In a startling case, linens soaked in massage oil caused a fire at a fitness center. This fire resulted in $1 million in damage.
This situation leads us to ask – are essential oils flammable? Essential oils are beneficial but highly flammable. It’s important to practice safety to reduce fire risks when using them.
This article explains how flammable essential oils are, what problems to look out for, and how to use them safely in your home or business.
Which Essential Oils are Most Flammable?
Nearly all essential oils are flammable to some degree, but some significantly more than others. Those with the lowest flash points and highest fire risks include:
- Fir needle
- Clary sage
- Pine needle
- Juniper berry
For comparison, commonly used essential oils like lavender, peppermint, and tea tree also have low enough flash points, from 118° to 122°F (48° to 50°C), to be concerning.
The key measurement is an oil’s flash point – the temperature where enough vapor is given off to ignite when exposed to flame or sparks. For the above oils, flash points range from 100° to 140°F (38° to 60°C). This qualifies them as Class 3 Flammable Liquids by OSHA standards.
For perspective, kerosene has a similar flash point range. So while beneficial, essential oils can clearly combust and must be handled with care around any heat or open flames.
Why are Essential Oils so Flammable?
Essential oils owe their fire hazard to two factors – high chemical volatility, and oxygenated compounds which lower flash points:
- Volatility – Essential oil production concentrates complex plant compounds, increasing their vapor pressure. This allows easier vapor release to potentially ignite.
- Oxygenated Compounds – Constituents like alcohols, aldehydes, esters, ethers, ketones, and phenols all contain oxygen. Their chemical bonds break down more readily when heated, releasing vapors below oils’ normal flash points.
Essential oils then require much lower temperatures – often below 150°F (66°C) – to give off flammable vapors. However, a substance’s auto-ignition point, where self-heating causes spontaneous combustion without an external spark, is typically higher.
Hazards of Flammable Essential Oils
The inherent volatility and low flash points of essential oils open several fire and burn risks which users must mitigate:
- Dryer / Washing Machine Fires – Oils left in laundered textiles can spark fires inside dryers, even after washing. This occurs when hot duct air or heating elements meet the now-concentrated oils’ lowered flash point from evaporation.
- Contact Burns – Spilled oils on countertops, stoves, etc. can readily ignite when contact is made with burner elements, candles, or matches. Serious injuries often result before extinguishing the flames.
- Spontaneous Combustion – While not as common as other causes, essential oils improperly stored long-term are still susceptible. Over time, oxidation from light exposure raises heat and lowers flash points. Given a spark, this can trigger self-sustaining burning.
Workplaces like spas using oils for massage or aromatherapy must remain vigilant as well. Statistically most fires occur from residual oil left on laundered textiles. But accidents directly with bulk oils also regularly happen.
Storing Oils Safely
With care, the bulk of essential oil fires can be prevented through proper handling and storage:
Use Proper Containers
- Store oils only in original dark glass bottles to limit light exposure and oxidation.
- Always use airtight lids – rubber bungs or phenolic caps. Evaporation raises volatility.
Control Environmental Factors
- Keep in a cool, dry area to limit heat buildup and lower flash points over time.
- Avoid direct sunlight which can heat oils and increase fire risk through glass bottles.
Limit Contact Hazards
- Store bottles securely upright in a protective carrying case to prevent spills, breaks, etc.
- We recommend cases like the Yankee Candle Salamander Transport Case for easy portability.
Following these guidelines limits oxidation, keeps flash points higher, and reduces accident potential during handling.
Using Oils Safely
Exercising good practices when actually using essential oils also minimizes fire risks:
Handle with Care
Be extremely careful when working directly with bulk oils – dispensing, mixing, transferring containers, etc. Avoid all possible ignition sources in the area.
Mix with Carrier Oils
Always dilute pure essential oils in carrier oils like jojoba or coconut when applying topically. This makes handling safer by reducing volatility.
We recommend Plant Therapy’s Organic Fractionated Coconut Oil as an excellent cost-effective carrier.
Clean and Dry Surfaces
Quickly dilute and wipe up any essential oil spills, especially on warmer surfaces like stoves. Oils concentrate as evaporation shrinks the liquid pool, lowering flash points exponentially.
Use Diffusers Safely
Enjoy essential oils by diffusing instead of burning. Open flames can ignite volatile compounds right out of the bottle. Diffusing avoids this hazard while better preserving therapeutic effects.
Our top diffuser pick is the InnoGear Upgraded Version Aromatherapy Essential Oil Diffuser. Its large water capacity, runtime, and simple interface make it very functional and safe for beginners.
The Benefits Outweigh the Risks
While essential oils do carry fire and safety concerns from their chemical makeup, the hazards are manageable given prudence and common sense:
- With proper handling/storage, oxidation and evaporation lowering flash points can be minimized to prevent fires.
- Diluting oils in carrier oils reduces volatility and direct contact dangers greatly.
- Reasonable care enables safely unlocking their therapeutic value with aromatherapy, massage, homemade products, and more.
So exercise wise precautions, but don’t become so risk averse that you miss incredible benefits from these natural oils!
Essential oils are highly concentrated, volatile plant derivatives with many uses for health and wellness when applied cautiously. Improper handling does pose enhanced burning and fire risks. But through safe storage, dilution as used, and controlled environments, home and professional users can mitigate nearly all potential hazards.
The key is avoiding conditions where evaporation or carelessness allow spilled oils to meet an ignition source below their flash points. But with prudent actions outlined here, the fire risk can be reduced to nearly zero, enabling safely enjoying their benefits!
So take reasonable precautions, and then relax with your favorite essential oils through diffusing, massage, homemade health products, and more!