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How To Avoid A Cooking Oil Fire

How To Avoid A Cooking Oil Fire

To prevent a cooking oil fire, it's important to understand the risks associated with using cooking oil in the kitchen. Cooking oils, such as olive oil, coconut oil, corn oil and canola oil, are commonly used for baking, frying and flavoring food. While they enhance the taste of our dishes and provide nutrients, it's crucial to be cautious due to their flammability.

Cooking oils can catch fire if overheated, with lower smoke point oils like olive oil being more prone to catching fire. Cooking fires are a leading cause of home fires and injuries. To prevent a cooking oil fire, understand the risks of using flammable oils like olive, coconut, corn, and canola. Always monitor the heat, never leave cooking unattended, and keep a fire extinguisher nearby for safety.

Which types of vegetable oils are flammable?

Cooking oil plays a vital role in various culinary practices such as cooking, baking, frying and even as a dressing or marinade. Most vegetable oils are flammable, with specific ignition points varying due to factors like harvesting conditions and processing methods. Here are approximate smoke points, indicating the temperatures at which oils can start to smoke and potentially catch fire:

  1. Canola Oil: 400-450°F (204-230°C)
  2. Corn Oil: 450°F (232°C)
  3. Cottonseed Oil: 420°F (216°C)
  4. Peanut Oil: 450°F (232°C)
  5. Vegetable Shortening: 360°F (182°C)
  6. Olive Oil: 320°F (160°C) for extra virgin, 420°F (216°C) for extra light
  7. Sunflower Oil: 440-450°F (227-232°C)
  8. Safflower Oil: 450-510°F (232-266°C)
  9. Soybean Oil: 440-460°F (227-238°C)
  10. Sesame Oil: 350-410°F (176-210°C) for regular, 410-450°F (210-232°C) for toasted
  11. Grapeseed Oil: 420°F (216°C)
  12. Flaxseed Oil: 225°F (107°C)
  13. Avocado Oil: 375-520°F (190-270°C)

To start a fire with cooking oil, it must be heated above its smoke point and come into contact with direct heat. While normal kitchen usage typically doesn't meet these conditions, it's crucial to take safety precautions when working with hot oils. Oils with lower smoke points, like flaxseed, are more prone to ignite at lower temperatures.

The Science behind Cooking Oil Fires

Cooking oil frying chips

Cooking oil fires often occur when oil is left unattended or heated too rapidly. These fires result from the physical and chemical properties of cooking oils, specifically their flashpoint, ignition point, and smoke point.

  • Flashpoint: The temperature at which oil vapors can ignite in the presence of air.
  • Ignition Point: The temperature at which oil itself catches fire without an external flame.
  • Smoke Point: The temperature at which oil starts to smoke, indicating deterioration and proximity to the flashpoint.

As oil heats, it produces vapors that, at the flashpoint, can ignite with oxygen. If heating continues to the ignition point, the oil can catch fire. Rapid heating can cause uneven temperature distribution, leading to sudden flames.

Vegetable oils are primarily triglycerides (hydrocarbons), which become flammable at their flashpoint. Factors influencing oil flammability include the type and thickness of the cooking vessel, the heat source, and any impurities in the oil.

Common Causes of Kitchen Oil Fires

Kitchen oil fires can occur due to mishandling or improper storage of cooking oil. Understanding the common causes can help prevent such disasters:

  1. Leaving Cooking Oil Unattended: The leading cause of oil fires. High heat can quickly raise the oil's temperature to its flashpoint, causing ignition. Always monitor oil while heating and turn off the heat if it starts to smoke.
  2. Pouring Oil into a Hot Pan: Adding cold oil to a hot pan can cause splattering and instant fires. Gradually heat the pan with the oil to avoid temperature disparities.
  3. Oil Splatters on Heat Sources: Hot oil can splatter onto stoves or open flames, leading to fires. Use lids or splash guards while cooking and keep the heat at a lower level to minimize splattering.

In summary, handle cooking oil carefully to reduce fire risks. Always monitor heating oil, avoid sudden temperature changes, and use protective measures against splatters. Keep a fire extinguisher nearby for emergencies.

Safety Tips for Preventing Oil Fires

Cooking oil in restaurant

Maintain Proper Cooking Temperatures:

  • Keep cooking temperatures below 374°F to prevent oil from smoking and igniting.
  • Always monitor frying oil and never leave it unattended.
  • Use quality cookware to ensure even heat distribution.
  • Gradually reheat oil and let it cool before handling.

Proper Disposal of Used Oil:

  • Never pour oil down the sink or toilet.
  • For small amounts, cool and absorb with paper towels or cat litter, then dispose of in the trash.
  • For larger quantities, cool and seal in a non-recyclable container for disposal.
  • Check local facilities for oil recycling options.

Read our blog post on reusing cooking oils.

Fire Safety Equipment:

  • Have an all-purpose fire extinguisher accessible in the kitchen.
  • Install a smoke detector near the kitchen area.
  • Keep a fire blanket to smother flames and turn off the heat before use.
  • Use a lid to cover and suffocate minor oil fires.

Summary: Prevent oil fires by maintaining safe cooking temperatures, properly disposing of used oil, and having essential fire safety equipment readily available. Regularly check and maintain this equipment and have an emergency plan with an escape route and contact numbers.

Guidelines for Responding to an Oil Fire

Immediate Actions to Take When Confronted with an Oil Fire

Immediate Actions:

  1. Stay calm to avoid errors.
  2. Turn off the heat source immediately.
  3. Cover the fire with a metal lid to cut off oxygen.
  4. Use a Class B fire extinguisher if available, aiming at the base and sweeping until extinguished.
  5. If the fire grows, evacuate everyone and call the fire department.

fire extinguisher

What to Avoid:

  1. Never use water; it can cause dangerous splattering and spread the fire.
  2. Do not move the pot or pan; hot oil can spill and spread the fire.
  3. Avoid using a wet cloth; it can cause oil splattering.
  4. Do not use flour or sugar; they can create a dust explosion.


Understanding and preventing oil fires is crucial for safe cooking. The potential damage from a cooking oil fire underscores the need for responsible oil management in our kitchens. By practicing safe cooking habits, such as closely monitoring heat levels, never leaving the stove unattended, and knowing how to respond to an oil fire, we can significantly reduce the risk of incidents.

Cooking should be enjoyable and safe. Ensure your kitchen remains a haven by avoiding carelessness and staying informed about proper safety measures. Reinforce these practices to prevent small flames from becoming hazardous fires.

A great cook is not only judged by delicious meals but also by their commitment to a safe cooking environment. Let's all strive to be thoughtful and cautious in our kitchens. Happy and safe cooking to all!