Salt is just about the most commonly used ingredient in culinary history. There is hardly a household in the country that won’t have a supply of cooking salt in their kitchen cupboard and a shaker of table salt in their dining room.
This innocuous little ingredient is actually a flavor enhancer, meaning that it brings out the flavors of other ingredients within a dish or recipe, and it is also vital for our health and well being (so long as it is taken in moderation).
So it is no wonder that it is so commonly used and so much loved. But is salt flammable?
The answer is No, salt is not flammable.
This is an important question to ask because salt is so often used near and around heat sources and flames, not just in the kitchen but also in holistic settings and as a cleaning product too. If flammable, this everyday ingredient might actually pose a fire risk in our homes.
Luckily, however, salt is not a flammable substance and it will not catch on fire. Read on to find out what salt is, why it is not flammable and how different types of salt compare in this area.
What Exactly Is Salt?
We all know it, need it, use it and love it… but what exactly is salt? Well, chemically speaking, salt is a term applied to any compound that is formed of two oppositely charged ions: both positive and negative.
When a compound contains both positive and negative ions, the opposing charades cancel each other out to create a neutrally charged compound. The bond formed between the oppositely charged ions is very strong and difficult to break.
However, in everyday life the word ‘salt’ is used to refer to something a little more specific; namely the chemical compound Sodium Chloride or ‘table salt’.
Sodium Chloride has the chemical symbol NaCL, and within the compound, Sodium (Na) is the positive charge and Chloride is the negative charge.
Those two elements stick together like glue (just think of the way magnets are drawn towards each other when their opposing poles meet), and it is very difficult to separate them and break salt back down into its respective parts.
This is why salt can withstand very high temperatures without setting on fire.
What Is Salt Used For?
Salt has many uses, and the most common of them all is as a seasoning in cooking. Salt is said to have its own distinctive taste (saltiness), and yet it actually adds far more than that to our food.
Salt actually enhances other flavors, balances flavor combinations , and even subdues certain flavors like bitterness and sweetness. It works like a kind of exfoliator on the tongue, and activates the taste buds so that they are more able to sense and detect subtle flavors.
Therefore, if you add a pinch of salt to a garlic dish, it will taste more garlicky as well as more salty.
Did you know: chefs sprinkle salt from a height, not just to look fancy but in order to get a better distribution of salt throughout their dish.
If a dish is too acidic, sweet, bitter or sour, salt can balance the flavors and create culinary harmony. It really is the secret ingredient in many delicious dishes and it has been used for thousands of years.
But it hasn’t just been used as a seasoning. Salt has been used as a preservative since 6000 BC, when ancient societies in China and Europe first began extracting it from water in order to keep their meat for longer.
The process is known as ‘salting’ and it is when a joint of meat, fish or even vegetables, are packed and covered in salt crystals. The crystals draw moisture away from the food and dry it out safely so that it can be stored, kept and eaten long after it has been caught, killed or harvested.
Is Salt Flammable?
Due to its multiple uses in kitchens, it is no wonder that people might ask: is salt flammable. There are open fires, gas hobs, heated ovens and many, many electrical appliances in kitchens that could cause a fire risk if they come into contact with a flammable material or substance.
Luckily, salt is not flammable and is perfectly safe to use and store anywhere in the kitchen. Here’s why:
- Salt, or sodium chloride, requires an extremely high temperature in order to catch alight.
- As individual elements sodium and chlorine are both potentially flammable and dangerous, however when joined together they are not.
- Sodium and chlorine form a highly reactive bond that needs a great deal of energy (or heat) in order to be broken apart
- Any substance can technically catch on fire if it is exposed to great enough heat, however this temperature in relation to salt far exceeds anything that you would be able to achieve in a normal kitchen or home environment
- Table salt actually has a flashpoint of 1472 degrees Fahrenheit - which is seriously hot (much hotter than an oven!)
- Table salt has a melting point of 2575 degrees Fahrenheit, which is even hotter!
Can Salt Be Used As A Fire Extinguisher?
As you can see, salt is not flammable, nor is it combustible as it will not catch flame unless exposed to unbelievably high temperatures. For this reason, salt can even be used to put out fires in some situations.
That’s right, common table salt is actually an effective fire extinguisher if it is used in great enough quantities.
The way that salt extinguishes flames is by starving them of oxygen. Fire needs oxygen to survive, spread and grow, and when the oxygen supply is cut off, a fire will eventually go out.
Covering and smothering flames with any substance that doesn’t catch on fire itself, can be an effective way of putting that fire out.
In this way, if you poured a great pile of salt over a kitchen fire, it not only wouldn’t catch alight itself, but it would also starve that fire of oxygen and cause it to extinguish. This same principle applies to throwing sand, water and fire blankets over flames to smother them.
However, in a real life scenario, it is unlikely that any home kitchen would have enough salt available to put out anything more than a very small fire.
As fires have the capacity to spread very quickly, it is much more advisable to use a fire extinguisher or a wet towel / cloth to put out the flames, and to call 911 immediately if the flames cannot be contained.
Does Salt Turn Flames Yellow?
Despite the fact that it does not burn, table salt (or sodium chloride) can still affect the color of a fire. When thrown onto a campfire or any kind of open flames, the heat creates a chemical reaction which in turn creates energy.
This energy is released in the form of heat and as the temperature of the flame increases, the color becomes more bright and yellow.
However, the yellow color does not indicate that the salt is ‘burning’ as is the common misconception. In actual fact, if you examine the area after the fire has died out, you will find that the salt crystals remain completely intact and unchanged amongst the ash and other debris.
This clever color changing trick is something that magicians often use in magic shows and it has caused many people to believe that salt has fiery powers over the years.
Indeed, traditionally, it is believed that if you draw a circle of salt on the ground and stand inside it, it will protect you against evil spirits sent from the fires of hell. Just like the flames themselves, the spirits cannot pass over the salty perimeter.
Do Different Types Of Salt Catch Fire?
On the whole, most salts that we use in everyday life are chemically identical to table salt (sodium chloride) and simply have different minor ingredients added to them to create different scents, flavors to suit their intended purpose.
Pink Salt - Himalayan pink salt gets its color from the trace minerals found in the mountains of Punjab in Pakistan. It is 98% sodium Chloride and is therefore non-flammable and completely safe to use. It is safe to consume as food seasoning as it is non toxic.
Bath Salts - himalayan rock salt is often dissolved in bath water as a lovely spa treatment, and other ingredients like lavender, tea tree and rose can be added to make the water smell wonderful.
These bath salts are completely non-flammable so you can relax and light your candles without worry.
Salt Scrubs - Some rock salt is added to oils and creams to create moisturizing and exfoliating salt scrubs. These are non-flammable due to their water content and the fact that sodium chloride is not a flammable substance.
Cleaning Salts - cleaning salts are not as pure as culinary salt and therefore should not be added to food or consumed. However, as they are still made from sodium chloride they are not flammable and do not pose a fire risk.
Can Sea Water Extinguish Fire?
Sea water has an extremely high salt content and is highly effective at putting out fires. Campfires and barbeques on the beach can be easily extinguished with a bucket of salty sea water.
In fcat, the only reason why the fire service do not tend to use salt water as a source is because the salt can cause their expensive equipment to rust and corrode.