Every household probably has a bottle of vegetable oil sitting in their kitchen cabinet. It gets used for a number of things, and we tend to take it for granted.
However, if you’ve been in the kitchen enough, you will know how dangerous vegetable oil can be. But is vegetable oil flammable or combustible?
If we’re being honest, we don’t think about vegetable oils and safety enough.
You’ve probably seen some oil go up in flames at some point, but there’s a lot that you should know about this product.
While it isn't technically considered to be a flammable substance (per OSHA, see more below), there just might be more to the story.
If you want to find out, just keep reading! We’re going to go through what you need to know about vegetable oil, and why its flammability depends on how you look at things.
About Vegetable Oil
We all know about vegetable oil, but it’s worth running through a few facts.
Firstly, vegetable oil is simply an umbrella term for all oils that come from either parts of fruit or the seeds of vegetables.
These oils can be used at very high temperatures, and they have a much higher boiling point than water does (which is 212 degrees Fahrenheit or 100 degrees Celsius).
As such, they are popular choices for frying.
With that being said, there are many vegetable oils. Some can be used at higher temperatures than others, and they all have different smoke points.
The vegetable oils that are used in the kitchen are ones that have very high smoke points.
This means that they need to reach extreme temperatures before they begin to emit smoke – this is a crucial part of cooking.
Why It Isn’t Technically Flammable
Now, onto why vegetable oil isn’t technically a flammable substance. We’ll be taking a look at the flash point for these oils to fully understand the reasoning behind the claim.
But It Burns, Right?
All right, we all probably know that vegetable oil can burn, right?
These oils are actually responsible for causing roughly 49% of home fires (according to the NFPA).
There are things that make vegetable oil use more dangerous than it needs to be (like cooking over a gas flame).
However, there is one primary thing to look out for if you are worried about your vegetable oil catching fire.
What would that be?
Smoke is the first warning sign that your vegetable oil is ready to catch fire. The smoke point is the clearest sign you will get that something isn’t right, right before a fire starts.
When vegetable oil reaches its smoke point, it is very close to being able to catch fire, and that’s the time you need to act.
If an oil fire were to start, it isn’t so easy to deal with. You would need to have a fire extinguisher that is specially made to deal with oil fires.
If you used something else, like one for regular fires, the results could be catastrophic. You could unintentionally lead to the fire spreading rather than putting the flames out.
Some popular vegetable oils and their smoke points include the following:
- Safflower - 510°F (265°C)
- Soybean - 450-495°F (230-257°C)
- Canola - 400-450°F (204-230°C)
- Rice Bran - 450°F (230°C)
- Palm - 455°F (235°C)
- Sunflower - 440°F (230°C)
- Cottonseed - 420°F (216°C)
- Peanut - 440-450°F (227-230°C)
- Coconut - 350-385°F (175-196°C)
The Flash Point
After the vegetable oil reaches the smoke point, the flash point isn’t far behind. The flash point is the name given to the temperature required for something to catch fire.
When it comes to vegetable oils, there is no set flash point. This is because there are so many vegetable oils, and each one has their own.
However, a very general rule to follow would be that they have a flash point of 600 degrees Fahrenheit (315 degrees Celsius).
Some popular vegetable oils and their flash points include the following:
- Safflower - unknown
- Soybean - 626°F (330°C)
- Canola - 619°F (326°C)
- Rice Bran - 615°F 324(°C)
- Palm - 615°F (324°C)
- Sunflower - 606°F (319°C)
- Cottonseed - 606°F (319°C)
- Peanut - 633°F (334°C)
- Coconut - 563°F (295°C)
So, why aren’t vegetable oils officially considered to be flammable?
According to OSHA, in order for a liquid to be considered flammable, it needs to be able to burn below temperatures of 199.4 °F when there is a spark or flame present.
In other words, they state that a flammable liquid has to be ignited by a flame or spark that is 199.4 °F or cooler.
As you can see from the list given above, vegetable oils generally have flash points of somewhere in the 600 degree Fahrenheit range, except for coconut oil.
As such, they are over 400 °F over the flammable liquid heat limit issued by OSHA. This is why they are not technically considered to be flammable.
However, just because something is not flammable does not mean that it cannot burn or catch fire, as you likely know already.
All of these popular vegetable oils can be ignited if temperatures are high enough. If you ignored the smoke, then there’s a good chance that a fire will eventually come to life.
Comparison Table - Smoke VS Flash Points
Below is a list of smoke and flash points of these popular vegetable oils.
- Safflower - smoke point - 510°F (265°C) - flash point - unknown/not stated
- Soybean - smoke point - 450-495°F (230-257°C) - flash point - 626°F (330°C)
- Canola - smoke point - 400-450°F (204-230°C) - flash point - 619°F (326°C)
- Rice Bran - smoke point - 450°F (230°C) - flash point - 615°F 324(°C)
- Palm - smoke point - 455°F (235°C) - flash point - 615°F (324°C)
- Sunflower - smoke point - 440°F (230°C) - flash point - 606°F (319°C)
- Cottonseed - smoke point - 420°F (216°C) - flash point - 606°F (319°C)
- Peanut - smoke point - 440-450°F (227-230°C) - flash point - 633°F (334°C)
- Coconut - smoke point - 350-385°F (175-196°C) - flash point - 563°F (295°C)
For a liquid to be considered flammable, OSHA's definition states that it needs to ignite at sparks or flames that are 199.4 °F or cooler, which is lower than the flash points above.
However, these oils can still combust and cause fires if temperatures get high enough and should be safely worked with at all times. So, are vegetable oils flammable?
Maybe not per OSHA's definition, but with the right amount of heat, these liquids will catch on fire. Keep your kitchen safe!