How to Safely Extinguish a Grease Fire

If you’re dealing with a grease fire, dousing it with water is as good as adding fuel to the flames. Smother it instead with a lid, salt, baking soda, or a fire extinguisher.
Whatever you do: Do not head for the water faucet.
Whatever you do: Do not head for the water faucet. / Henrik Sorensen/DigitalVision via Getty Images

Even when everything goes right, cooking a complicated recipe can be stressful. The last thing you want to see on your stovetop is a flame where it doesn’t belong. Your first instinct during a kitchen emergency may be to turn on the sink, but pouring water onto a grease fire is the worst thing you can do. Fortunately, the best tools for extinguishing it are items you likely already have in your kitchen at home.

Cooking oil is a pantry staple, but it can be dangerous if it’s not handled carefully. When allowed to heat past a certain temperature, oil can smoke and catch fire. Every oil has a different smoke point, and it’s important to choose the right product for the job before preparing a dish. Peanut oil, for example, has a smoke point of 450°F, making it ideal for deep-frying foods at high temperatures. Olive oil, on the other hand, starts to smoke at 350°F, so it’s best used over moderate heat.

A grease fire can start when a pot or pan of oil is left unattended, or when oil splashes over the sides of the cookware and onto the stovetop. A splash of water getting into your oil can also be enough to ignite a fire. Water is denser than oil, so as water droplets sink and evaporate under the high heat, more grease is forced to the surface where the flames are. This is why you should never douse a grease fire with water, as it can have the same effect as spraying it with lighter fluid.

Like any fire, grease fires need oxygen to sustain themselves, so the best way to extinguish them is to cut off that supply. If the fire is contained within a cooking vessel, simply covering it with a lid may be enough to suffocate it. Smothering it with salt or baking soda may also do the trick. Both ingredients release carbon dioxide, making them great flame suppressants. Just avoid using flour or baking powder—these ingredients are combustible and can make the fire worse. And when there are no other options, this is the time to grab the fire extinguisher you hopefully already have in your home kitchen. 

The kitchen is an obvious place to practice fire safety, but it’s not the only room in your house where hazards may be lurking. From outlets to space heaters, here are more common sources of house fires and how to handle them safely.

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