Based on a high school science experiment, it’s no secret that sodium ignites spontaneously when it comes into contact with water. It’s also common knowledge that sodium reacts violently with moisture-containing air. And since salt contains sodium, which is why it’s also known as sodium chloride, you may be wondering if salt is flammable.
Salt is not a flammable substance. That’s because its sodium content, which is bound to chlorine, is no longer as reactive as when it’s a solo element. It will take a lot of heat, more heat than any cooking appliance in existence can produce, to melt salt and ignite the resulting components.
Electrifying the taste buds is important. However, the safety of you and your loved ones comes first.
Read on if you fear that reaching for that salt shaker could potentially cause serious burns and burn down the house, too. Below, we will discuss some important matters that will let you know, once and for all, whether or not you should be on high alert each time you are trying to come up with a culinary gem that requires the use of salt.
Difference Between Sodium and Sodium Chloride
Sodium is a chemical element, which is a very soft silvery-white metal. It is very unstable and thus highly reactive — it reacts with water and moisture in the air. On the other hand, sodium chloride is more commonly known as salt. It still has the element sodium, albeit in very small amounts only.
The reason why many people can’t help but wonder if salt can cause a fire is that its chemical name is sodium chloride, which makes it obvious that the well-loved seasoning contains sodium.
Online, there is never a shortage of sodium reacting violently with water and, in many instances, also air.
Without sounding like a mad scientist, the reason why the element sodium is reactive is that its outer energy level contains one electron. The said electron is something that is always eager to combine with another atom, including an atom found in a molecule of water. By the way, this unstable electron of sodium is also known as a valence electron.
Sodium is reactive to water, in particular, its hydrogen and oxygen content — the chemical name of water is H₂O, which means that every molecule of water is made up of two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom. And because there’s moisture in the air, it isn’t surprising why air exposure is usually enough to cause sodium to ignite violently.
Keep in mind that your skin also has moisture, which is why it’s a terrible idea to handle sodium with bare hands!
As established above, sodium and sodium chloride are two different things. While both of them share something in common, sodium could cause burns and fires if used improperly, while sodium chloride or salt, as everybody refers to it, could make food taste so much better. Well, at least if it’s used properly.
Sodium is not the only element present in salt. Since its chemical name is sodium chloride, it’s quite clear that salt also contains the element chlorine. Salt is about 40% sodium and 60% chlorine.
What’s really funny is that chlorine is just as reactive as sodium. However, the two elements tend to tame one another, and it all starts when the valence electron of sodium is attracted to the atom of chlorine.
Meanwhile, chlorine takes this valence electron and turns it into one of the numerous electrons in its outer energy level.
And this is the reason why salt does not react violently to water and air even if it has two reactive elements.
By the way, before we proceed to the next question, sodium is also the name of the nutrient present in salt. So, in other words, salt not only makes food taste delicious but also makes the body function properly. Some of the most important roles of sodium in the human body are:
- Maintaining fluid and electrolyte balance
- Assisting in the transmission of nerve impulses
- Regulating the contraction and relaxation of the muscles
Will Salt Catch Fire When Exposed to Heat?
Salt will ignite at high temperatures. However, it can be quite impossible to attain temperatures high enough to cause salt to combust in the kitchen. As a matter of fact, it is also difficult to melt salt, which will happen first before it combusts, as the melting point of salt is rather high, too.
Above, we explained that salt wouldn’t lead to disastrous results when it comes into contact with water or air even though every molecule of it consists of two very unstable and reactive elements — sodium and chlorine.
Otherwise, kitchens and restaurants would blow up each time someone used the salt shaker!
Salt is not only stable but also won’t easily catch fire. More importantly, it is also not that easy to melt. Scientists say that you will have to expose it to at least 1,474°F (801°C) in order to liquefy it. To put it into context, domestic ovens can only go as hot as 500°F to 550°F (260°C to 288°C), thus keeping them from reaching half the melting point of salt.
Melting salt is one thing. Causing salt to catch fire is another. And if the goal is to ignite salt, you will have to expose it to even higher temperatures, which is why salt is very much unlikely to combust in your kitchen.
Due to this, no firefighters on the face of the planet ever warn people against sprinkling salt on something that is being fried, boiled, simmered, sautéed, grilled or baked!
Salt is so unlikely to burn under everyday circumstances that you can actually use it to put out a fire!
In order to make this work, you will have to dump a lot of salt onto the burning material or object in order to prevent it from coming in contact with air, which contains something necessary for a fire to keep burning: oxygen.
No matter the type of salt you prefer to use in the kitchen, the fact remains that it will not combust or explode.
It’s true that salt can come in many different kinds. However, their chemical composition remains the same.
For instance, pink salt is still sodium chloride even though it contains minerals such as potassium, magnesium, and calcium. Their presence is not enough to alter the chemical structure of pink salt — 98% of it is still sodium chloride.
Kosher salt, sea salt, fleur de sel, sel gris, truffle salt, Himalayan pink salt, Himalayan black salt, Hawaiian red salt, Hawaiian black lava salt, Cyprus black lava salt, Antarctic sea salt, Kona deep water sea salt, New Zealand Lake Grassmere salt, Persian Blue Diamond salt — no matter the name, it’s still sodium chloride at a chemical level.
Just Before You Sprinkle Some Salt
Because it will take ridiculously high temperatures before salt ignites, accidentally burning down your kitchen should be the least of your worries when seasoning food with salt.
However, it’s important to remember that using too much salt is bad — not because it contains sodium, which tends to combust when exposed to water and air, but because excessive amounts of it can cause high blood pressure, which is a risk factor for deadly heart disease. Needless to say, make sure that you use salt in moderation only!
Is it safe to put salt in the microwave?
Because salt does not contain enough moisture, it will not heat up. This can be a problem because the microwave energy will start heating up the components of the microwave, potentially damaging the kitchen appliance. On the other hand, it’s perfectly fine to microwave food with salt in it.
What is salt firing?
Salt firing is a glazing process. Instead of the usual application of a liquid suspension containing finely ground minerals, salt vapor is used to cover the pottery’s surface. Salt firing involves the introduction of salt into the kiln firebox, and the vapor solidifies upon contact with the pottery.