Hand sanitizer left in hot vehicles can explode, experts warn

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Cropped hands using alcohol-based hand sanitizer in car background
(Courtesy of Getty Images)

(CBS) — There’s a hidden risk with keeping hand sanitizer in your car to help protect against COVID-19 and other illnesses, especially during the hot summer months. Flammable liquids and direct sunlight can make it explode, CBS Dallas warns.

“It’s flammable and it’s an irritant,” retired Dallas firefighter Sherrie Wilson told the station. “When it’s venting and if it’s venting in a small space like a car, and vapor is released, it can explode.”

The Texas Department of Public Safety shared a photo from firefighters with the Western Lakes Fire District in Wisconsin. It shows serious damage to the driver’s side door of a car that was caused by “hand sanitizer igniting in a hot vehicle that reached 95 degrees Fahrenheit inside the vehicle.”‘

Wilson said pump bottles pose a greater risk because vapors can leak into a hot car and create a combustible environment.

“What happens with flammables is they turn to vapor, and they vaporize into a confined space … a car. And then if there was any introduction of static electricity, (which) could simply be somebody getting in and pulling down on a sweater or jacket or anything like that,” an explosion could result, Wilson explained.

There are also concerns that leaving hand sanitizer in a hot car could make it less effective.

“If the alcohol evaporates, the hand sanitizer is less efficient. It is the alcohol that kills the germs,” said Dr. Mihaela C. Stefan, of The University of Texas at Dallas Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry.

The best advice experts have to offer is to simply carry the hand sanitizer with you.

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