A Moment of Science

Flash Points

What are flash points and at what temperature do they occur?

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Photo: mint imperial (flickr)

It is important to be careful around flash points because they can create sparks

People who work with chemicals make sure they know the flash point of each substance in their labs.

Flash Points

A flash point is the temperature at which the fumes from a liquid can be ignited with a spark.  But people who have never taken a chemistry course need to be concerned with flash points as well.

Gas Stations And Flash Points

For example, the gasoline you put into your car has a flash point of minus forty-five degrees Fahrenheit.  So, unless you live in a climate where the temperature stays below minus forty-five degrees, the fumes from gasoline can ignite from a nearby spark. And that’s why most gas stations have warning signs posted about not smoking while you fill up your tank.

Here are the flash points of a few other liquids:

Olive oil has a flash point of 437 degrees Fahrenheit.  That means if you could heat olive oil to 437 degrees, it would give off a vapor that could ignite if a lit match passed through it.

Cod liver oil has a flash point of 412 degrees Fahrenheit and formaldehyde has a flash point of 122 degrees.  Most flash points are inconsequential to the lay person because they occur at such high temperatures.

But some, like kerosene, with a flash point of 100 degrees Fahrenheit, can be cause for concern on a hot day.  If you keep an old-fashioned kerosene lamp on your fireplace mantel, you probably shouldn’t light it on a hot summer day, or you might ignite more than just the wick of the lamp.

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