Saturday, November 3, 2007

Vaseline and Oxygen: Flame On

I have been told before that you cannot mix oxygen and vaseline together because they can cause a flame and cause problems. How many others of you have heard this information, maybe this should be put on a new Myth Buster's show.

So I started looking around a bit and have came across some posting on nursing sites about whether this is a myth or not. I have found numerous references to this article, "Dispelling the petroleum jelly myth," in the November 1998 American Journal of Nursing but I have no way to access this article and cannot find a good free source for this. If anyone out there has access to this I would be interested to hear or see the information in this article.

Information I have found out about this being a combustible subject is that when a patient used a thin layer of petroleum jelly on their lips due to dryness from the oxygen that the oxygen from a oxygen device to provide the patient with oxygen can cause the petroleum jelly can cause a gas that when combined with oxygen can become very combustible, and then is a static spark can cause a flame. Supposedly there are many reports if this in a surgical rooms versus not many report from patient floor rooms. Could this be from a lack of people reporting this problem, I don't know but I think it's a interesting subject because I see vaseline and Carmex used a lot to moisten the lips of patients on oxygen. I do understand that oxygen does make your mouth and lips dry.

I am interested to see if anyone else out there has any good information on this topic.

Keep Driving on RT's


Anonymous said...

This is an interesting area and one that I have coming up on a regular basis. There is indeed a risk that combustion can take place although the risks are small. It is usually associated with high pressure oxygen rather than the low pressure related to cylinders and concentrators. There have been several reported cases in the british arena and there has also been a recent case report of a neonatal nurse igniting her hands after using alcohol gel and a cylinder. The licenses and Summary of Product Characterists clearly include these gels and creams as things to avoid. The recommended lotion for dry noses and mouths is KY Jelly which is universally available or Ro Eezit. Quentin Sayer BOC Medical

Rick Frea said...

I let my patients use vaseline all the time. I've never had a problem. It gets really dry in hospitals.

An RT sage I work with told me the fears of using it with ozygen are valid, but that was basically from the old days when patient's were allowed to smoke in the rooms. Now, since smoking is banned, there shouldn't be a problem. However, I have never seen an article regarding this either.

Unknown said...

My professor told me that there was an accident involving oil-based lubricants in his hospital one time. Solution: Use water-sol lubricant.

Anonymous said...

A late night, pediatric, med-surg RN, I walked into to a patient room last night to find his grandmother applying vaseline to his nares with a Q-Tip as he received 0.5L/min O2 via nasal cannula. I thought nothing of it, other than to suggest that I bring in some humidification for the 02. At the change of shift report this morning I was told that there was a risk of burning the patient's nares, though no one was willing to say how this might occur. So, I have wondered if this pearl might be some sort of a myth perpetuated by the RT dept.

Certainly, the risk of oxygen-alimented and nares-carburated flame would increase with the presence of a flame source in proximity. But it was implied to me that some form of spontaneous combustion might be precipitated by this mix.

This said, an element of this potential reaction is the volatility of petroleum jelly at conventional temperatures. A non-authoritative post suggests that the "flash point" of petroleum jelly is around 50C, and thus out of range for spontaneous combustion at room temperature.

I have to wonder though if it is ever dangerous for a patient to breathe concentrated Vaseline vapors. Is this even a consideration for a patient with. say. some level of respiratory compromise?

Anonymous said...

I am a fire safety advisor at a large acute hospital. The way I see this is that the oxygen (which must be the most effective oxidising agent) oxidises the petoleum jelly. This does not cause a build up of flammable gases (in my opinion) but, depending on the thickness of the vaseline, can cause irritation, perhaps similar to rubbing something on kike 'Fiery Jack' or 'Deep Heat', as the skin becomes more raw then more vaseline is added and instead of soothing the skin has the opposite effect due to the reaction between the oxygen and vaseline.
One consultant has been sceptical when asked about this subject, another says it is possible,
Look forward to any replies


Anonymous said...

