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 causing 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 ask, 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. 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 past burns were healed by his innovative new product.
Vaseline Heals Burns, But is Vaseline 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 storing it in a cool place, away from direct sunlight or other heat sources.
But Vaseline Filled Cotton Balls Make Great Fire Starters
Many campers use cotton balls filled with Vaseline to start campfires; this seems like a contradiction, but it’s not. While petroleum jelly in its natural state is not flammable, the fumes are. When the Vaseline begins to melt, the cotton ball wicks it up, like a candle wicks up melted wax. The melted Vaseline gives off fumes, and these fumes will burn with a very sustained flame. Only the petroleum gas burns, but not the unmelted Vaseline. Is Vaseline flammable? No, but the fumes from liquefied petroleum jelly are, and this can be used to start fires, under controlled conditions.
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.