Exploding disposable lighters

I’ve worked as an industrial pipefitter for about 10 years. Every single job I’ve been at had a policy of not allowing plastic disposable lighters on site. The reason for this is the risk of welding slag and sparks burning through the plastic and causing the lighter to explode.
I’ve always heard stories about guys having their leg, arm, blown off by accidently leaving one of these lighters in a shirt or trouser pocket. There seems to be general agreement that one of these lighters is equal to a 1/4 stick of dynamite.
The more I hear this stuff, the less I believe it. I asked around for a while, and not one person I found has any personal knowledge of such a thing happening. They have all heard the stories, of course. I did a half-assed search through Occupational Health magazines, and could find nothing.
So…I suspect a type of “urban myth” here. Anyone have any info on this?

It’s only anecdotal but I know that a lighter left in a pants pocket that ends up in the clothes dryer can explode. I witnessed this in the laundromat. The only real damage it did was to the clothes, though I don’t know how much fuel the lighter still had in it. (It wasn’t mine.)

I’ve seen them explode when dropped on the ground, or thrown down. They make a racket etc. but I’ve never seen one explode with enough force to take your leg off.:eek:

I’ve seen one thrown into a campfire. It when off with a loud KA-WHUMP and a ball of orange and yellow flame. Lots of noise and light, but I was only a few feet away, and there wasn’t much concussion. I doubt it would sever limbs, though you could get burned pretty bad if it was in your pocket.

There have been several cases here of children being killed in car fires by exploding gas lighters, but it’s the fireball and subsequent inferno that did the damage. If you were to take the gas from the lighter and put it in a confined space in an optimum mix with air, I have no doubt it would be quite explosive, but those conditions are hardly going to arise instantaneously; I’d say it’s potentially dangerous, but the risk is primarily burns and ignition of nearby flammables, not explosive shock damage.

      • The main danger with disposable lighters and welding is not that that the lighter will ignite from a cinder and explode in your pocket and kill you. That explosion isn’t expected to be life-threatening, but if you’re startled and you drop your torch, it may sever the torch hoses. That wouldn’t quite explode either, but the situation could get very, very bad real quick.

This is an educated guess only, but I always thought the likelihood of a lighter exploding was VERY, VERY, low.

Considering that most of the cases I heard, of people claiming to have a lighter explode, occured to people that were alone. I think other things were the cause of the injuries, but lighter companies are the easy targets. Consider also that in every concert there could be at least one big burst, if lighters were to blame alone.


I’ve “dried” about 10 lighters in my life. Nothing exploded. I always had a little scare when I found the lighters in my warm clothes, and I’d think “Whoa, I could of blew the house up”. But everytime, nothing. The lighter would usually just end up broken and empty.

I have a nice large pile of brand new lighters here.

How bout I sit one up in front of a propane torch and report the results?

That ought to be about the worse case scenario.

Report back shortly.

That was pretty cool.

Certain not an explosion though, and definitely nothing like a quarter stick of dynamite.

If it happened in your pocket, a nasty burn could certainly happen.

There was absolutely no explosive effect, just a 3 or 4 diameter fireball and a little whoooshing sound.

I set it up deliberately with some cinder blocks just sitting beside the lighter, the weren’t even budged, let alone damaged.

3 or 4 foot diameter fireball… gotta include those units of measure.

I’ve tossed many a lighter in a camp fire. Highly underwhelming. A little phft sound, a little burst of flame (I was hoping for a 3-4 foot fireball but never close to that) and that was it.

Try it next time you’re camping. Actually, the urban legends site has probably debunked this one years ago.

Interestingly enough a lighter of that kind exploded a my friends house the other day. It was sitting in the sun for a while and suddenly went up (thus do not leave lighters in direct sun, Duh).

The only damage was to the heart of the person who was sitting next to it.

They are flimsy little things that melt easily so Im sure its not unheard of for welding to be the cause of them exploding but it would not take of a leg or anything, maybe just an eyebrow.

Oh China Guy, for a bigger bang try a full can of aerosol deodorant. 8 foot high FIREBALL!!! :eek:

If a disposable lighter could explode with the force of a quarter-stick of dynamite, it would immediately put all the dynamite manufacturers out of business, and mining companies would save a lot of money.

I don’t think the danger is that the slag will burn through the lighter, but that the gas can (and does) escape when something in your pocket depresses the valve. The gas could then e ignited by the welding process. This probably isn’t as likely now that lighters have safety latches on the valve, but most people just remove that thing antway.

Perhaps it was the nuclear fusion dryers my laundromat was using at the time…

A dryer could probably get the most out of a lighter possible.

If the lighter ruptures in there, it will contain the gas and quickly mix it with a reasonable amout of air.

If the dryers are gas heated, you have a good ignition source handy.

But, it shouldn’t do to much more than blow the doors open and be pretty exciting.

Our friends at snopes.com have a page devoted to this topic: