Everyone needs to practice fire safety at all times, but considering how many chemicals and other materials we use every day, it can be tough staying on top of which ones present a genuine fire hazard.
I’ll tell you this, though, for sure: some of the most hazardous things when it comes to fire risk happen to be the ones you would least expect.
How about VapoRub? Long a mainstay of cold relief, what could be more innocent and helpful than that? Is Vicks VapoRub flammable?
Yes, Vicks VapoRub is flammable and will readily ignite thanks to its low flash point of around 160°F / 71 °C. It should never be stored or applied near open flames or any other source of intense heat.
Pretty surprising, but not that surprising if you think about it. Vicks VapoRub has a variety of ingredients that are individually flammable, and together they can definitely ignite with comparative ease.
Don’t worry: you don’t need to throw out your supply but you do need to know what you can expect from it in terms of flammability. I’ll tell you everything you need to know below…
Is Vicks VapoRub Combustible?
Yes, it is. It is classified as combustible according to the standards set by the American Fire Safety Association.
In scientific terms, flammable and combustible are two different classifications of fire hazards. A substance is considered flammable if it can easily ignite and burn rapidly in the presence of an ignition source, such as a spark or open flame.
On the other hand, a combustible material might not ignite as readily, but will still burn steadily once ignited.
The distinction primarily lies in the flash point of the substance: the minimum temperature at which it can vaporize to form an ignitable mixture in air.
Flammable substances have a flash point below 100 degrees Fahrenheit, while combustible substances have a flash point above this threshold.
As per these definitions, Vicks VapoRub falls into the category of combustible materials due to its higher flash point.
What are the Ingredients in Vicks VapoRub?
Vicks VapoRub has several active and inactive ingredients, including camphor, eucalyptus oil, and menthol. Camphor and eucalyptus oil are known for their strong fragrant properties and are commonly used in aromatherapy.
Menthol is a natural compound obtained from peppermint oil and is widely recognized for its cooling sensation. These three ingredients contribute to the decongestant effect of Vicks VapoRub.
The product also contains inactive ingredients like cedar leaf oil, nutmeg oil, petrolatum, thymol, and turpentine oil.
Among these, petrolatum and turpentine oil are the ones that are relatively easy to ignite. Petrolatum is a semi-solid mixture of hydrocarbons derived from petroleum, while turpentine oil is a volatile organic compound obtained from pine trees.
Does Vicks VapoRub Ignite at Any Temperature?
Yes, it can and will! The flashpoint, of Vicks VapoRub is 161°F. This is the minimum temperature at which it can vaporize and form an ignitable mixture in air.
Below this temperature, the substance will not ignite. However, once the temperature reaches or exceeds this threshold, Vicks VapoRub can catch fire easily.
You must store it properly and keep it away from all heat sources to prevent unintentional ignition!
Does Vicks VapoRub React with High Temps?
Yes, it does. VapoRub reacts adversely when exposed to high temperatures, even if they are well below its flash point.
When heated, the volatile oils in it can evaporate, leading to a concentration of flammable vapors around the source of heat. If these vaporize come into contact with a flame or spark, it could result in a fire.
Additionally, heating Vicks VapoRub can also alter its chemical composition, potentially producing harmful substances or causing injury.
This is a known issue: the manufacturer recommends that users never heat it or use it near open flames or other heat sources.
Is Vicks VapoRub Flammable When Dry?
Possibly; the flammability of Vicks VapoRub when dry is a nuanced topic. The product contains volatile oils like camphor and eucalyptus oil, which are inherently flammable.
However, these substances are mixed into a petrol jelly base, which can alter their flammability characteristics.
When VapoRub dries, it essentially means that the volatile oils have evaporated, leaving behind mainly the petroleum jelly.
While petroleum jelly itself isn’t highly flammable, it can still catch fire at high temperatures! It’s unclear how flammable dried Vicks VapoRub is, but the presence of remaining flammable components suggests a potential risk.
Will Vicks VapoRub Make a Fire Worse?
Yes, it definitely will! Vicks VapoRub will worsen a fire or could start one. This is due to the flammable nature of its ingredients.
Once ignited, the product can act as a fuel source, sustaining or intensifying the fire. The volatile oils in Vicks VapoRub, such as camphor and eucalyptus oil, can feed the flames, leading to a more robust and persistent fire.
Remember this when using or storing the product!
Is Vicks VapoRub Reactive with Other Substances?
Possibly. Vicks VapoRub may potentially react with other substances due to the nature of its ingredients. Volatile oils like camphor, eucalyptus oil, and menthol can interact with various substances.
For instance, when combined with certain plastics, these oils can cause the plastic to degrade or dissolve.
Also, when Vicks VapoRub comes into contact with strong oxidizing agents, there’s a possibility of chemical reactions that can increase the risk of ignition, or even cause it to spontaneously ignite!
This is why Vicks VapoRub is never to be used on patients that are undergoing oxygen therapy, or ever to use it in high-oxygen environments.
How Should You Deal with Vicks VapoRub Exposed to Fire?
If VapoRub catches fire, the best course of action is to smother it or use a Class B fire extinguisher.
These extinguishers are designed to put out fires involving flammable liquids, which includes the organic oils in VapoRub. Smothering the fire can also cut off its oxygen supply, effectively extinguishing it.
Water should not be used in this situation, as it does not mix with the petroleum jelly base of Vicks VapoRub and could result in flaming particles being carried away, potentially spreading the fire to other areas.
Also, if it is smothered take care when uncovering it: if hot enough, it could potentially reignite in the presence of oxygen!
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.