Handling gasoline? Here’s what you need to know

Here are some tips to stay safe with gasoline or other flammable liquids

By Eric Lai Wheels.ca

Jun 17, 2016 3 min. read

Article was updated 7 years ago

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We safely use gasoline in our vehicles on an daily basis. Perhaps familiarity breeds complacency, since we sometimes forget that it’s extremely dangerous if mishandled.

A long-term U.S. study found that one-quarter of hospital acute burn admissions are gasoline-related. Almost all incidents involve inappropriate use of gasoline.

Here are some tips to stay safe with gasoline or other flammable liquids:

  • Never pour gasoline onto a fire, including barbecues, campfires, leaf piles, etc. Flames will trail up the liquid stream and ignite the container, which may explode.

  • Gasoline should only be used as a motor fuel. Don’t use it as a cleaning solvent. To safely dissolve oil paint or grease from hands, apply baby oil or petroleum jelly and then wash with dish soap.

  • Flammable vapours can travel long distances to an ignition source, so extinguish all pilot lights if using varnish or other flammable products indoors. Wherever possible, move items outdoors for varnish or solvent application.

  • Avoid storing gasoline in large quantities or for long periods of time. Aside from the fire hazard, old fuel gums up engines. Keeping a small jerry can in the garage for outdoor equipment is fine but don’t store gasoline more than a month without adding stabilizer. Old fuel can be mixed 1:1 with fresh gasoline and used up in a lawnmower — but don’t risk using it in your car.

  • At the gas station, fill jerry cans on the ground, not in a pickup bed. Static electricity generated during filling can spark a fire.

  • Transport fuel containers such as jerry cans, propane or camp fuel outside the passenger cabin wherever possible. Fuel containers including aerosol cans may rupture or propane tanks may vent if stored inside a closed vehicle parked in the sun.

  • Use only approved jerry cans for gasoline, as other containers may burst. Don’t store gasoline inside your home.

  • Most Ontario self-serve pumps don’t have trigger locks. Don’t circumvent this safety feature and lock on the gas pump nozzle with your gas cap, then return inside the car. The static discharge the next time you touch the nozzle can ignite gasoline vapours.

If you do walk away while refuelling, always touch a metal portion or the pump housing, which is grounded, to discharge static energy before handling the nozzle.

  • Turn off the engine before refuelling. Use caution, as spills can be ignited by hot exhaust components.

  • Refuel small engines outside a garage or shed. If you do it inside, explosive fumes can accumulate or seep into an attached home.

  • Place rags soaked with gasoline or oil inside a closed metal container, as these may spontaneously combust.

  • Remove fuel-stained clothing immediately, as it will readily ignite. Never put clothes spotted/soaked in gasoline or other flammable liquids into a clothes washer.

  • Never cut, weld or grind a metal container previously used to store gas or other flammable liquids. Such “hot work” can ignite residual vapours and cause an explosion. It only takes about a tablespoon of residual acetone evaporated inside a 44-gallon drum to make it explosive. In British Columbia, a worker who water-rinsed an empty acetone drum and then began welding was killed when sparks penetrated the container and it exploded.

  • Whether a warning sign says flammable or inflammable, both words are synonyms meaning “easily set on fire.” Although the prefix “in” often negates something in English grammar (for example, the opposite of visible is invisible), this isn’t the case for “inflammable,” where it expresses intensity rather than negation. So inflammable means highly flammable; it does not mean non-flammable.

RELATED: Don't overfill at the gas pumps


Freelance writer Eric Lai is a regular contributor to Toronto Star Wheels and, as an honorary Aweres Township Fire Captain, is committed to fire safety education.

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