only way to deal with an oil fire, including a cooking oil fire, is to either smother it to cut off the supply of oxygen going to the fire or utilize a Class B or Class K fire extinguisher that will achieve the same ends.
You can use any specialty extinguisher that employs foam, carbon dioxide, or dry agent for the purpose, and most common residential and commercial fire extinguishers that are ABC-rated are up to the task.
However, you must never use water to attempt to extinguish an oil fire, no matter how small! This is an easy mistake to make if you don’t keep your wits about you.
You try to extinguish an oil fire with water, what happens is that the water which contacts the blazing hot oil will immediately sink and turn to steam at the same time, escaping combustively and spraying boiling, flaming oil everywhere.
This leads to a huge geyser of fire, and it is highly likely to severely injure you and anyone else that is nearby.
The size of this reaction is dependent upon the quantity of water and the quantity of oil that touch, and is a great way to turn a small fire in the kitchen into a fully involved five-alarm house fire. Don’t do it!
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.