Flammable liquids are among the major causes of household fires, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. This federal agency names gasoline as the most dangerous of flammable liquids, but there are many other materials in common use that are dangerously flammable. These include paint thinner, charcoal-lighter fluid and acetone. Although these materials should be kept in closed containers and precautions should be taken to prevent spills, it is almost inevitable that some spills will happen.
Stop the Source First
The source of the spill should be the first priority if it is still releasing the flammable liquid. For instance, if there is a fuel line that is leaking gasoline, find a way to stop that leak before doing anything else. If you are not sure where the liquid is coming from, track down the source of the spill before putting effort into cleaning. This will make your cleaning effort more effective and will lessen the risk of explosion if the spill does catch fire.
Vapors Are Very Flammable
Even though they are invisible, vapors may be the most flammable aspect of a spill. Because the vapors are mixed well with air, they will usually be the first thing to ignite if a spark or open flame is accidentally introduced to the area. The best way to lessen the danger of flammable liquid vapors is to introduce ventilation and to keep any flames away from the spill area. Keep in mind that not all flammable vapors emit an odor, so even if the space does not smell, it may still be dangerous.
Wear Protective Gear
If possible, wear a respirator mask designed for painting. It will filter out fumes and protect you from inhaling the liquid's vapors. This will prevent the health damage that inhaling fumes can cause, such as lung damage and neurological damage. Any part of your body that will come into contact with the liquid, such as your hands, should also be protected because flammable liquids often cause skin irritation. Keep the liquid from getting on your clothes.
Dispose of Cleaning Materials Safely
Any material that you use to mop up the flammable liquid will become flammable itself, unless the spill was treated with a commercial chemical that made it nonflammable. To dispose of this flammable material, you should contact your local hazardous waste department to ask if they accept these materials and what type of container the material should be transported in. In some localities, it is legal to burn materials in small controlled fires to dispose of them.
Keep Fire Equipment Nearby
When you are gathering the materials to clean a flammable liquid spill, include a fire extinguisher in your list of supplies. Remember that some flammable liquids, such as gasoline, are not water soluble, so you should not use a water hose as a substitute for a fire extinguisher if that is the case. If the spill is ignited while you are attempting to clean it, stand clear of the flames and try to put out the fire.