We all know that aerosol cans can cause significant damage to the ozone layer. But did you know that they can also be particularly destructive when left inside a hot car? In fact, on several occasions across the United States, this simple mistake has almost turned out to be deadly.
Of course, it’s quite likely that most of us store at least one aerosol can in our vehicles at all times. There’s the de-icing spray for whenever conditions get a little too Arctic. Then there’s the flat tire repair foam for whenever we need a quick fix at the side of the road. And there’s even the can of lubricant needed for a motor’s general all-round health.
But whether these are kept loose in the car trunk, the glove compartment or in a metal toolbox, they can still pose a significant danger. And this is especially the case when the temperature starts to soar. Indeed, considering how often we use them, it’s easy to forget that the majority of these products are combustible or flammable.
In fact, many of these cans contain a warning that they shouldn’t be stored in places where the temperature exceeds 120 °F. While this is unlikely to be a problem throughout the fall, winter and spring, it’s a different story in the summer. For the temperature inside a hot vehicle then can surpass a whopping 130 °F.
So what exactly happens when aerosol cans become overheated? Well, they also become over-pressurized and, as a result, the build-up of excess pressure can be released via the nozzle. Astonishingly though, without doing this, the cans can become fast and furious missiles that fly around the vehicle uncontrollably. And this can have devastating consequences.
Indeed, in a report about the dangers of aerosols left in hot cars, Road and Travel Magazine issued a particularly stark warning. It read, “You or your child can be seriously injured or killed if riding in close proximity to these materials when they blow. Look inside and in the back of your vehicle and remove these hazards by storing aerosols in proper locations. It could save your life!”
And even if no one is in the car at the time of the explosion, you could still be hurt financially. Indeed, according to comparison site Canstar, insurance companies are unlikely to pay out for any damage caused through your own negligence. So unless you have a particularly comprehensive policy, it’s possible that the hazard could cost you thousands.
Of course, aerosol cans aren’t the only things you have to worry about in a car on a hot summer’s day. Some are just basic common sense. For instance, the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals notes that pets exposed to intense heat, even for 15 minutes, can suffer brain damage and fatal heat stroke.
Furthermore, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration advises against storing groceries in the trunk when making that ride home from the supermarket. Instead, it’s much safer to transport them in the cooler passenger compartment. This is due to the fact that bacteria can spread much quicker in hotter temperatures.
However, there are also some less obvious things that you perhaps wouldn’t expect to be damaged when left inside a car. For instance, the National Institutes of Health reports that prescription drugs can become less effective when placed in a car’s glove compartment. Indeed, parked cars are unlikely to stay at the room temperature that most medicines need to be stored in.
Then there’s the product you’re only likely to need during the summer season. You see, even sunscreen can be rendered ineffective by the blazing heat if left in a vehicle for too long. Yes, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention state that high temperatures can significantly reduce a bottle of sunscreen’s shelf life.
Considering how attached we are to our cell phones, it’s unlikely that we’d leave them in a car for too long. But it’s not just the heat that can damage such devices. Indeed, Time magazine once reported that extremely cold conditions can reduce a smartphone’s battery life. To add to that, its glass screen can shatter, too, under a lower temperature.
What’s more, if you’re a musician you should be wary about leaving your instrument in a vehicle, particularly if it’s wooden. For cold air can cause guitars and violins to crack, according to The Des Moines Register. And the resulting repair won’t come cheap, either. Furthermore, Music Arts.com reports that intense heat can weaken the glue that binds such instruments together.
Even a simple water bottle can cause its fair share of problems when left in a hot car. And contrary to popular belief, it has nothing to do with any chemicals from the bottle’s plastic. As the liquid inside becomes hotter, the bacteria inside a bottle that’s already been opened can multiply to dangerous levels.
Unsurprisingly, leaving a gas bottle in a hot environment for a notable amount of time is a big no-no. For such items are significantly bigger than aerosol cans and contain gas that’s produced to actually combust. So instead of just damaging your vehicle, an exploding gas bottle is likely to completely destroy it.
Unfortunately, several car drivers and passengers have learned about the dangers of aerosols in hot vehicles the hard way. For example, in 2018 Graham Shwenn, 57, picked up several aerosol cans from the seat of a friend’s camper van. And one of these suddenly exploded in his hands. Now you might think this was unlikely to do him any great harm.
But think again. Because Shwenn’s stomach, groin and genitals were all impacted by the exploding metal as a result. And the man from Merseyside, U.K., was forced to undergo an operation that night, before having a skin graft the following day. You see, the incident had also happened when the country was in the middle of a heatwave.
Although Shwenn’s injuries weren’t life threatening, they did prove to be life-changing. As a result, he and his wife issued a warning to other motorists about the dangers of aerosols in hot cars. Yes, Ann Shwenn told the Liverpool Echo, “He is shocked at the huge impact a canister can cause, which is why he would like awareness to be raised.”
That same year Massachusetts police also issued a similar warning following an incident in the town of Brimfield. You see, an air conditioning refill can exploded, shattering a vehicle’s back window. Speaking to Western Mass News, meteorologist Dan Brown said, “As the aerosol can begins to warm up the air begins to expand and expand and eventually the pressure builds up so much that that can just explodes.”
Now, Christine Bader Debrecht no doubt wishes her daughter had paid heed to such warnings. For after returning home from work one day in September 2019, Debrecht’s husband went to let the family’s pet dogs outside. And it was then that he noticed something very different about his daughter’s Honda Civic.
Indeed, the sunroof of the 19-year-old’s vehicle had been completely destroyed while parked outside the family home in St. Peters, Missouri. Initially, Christine believed that it had been smashed by an object which had fallen from above. But on closer inspection, it became clear that something inside the car was to blame.
“We were shocked and bewildered,” Christine told ABC News. “We had no idea what had happened. It took us quite some time to solve the mystery, but my daughter finally put it all together.” Indeed, things started to make sense when the teenager found a mysterious white substance all over the interior of the Honda.
Then she realized that this substance must have emerged from the bottle of dry shampoo she’d left in the vehicle. And there was also further evidence to back up this theory. In one photo taken by the family afterwards, the bottom of a seven-ounce green Equate bottle is entirely separated from its cylinder.
And the Debrecht family’s suspicions were confirmed when they noticed the warning label that adorned the bottle of the dry shampoo. For it read, “Extremely flammable, container may explode if heated.” Christine told ABC News, “It must have blasted off like a missile. We’re just glad no one was hurt.”
Yes, thankfully, none of the Debrecht family had been in the vehicle at the time of the explosion. “We couldn’t believe it had done so much damage,” added Christine. “We still can’t believe it.” And Christine soon made it her mission to ensure that everyone she knew was aware of the incident.
Indeed, Christine took to Facebook to share various images of her daughter’s damaged Honda Civic. Not only did she show the blown-off sunroof and torched console where the shampoo was stored. No, she also uploaded a picture of the offending bottle itself. And she posted a warning to her Facebook friends not to make the same mistake.
Yes, Christine began the post with, “I really feel like I need to spread the word about this and hopefully prevent others from experiencing this damage or even injury. Please feel free to share.” And share they did. Indeed, shortly after the post went up, it had been shared more than 4,500 times.
Alongside the image of the bottle, Christine continued, “This can of dry shampoo was left in my daughter’s car’s middle console. The lid of the console was closed. It was hot yesterday and the can exploded. It blew the console cover off of its hinges, shot through the sunroof, and went high enough in the air that it landed about 50 feet away.”
“I just want to remind you (and your kids) to heed those warnings on products you may be using,” added Christine. “Please don’t leave aerosol cans (and especially dry shampoo, as this seems to be an issue with some brands) in your car! I am so grateful that no one was hurt.”
And Christine’s cautionary social media post received a whole load of responses. For instance, one Facebook friend replied, “So glad she’s ok! I didn’t know that could happen! Telling my girls now!” Another remarked, “That’s crazy! Glad she’s ok and good that you put that out there. I had no idea!” But that wasn’t all.
For one commenter then responded, “This is why aerosol cans are not allowed in your luggage on any flight! That is one big explosion in her car! This is a good reminder to be careful where you keep your aerosol.” Another added, “What a surprise for anyone who happened to walk by when that shot out of the sunroof!”
Furthermore, the experts then got involved. Yes, David Constable from the American Chemical Society’s Green Chemistry Institute told TODAY that such an explosion was inevitable. He said, “You really shouldn’t leave cans under pressure in a hot car, that’s just common sense.” And Constable stated that the shampoo would’ve partly blasted off “like a rocket” due to the blend of volatile gasses such as propane and butane.
However, Christine says she doesn’t believe it’s common knowledge that propane features in such products. She told The Washington Post, “At least if you are transporting butane or a propane tank you know it’s dangerous and can take special safety precautions. This was a seemingly innocent can of dry shampoo.”
Interestingly, the company which owns Equate shampoo, Walmart, also reacted to the shocking news story. In a statement to NBC News, a spokesperson said that the bottle in question “includes a specific warning, like most aerosol products, that it may explode if heated and not stored as directed.” In fact, the label states that the product shouldn’t be stored at higher than 120 °F.
So how hot was it exactly on the day that the bottle of Equate shampoo exploded? Well, it was only actually 90 °F, according to reports, 30 degrees below the limit. However, the American Academy of Pediatrics reports that car temperatures can increase by 40 degrees in just one hour.
What’s more, Bryn Mawr College professor Dr. Michelle Francl told TODAY that car drivers and passengers had to start considering what they stored in their vehicles. She said, “It’s a greenhouse effect. We think about it with people and pets, but not with our stuff.”
Speaking to The Boston Globe, Christine revealed that her teenage daughter has been left devastated by the incident. She said, “My daughter has been constantly on the go since she got her driver’s license three years ago. She has always kept a stash of beauty products with her in her car, and dry shampoo has been among them.”
Unfortunately, Christine’s daughter had purchased the 2018 Honda Civic second hand just a few months earlier. And the teen’s first car had clocked up less than 5,000 miles at the time. Furthermore, she’d used the money she earned from her job at a grocery store to help pay for it. Also, other funds had been provided by her late grandmother.
So as well as losing her independence, Christine’s daughter may also be left out of pocket. However, her mother said that the damages will be paid by the teen’s insurance providing they don’t cost more than $5,000. But if the sum proves greater, then the teen will have to cough up for a significant deductible, reported The Boston Globe.
Overall, though, Christine is just relieved that her teenage daughter is still in one piece. As she told The Boston Globe, “Everyone has been grateful, as are her father and I, that she was not in or near the car when this happened. Injuries from this could have been so severe.”