Brake Cleaner Inflammability

Most people are not aware of how inflammable petroleum base brake and parts cleaners are. I learned first hand on October 20, 2003 how flammable they are. I was washing a oil pickup tube for a 1958 352 FE Ford engine in a deep angular sink using hot water and lanolin hand cleaner. The sink was in a cove of a service station with a door next to it. The ventilation in this area was fair. A workman in the service station handed me a can of brake parts cleaner. I sprayed the part liberally in the sink. Suddenly the sink erupted in flames shooting up three feet into the air. It made the sound and the flames just like a charcoal barbeque pit soaked with charcoal lighter fluid that was ignited by a match . I quickly pulled back from the flames, but in less than a second my face, neck and left arm received first and second degree burns. I was shocked that there was a fire since I was not using a flame. I was told that there is a hot water boiler behind a wall behind the sink. This may not have been the source of the ignition since there was no fire ignited near the boiler when the sink erupted. It may be that the heat of the spigot of the sink was enough to ignite the flammable petroleum based fluid.

After the fire was put out by a fire extinguisher and I got over the surprise of being in such an accident, I took a cool shower. The air of the bathroom smelt of burnt hair and flesh. My scalp, eyebrow and eyelash hairs were singed. All the hair on my left arm was burned off. My hands, which received no burns, were probably protected from the flames because they were wet. I was wearing short sleeves and no face protection. I did not expect such a danger. Luckily my eyes were unaffected. I needed to get a haircut the next day to even out the damage to the scalp hair.

After the shower I resumed work rebuilding my engine.

I now have respect for the dangers of brake and parts cleaners.

Brake and Parts Cleaner

Warnings on the back of Brake and Parts Cleaner - heed them!


Site of accident. Note gray hot water gas boiler barely visible behind parts shelf on right.


Close-up of sink involved in accident. Note ceramic tile lined wall separates sink from boiler.
Also note melted plastic dish washing liquid bottle.


My arm four days after the accident. First and second degree burns still visible. Note that the arm is hairless.
Luckily at this point my face and neck are nearly healed. -- Alexander Sosiak

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