Water is the most common solvent the world over, but most solvents don’t quench fires; instead they pose fire risks. From glues and cleaners to finishes and fuels, we keep these volatile chemicals for tasks that range from grilling and painting to mowing the grass. The solvent that people keep most at homes across North America? Gasoline.
Solvents can easily catch fire and burn, sometimes explosively. Three conditions must exist simultaneously for that to happen: enough air, an ignition source – a spark or a match, for example – and solvent vapour in a high enough concentration. Lack any one of these factors and no fire occurs. Therefore, storing solvents safely interrupts one or more of these conditions.
The best way to safely keep these chemicals is to have someone else do it: leave them at the hardware store or gas station until absolutely necessary. Buy only what’s needed – the smallest paint stripper can for that chair refinishing project – and use it immediately.
For solvents kept on hand, follow a three-tiered plan for safe storage that’s easy to remember by thinking, “Safe solvent storage is small, medium and large”:
Small: Choose approved, commercially available containers with built-in safety features and warning labels. Keep containers tightly closed to prevent evaporation. Don’t use your own containers to store solvents, even temporarily.
Medium: Store solvent containers wisely. A fireproof cabinet with stable shelves that is secured against unauthorized people, children and pets is ideal.
Large: Locate your storage cabinet in a safe environment. The best choice is a temperature-stable, detached garage or shed with no ignition sources like pilot lights and no direct sunlight. Label this area “No Smoking.”
Finally, station a fire extinguisher nearby. Some solvents have flash points as low as 38 degrees Celsius, so every extra precaution helps protect against fire.