Is Petroleum Jelly Flammable? Can Vaseline Cotton Balls Start a Fire?
I’m sure one way or the other you would have wondered if your petroleum jelly is flammable? This article explains facts about this hypoallergenic, non-comedogenic jelly. So you can rest assured that the little blue jar of Vaseline Jelly is safe to have in your home as long as it’s stored as directed on the label.
Vaseline is made of 100 percent purified white petrolatum. It’s been a dry skin staple in many American homes since its discovery in 1859.
Vaseline is a brand name that’s become fairly synonymous with petroleum jelly, but there are other brands of this product you can buy, too. Some of them may have added ingredients, such as water or fragrance.
The main ingredient in Vaseline is petroleum, which scares some people because they’re familiar with petroleum byproducts, such as gasoline and kerosene.
Like these products, Vaseline has a filmy and slick consistency. Unlike those products, though, it’s safe to use on your skin. Many people even praise the product as being the perfect facial moisturizer.
Vaseline is a particular brand of petroleum jelly; it is made from a mixture of hydrocarbons. Petroleum jelly was first discovered in 1859 by oil rig workers in Titusville, Pennsylvania.
The waxy material formed on the oil rigs caused them to malfunction.
While this caused a great deal of inconvenience to the workers, they found that this “rod wax” helped to heal cuts and burns. But have ever wondered and asked, is vaseline flammable?
A young chemist named Robert Chesebrough heard about this and traveled to Titusville to see if this “rod wax” had commercial potential. He took samples of the unrefined black “rod wax” back to his laboratory to experiment with refining it, as well as exploring its potential uses.
However, he eventually patented his process of making what he called petroleum jelly. He established the first factory in 1870 in Brooklyn NY and called his product Vaseline.
Chesebrough demonstrated his new product by burning deliberately burning his skin with an open flame or acid, then spreading Vaseline over the burn.
He then showed the curious crowd his innovative new product healed his past burns.
Is Vaseline® Petroleum Jelly Flammable?
Since it’s made out of petroleum, it’s natural to wonder, is Vaseline flammable? The short answer is no, not in its ordinary state.
For example, the manufacturer’s website says that a jar of Vaseline sitting in the sun will simply get soft, but it won’t combust.
However, if it’s heated to very high temperatures exceeding 400 degrees Fahrenheit, it can off-fume flammable vapors.
Other sources say Vaseline is only flammable when it’s heated and melted to a liquid; the melting point for petroleum jelly is generally between 105 and 160 °F.
At that point, the fumes can ignite, but not the liquid petroleum jelly itself.
The point is, you could even throw a lit match on top of an open jar of Vaseline, and it will not combust.
That said, while Vaseline isn’t normally flammable, it’s still recommended to store it in a cool place, away from direct sunlight or other heat sources.
Petroleum Jelly Cotton Ball
You already know how well fine cotton burns. One good strike from a ferro rod (a.k.a. “firesteel”, one of my indispensable survival items) is all it takes to set a cotton ball on fire. The problem is, a cotton ball burns out in less than 30 seconds.
Enter petroleum jelly. As the name implies, petroleum jelly contains petroleum — the same petroleum that’s used in oil-based products. In the form of jelly, it’s not flammable, it doesn’t evaporate, and it won’t run. All pluses.
But things change when I light the cotton ball. The heat of the burning cotton melts the petroleum jelly. At this point, the petroleum jelly still doesn’t start burning.
That’s a critical point. If the petroleum jelly were flammable, the whole blob would go up in flame and burn itself out almost instantly.
The magic of Vaseline and other petroleum jelly products is that they don’t burn.
How Does it Work?
So how does this make a good fire starter? In my experience, the following happens:
Once the petroleum jelly melts, the cotton ball starts wicking it like a candle wicks melted wax. As the liquid petroleum jelly rises to the tip of the cotton fibers, it starts boiling and giving off a gas.
This gas then burns in a very controlled, sustained flame.
During this stage, the cotton ball no longer burns, just the gas. Why? Because the cotton ball is saturated with liquid petroleum jelly, and petroleum jelly doesn’t burn. Only the boiling gas burns.
The cotton ball continues to give off a flame as long as there’s a pool of melted petroleum jelly to draw from. Once the petroleum jelly runs out, there’s nothing to stop the cotton ball from burning up. And the flame goes out.
So petroleum jelly actually serves two roles: it gets slowly converted into the gas that fuels the flame, but it also prevents the cotton ball from burning up too quickly. It’s a bit of irony, really.
The very thing that fuels the burn is simultaneously retarding the burn.
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Performance of Petroleum Jelly Cotton Balls
In my tests, a typical cotton ball slathered in petroleum jelly burns strong for about four minutes. That’s four minutes of good, hot flame from a tiny, lightweight fire starter that I can make for pennies.
But it gets better. Because petroleum jelly is oil-based, the petroleum jelly cotton balls are waterproof. I dropped a petroleum jelly cotton ball in a glass of water, then I took it out, pulled it apart to expose the dry fibers inside, threw some sparks on the cotton fibers, and had a flame.
Once the converted gas starts burning, it doesn’t want to stop, making my petroleum jelly cotton balls fairly resistant to wind. Strong gusts will blow one out, but even a little windbreak is enough to protect my fire.
Maybe my favorite thing about these petroleum jelly cotton ball fire starters is their size. I can stuff about ten of them into a film canister (remember those?).
But to save weight, I usually just throw a dozen of them in a snack-sized Ziplock bag. It takes up no space at all, weighs nothing, but has enough emergency fire-starting potential for almost two weeks of fires.
What are the Benefits of Vaseline® Jelly?
Dry, Flaky skin
Vaseline® Jelly works by creating a protective barrier on the skin to lock in natural moisture and help dry skin heal itself from within.
So if you have dry skin during the cold, winter months, using Vaseline® Jelly in conjunction with your moisturizer soothes and protects dry patches.
Have you ever wondered – “Is Vaseline® Jelly good for your lips?” Well, Vaseline® Jelly makes for a fantastic lip balm by creating a barrier that seals in moisture, helping to heal dry, chapped lips.
Our specially formulated Lip Therapy® products contain all the benefits of our pure Vaseline® Jelly and come in a pocket-sized jar so you can keep your lips moisturized even when on the go.
If you suffer from dry patches on your hands, brittle nails, or even dry, cracked cuticles – Vaseline® Jelly can help make you feel comfortable again.
A great tip is this overnight treatment: coat your hands in petroleum jelly before bed, and then cover with a pair of cotton gloves and let the petroleum jelly get to work helping to heal dry skin.
This overnight treatment can also be used for dry, cracked heels, just cover your feet with socks after applying Vaseline® Jelly to the heel.
Vaseline® Jelly seals in moisture helping to reduce the appearance of fine lines and dry, flaky skin over time, and helping to keep your skin radiant.
In fact, when used in conjunction with a good skincare regime, Vaseline® Jelly can help to rejuvenate visibly dry and tired-looking skin.
Minor Cuts or Burns
It’s worth keeping a jar of Vaseline® Jelly in your first aid kit – it can be used to soothe and protect minor cuts, burns, and scrapes.
Vaseline® Jelly has been a first aid kit essential since the First World War when nU.S. soldiers and medical officers would use it to treat minor cuts and bruises and to ease minor sunburn.
A hypoallergenic product, Vaseline® Jelly helps prevent and smooth diaper rash by providing a continuous gentle film on your baby’s skin to keep out wetness.
In summary, if you’ve been worried that using Vaseline may be dangerous, don’t worry. It’s a perfectly safe product with many uses when stored and used properly.
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