Hand Sanitizer Fire Starter: Does It Work?


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Last Updated: November 15, 2022

There are many ways to make DIY fire starters – including with hand sanitizer. While hand sanitizer does work for lighting fires in some situations, it probably isn’t your best option. Here’s why.

Is Hand Sanitizer Flammable?

Yes, hand sanitizer is flammable. It contains high amounts of alcohol which will ignite and burn rapidly if exposed to a flame.

Note that hand sanitizer will not spontaneously ignite, even if left in very hot temperatures. It would need to reach temperatures over 700F to ignite without a flame.

Which Type of Hand Sanitizer Burns Best?

Not all hand sanitizers will burn equally. They need a high alcohol content (ideally at least 60%) to burn well. Remember that alcohol will air off over time, so an old bottle of hand sanitizer won’t ignite as well as a new one.

Some types of hand sanitizer have lots of additives in them, such as moisturizers. These usually won’t ignite as well or even at all. Gel hand sanitizers are particularly problematic to light.

Gel Hand Sanitizer Hack:

Here’s how you can separate the alcohol from the gel ingredients in hand sanitizer.

  • Pour gel hand sanitizer into a cup.
  • Add some salt to the gel hand sanitizer.
  • Stir it and wait 5 minutes.
  • The salt will cause the alcohol to separate from the gel components of the hand sanitizer.
  • Strain the hand sanitizer through a cloth and collect the liquid. 
  • This liquid will be pure alcohol. Gel and salt will be left behind in the cloth.

Alternatives to Hand Sanitizer for Fire Starting

Many other products contain ethanol alcohol and can be used for starting fires. I’ve heard of bug spray, disinfectant wipes, and cleaning products being used to start fires.

These may contain other ingredients, though, which could produce toxic fumes. I wouldn’t recommend using them, especially indoors!

Hand Sanitizer Burn Time

A teaspoon-sized dollop of hand sanitizer will burn for approximately 1-3 minutes. When added to tinder, such as a cotton ball or sawdust, it can burn for over 10 minutes.

The burn time mostly has to do with surface area and not the amount of hand sanitizer used. If the hand sanitizer is spread out (such as on a paper towel), it will burn much faster than the same amount of hand sanitizer put on a small surface (such as a cotton ball).

Does Hand Sanitizer Make a Good Fire Starter?

By itself, hand sanitizer does not make a good fire starter. Because it is liquid, it spreads out and will burn quickly.

However, it does make a good “flame extender.”

When added to tinder, the tinder will burn longer. It doesn’t produce nearly as strong of a flame as other DIY fire starters, such as those made with Vaseline or wax.

On top of this, there are safety risks of using hand sanitizer to start a fire, so hand sanitizer isn’t recommended as a fire starter except in emergencies.

Hand Sanitizer Fire Starter Safety Risk  

Pre-made hand sanitizer fire starters can be hazardous to use. The issue is that you can get hand sanitizer on your hands when you pick them up. Even a small amount of hand sanitizer on your hands can ignite.

This happened to one woman in Texas. She used hand sanitizer before lighting a candle. The spark from lighting the candle caused her hands to catch on fire!

Thus, if you want to use hand sanitizer to start a fire, ensure you don’t get it on your hands.

Safety Tips

  • Don’t pre-make fire starters with hand sanitizer.
  • Only carry hand sanitizer in a leak-proof container. You don’t want flammable liquid leaking into your pack!
  • Put your tinder down where you need it.
  • Squirt a bit of hand sanitizer directly onto the tinder. 
  • Carefully light the tinder. Ideally, you’d use a long lighter, so you don’t have to touch the tinder.

Warning: Hand Sanitizer Makes an Invisible Flame

When alcohol burns, it produces a bluish flame. The flame is invisible in daylight. Because you can’t see it, you can accidentally burn yourself on the flame. So keep your hands far away from the fire starter!

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