One of the most common disasters that people will face is one of the least remarkable, assuming it doesn’t happen to you. I’m talking about a house fire. A house fire can destroy your home and everything in it, including all of your belongings, in a matter of minutes.
Somewhat paradoxically, it might be your supplies that can actually fuel the fire! Many common items that we stash for a rainy day could wind up being fire sources or fueling a small fire into a major blaze.
Let’s look at steel wool, for example. Is steel wool flammable?
Yes, steel wool is very flammable. This is because many kinds of steel wool are coated with lubricants during the manufacturing process, and also because of the small surface area of the fibers. You must keep steel wool away from any ignition source.
Definitely interesting, but hardly a surprise to seasoned peppers who know that steel wool can make a good improvised fire starter.
In any case, you need to know what you can expect from steel wool as a fire hazard and how to better prep against it. Keep reading and I will tell you what you need to know…
Is Steel Wool Combustible?
No, steel wool is not combustible. Under normal circumstances, and assuming it is not covered in some other flammable substance, it has a very high ignition temperature of 1,292 °F / 700 °C.
Does Steel Wool Ignite at Any Temperature?
Yes, it can. Steel wool will typically ignite around 700°F and will continue to burn until extinguished, generally.
Although it might sound strange considering steel wool is metal and we don’t think of typical metals as flammable, but its tendency to absorb oxygen in conjunction with its extremely small surface area and tendency to shed small particles makes it highly flammable even at room temperature.
Does Steel Wool React with High Temperature?
Steel wool typically does not negatively react with high temperatures until they get very extreme.
You can store steel wool in a hot car, garage or workshop with no concerns, but you must take care to protect it from open flames and extremely hot surfaces that might ignite it as described above.
Steel Wool is Often Coated with Oil Which Can Ignite Easily
Something else to consider when examining the fire hazard of steel wool is that it’s typically lightly coated, or sometimes heavily coated, with oils and other lubricants as a direct result of the manufacturing process.
Steel wool is usually created by heavy-duty machines in a factory setting ones that will shave off the incredibly fine fibers associated with this product before spinning them into a loose bundle.
To facilitate production and ensure consistency, the stock, the cutting tool, or both are coated with lubricant to reduce friction and help control heat.
This oil residue remains on the steel wool as it is created, and it serves as an additional fire hazard. This oil is highly prone to catching fire from sparks and open flames, so be careful!
Finer Steel Wool is More Prone to Ignition than Coarse Grades
Steel wool comes in various grades, from coarse to superfine. This isn’t a reflection of the quality of the product, but rather of the thickness of the individual strands that comprise the bundle of wool itself.
Generally speaking, the finer the strands the more flammable the steel wool, although all of them can catch fire as described above.
You must be especially cautious with super fine steel wool, particularly in any setting where it might be exposed to intense heat or flame, such as near your stove top or in a workshop.
Caution: Electrical Currents Can Dangerously Heat Steel Wool!
One unique concern about steel wool regarding its flammability is due to electrical currents. As I alluded to above, most seasoned preppers already know that steel wool makes a wonderful improvised fire starter in conjunction with a common nine-volt battery.
That’s because applying the terminals of the battery to the steel wool will cause a section of the wool to heat up to a near-molten temperature in no time flat.
Blazing hot metal, of course, can easily start a fire with combustible materials!
Accordingly, you must take pains when it’s storing steel wool that it does not come into contact with any batteries or any other source of electricity which might dangerously heat it up and start a secondary fire; a fire which will turn into a full-blown house fire!
Is Copper Wool Flammable?
No, not generally. Copper wool is, surprisingly, not nearly as flammable as steel wool. It doesn’t catch fire nearly as easily, and is not as prone to overheating in the same way that steel wool is when electrical currents are applied.
You should still be cautious in case it has oil or other lubricants on it which might ignite, but it’s significantly safer in this regard compared to steel wool which might be a consideration for certain applications.
Will Steel Wool Make a Fire Worse?
Yes, it can. Although it is likely to simply burn up and be consumed, steel wool can easily ignite from a nearby fire and spread that fire or serve as a source of fuel.
A small quantity of steel wool is unlikely to make much difference one way or the other assuming the fire is small and you intervene immediately.
But if you have an extremely large quantity of steel wool that manages to ignite, it can seriously intensify the fire and make it much harder to control overall.
Is Steel Wool Reactive with Other Substances?
Somewhat, although this rarely results in a significant fire hazard. Steel wool can rust, and strong acids can corrode it.
However, the only major interaction we’re concerned with is with electrical currents as detailed above, so you never want to store your steel wool near batteries or any other electrical sources for this reason.
And just as a reminder, in case you jumped here straight away, steel wool that becomes electrified will glow red hot and easily ignite any flammable materials, so take this part very seriously!
How Should You Deal with Steel Wool Exposed to Fire?
If a fire is threatening steel wool or if steel wool has ignited, you can put it out with water or with any common fire extinguisher, particularly one suited for extinguishing oil fires in case the steel wool has been coated with a lubricant.
Although steel wool itself is highly flammable, it’s not flammable in some unusual way that will require special chemicals to put out.
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.