Water is one of the most important elements on our planet. You can find it almost everywhere you turn: rivers, rain, oceans and from your tap at home.
Even our bodies are made up of almost 80% water, and we need to drink a lot of it daily to make sure that we keep our body healthy.
We also use water in many different ways, such as for cooking, washing our clothes and cleaning.
In an emergency, firefighters also use gallons of water to put out fires. But if we use it to put out fire, can water be flammable?
We take a look at what water really is and if there is really no danger to the most important element in our lives.
Before we find out whether water is flammable or just as innocent as it looks, let’s explore a little bit what water really is.
Also known under the scientific term dihydrogen monoxide, water molecules are made up of one oxygen atom and two hydrogen atoms.
This combination of atoms can stand on its own, just as we see every day when we use water.
Our planet is covered almost two thirds with water and the majority of life on earth depends on it to sustain their bodies.
From the smallest bacteria, to trees and fish as well as people, we all rely on water to live.
Water can also combine with other atoms to form different substances but typically it has no taste and no odor.
This makes drinking and absorbing water very easy for every living organism on the planet.
In addition, water is also its own habitat. Considering the large variety of fish species and other living things in our oceans, rivers and lakes, water is vital for them to exist.
Humans also use water for many other purposes, including agriculture, different industries and even entertainment.
Although a water molecule is tiny, water is everywhere in vast quantities, making it possible for life on earth to exist.
Is Water Flammable?
First up, water is not flammable. You cannot ignite pure water by holding a match or a fire lighter up to it.
It is easy to understand how the flammability of water as a myth came into existence. Water is made up of hydrogen atoms, and typically hydrogen is very flammable.
However, it is exactly this hydrogen that means water is not flammable.
When you try to burn the hydrogen in air then the hydrogen oxidizes.
This means that the hydrogen atom attaches itself to the oxygen in the air and then there is no spare hydrogen or oxygen to react.
Since fires need oxygen to ignite and continue to burn, there is no way for a fire to start when it's not present.
This process means that water cannot be the starter for a fire, but it is typically the end result.
In turn, this results in water usually being the perfect material to extinguish a fire, rather than ignite it.
Can You Set Water On Fire?
No, there is no way to set pure water on fire. Thanks to its chemical properties and structure, water on its own simply cannot ignite when you light it.
However, you can add other substances that may float on water, such as oil, gasoline or wax.
As these substances are usually flammable, they can burn on top of the water. This will only burn the floating substance, and not the water itself.
The water which is so close to a fire may evaporate.
Can Hot Or Boiling Water Catch Fire?
No, hot or boiling water also cannot catch fire. Although water starts to boil at around 212 degrees Fahrenheit, this is not a very high ignition temperature for most materials.
Since it only starts to boil at 212 degree Fahrenheit, it does not produce a flame. It only starts to turn into a hot gaseous state.
Only the heat from this gas may cause a fire but this would require other materials which are highly flammable at a low flash point temperature.
Although boiling water itself cannot burn, other materials, such as any equipment where the water was boiled, may catch fire, if they are not designed to be fire-resistant.
That’s why, it is essential that you do not leave any hot water or liquid unattended for too long.
Can You Use Water To Start A Fire?
While pure water does not catch fire, you can use water to start a fire off. There are a number of other substances that react with water, making them light up into flames.
You may have experimented with these substances, such as sodium, in science classes at school.
Elements like sodium typically burst into flames when it comes into contact with water. And it’s not just sodium that can make water look like it is burning.
The radioactive element cesium, or lithium in batteries, and also powdered magnesium all can catch fire when you add water to them.
Luckily, not all of these substances are easily accessible, although they can be contained in some of our normal household items.
And as mentioned more below, adding water to an oil-based fire can make the fire a lot worse.
The Dangers Of Flammable Drinking Water
One possible cause of the great myth of flammable water is that people have indeed experienced flammable drinking water in the past.
However, this is not because water in itself is flammable.
When we use water that comes out of our taps, then we need to understand that this water has travelled sometimes hundreds of miles through pipes.
The risk of contamination of our tap water is very high, and depending on the state of the pipes and other environmental circumstances, our drinking water that comes from the tap could end up being toxic.
This does not usually happen in America or Europe as the pipe network and environmental controls are strict, but in China and other Asian countries, the drinking water coming out of the tap can be highly polluted.
Sometimes this contamination is so bad that the water is laced with highly flammable substances which means that the drinking water could burn.
It’s important to point out that this water is not pure water and it can cause serious harm to people when ingested or even when just put on the skin.
If the contaminated water leaves an oil film on the skin, then the cells cannot breathe and this can lead to a number of skin diseases, such as eczema.
What Happens If You Put Water On An Oil Based Fire?
In the majority of cases, water can easily extinguish a fire very quickly.
Typically, you need to use large amounts of water to cut off the fire from the air, or you can use cold water to cool the fire down.
This will decrease the temperature of the fire and it will make it much easier to put out the fire fully.
But water is not always the best option when trying to fight a fire. In some situations, water can make a fire bigger and even make it spread more quickly.
Flammable liquids, which do not usually mix with water easily, tend to create very persistent fires which cannot be put out with water.
In fact, they get worse when you add water because their chemical structure doesn’t allow them to combine with the water.
This means that oil-based fires or any other flammable liquid fires should never be extinguished with water.
Although water may theoretically put out these types of fires when the flames are fully immersed in water, from a practical standpoint, grease fires react very quickly with water and expand.
This is because when water is added to a grease fire, there are tiny grease droplets created that can spray and burn.
This can lead to much greater damage and it can also cause serious harm to skin, hands and eyes.
That’s why it's always important to remember that oil and water simply should not be mixed.
Instead, you should use a red fire extinguisher (ideally class B or K) which makes sure that your kitchen fire doesn’t end up in a blaze.
What Happens If You Put Water On An Electrical Fire?
Similar to oil-based fires, you can theoretically use water to put out the fire but at considerable risk.
When you add water to any electrical appliance or device, you run the risk of electrocuting yourself.
This is not just very painful and life threatening but it can also create other fires which can quickly spread throughout your house.
If you cannot put out the fire by cutting its oxygen supply off (with a fire blanket) or switching off the circuit breaker, then you should use a fire extinguisher.
For electrical fires, you can use a dry powder extinguisher or a carbon dioxide fire extinguisher.
Flammable Household Items That Can Cause Fires
We may not always be aware of it but there are many items and products in our homes that are highly flammable.
The majority of beauty products contain strongly flammable chemicals.
Products such as hair spray, deodorant, hand sanitizer, nail polish and hair mousse are all made with chemicals that can easily ignite and burn.
An added danger with beauty products is when they come in aerosol cans which contain the product under high pressure.
You should never leave any of your beauty products near an open fire. If any of these products catch fire, then do not use water. Instead, use a fire extinguisher.
This may be a surprise but many laundry products contain chemicals that are highly flammable.
This is the reason why it is essential to store them safely away from children and any fire sources.
The majority of auto products to keep your car operating and well-maintained, such as anti-freeze, brake fluid and oils, are flammable chemicals.
So, if you keep your car products in your garage, then make sure that there are no fire sources nearby, and that the chemicals are locked away safely at all times.
Many household fires happen because we are not aware of the possible risks.
Although water itself is not flammable, it can be a base for other highly flammable substances, such as oils, which can easily catch fire.
If you notice a film on your water or it tastes different than normal, you should avoid drinking it.
Also make sure that you do not expose the water to any fire source and report it to your local water authority.