The risk of fire from using of petroleum jelly with oxygen has always seemed a little ridiculous to me! I ran across this discussion while trying to disprove all my coworkers who say don't use it. Intrigued, I looked for the mentioned article (Dispelling the Petroleum Jelly Myth) and found it since I am also a student with free library access to most journals. However, not being all that tech savy I couldn't figure out how to post it here, since it is a scanned image. If you want to see it, email me and I will send it to you as a Word doc.

Anonymous said...


Dispelling the Petroleum Jelly Myth
ISSN: 0002-936X
Accession: 00000446-199811000-00018
Email Jumpstart
Find Citing Articles
≪ Table of Contents
About this Journal ≫Author(s): Winslow, Elizabeth H. PhD, RN, FAAN; Jacobson, Ann F. PhD, RN

Issue: Volume 98(11), November 1998, p 16RR
Publication Type: [Research for Practice]
Publisher: © 1998 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.
Institution(s): Elizabeth H. Winslow is a research consultant for the Presbyterian Hospital of Dallas, TX. Ann F. Jacobson is an assistant professor at Kent State University School of Nursing, Kent, OH.

Table of Contents:
≪ The Essential Role of Pastoral Care: A Clinician's Perspective.
Complete ReferenceRecently, a hospital with which I have been associated removed petroleum jelly from the patient-care units to prevent its use on patients receiving oxygen. The ban was based on the National Fire Protection Association's (NFPA) 1996 edition of its Standard for Health Care Facilities, which states, "Oil, grease, or other flammable contaminants shall not be used with oxygen equipment" (item 8-, and "Flammable and combustible liquids shall not be permitted within the site of intentional expulsion" (item 8- The hospital's administration inferred that petroleum jelly presented a fire hazard. Ironically, no ban was placed on petroleum-based products such as antibiotic ointments, petroleum jelly gauze, and hand or body lotion, which are commonly used in caring for patients receiving oxygen. No problems had been reported with these products.

Many nurses on staff were bewildered and concerned about the ban. They had used petroleum jelly for years to lubricate, soothe, and protect skin and mucous membranes. In many nurses' experiences, water-soluble products, which were permitted, were not effective moisturizers. Staff nurses took their concern about the "petroleum jelly prohibition" to the nursing research committee, enlisting their help in validating or refuting the scientific basis of the ban.

The newly formed committee, whose primary goal was to promote evidence-based practice, completed an exhaustive literature search. This provided no evidence of problems associated with using petroleum jelly for patients, whether they were receiving oxygen or not. At one committee meeting, attempts to ignite a glob of petroleum jelly were unsuccessful-the petroleum jelly simply melted into a large puddle. An Internet inquiry and phone calls to staff nurses working at hospitals in the area and across the nation generated a long list of hospitals with no restriction on petroleum jelly use and a short list of hospitals who were queried had ever heard of an adverse incident caused by petroleum jelly. An informal phone survey to nationally recognized nurses produced similar responses. For example, Marianne Chulay, DNSc, RN, FAAN, past-president of the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses, and Cathie Guzzetta, PhD, RN, FAAN, author of several books on the nursing care of critically ill patients, both used petroleum jelly for patient care and neither had ever encountered or heard of a problem with it. The physician chair of the NFPA Technical Committee on Gas Delivery Equipment offered his personal interpretation of items 8- and 8- He construed 8- as referring to oxygen equipment hardware, such as valves and regulators, and 8- as literally pertaining to liquids only (personal communication, December 10, 1996). He cautioned, however, that his opinion should not be considered an official commentary.

Despite the above evidence, safety committee and risk management personnel were reluctant to allow petroleum jelly for patients receiving oxygen. The hospital safety manager requested assistance from an independent physician researcher to resolve the issue. The researcher noted that petroleum jelly "is neither a contaminant nor a liquid" and urged that "the present uses of petroleum jelly, with its many solidly demonstrated benefits to patients, be continued without restriction until such time as solid scientific evidence becomes extant which would indicate a potential hazard to patients, staff, or premises" (memorandum from Ivan Danhof, December 5, 1996). Finally, the ban was lifted.

At the most recent meeting of the NFPA Technical Committee on Gas Delivery

Anonymous said...

Hi there i am captain of a paid fire dept in Tenn. i just came back from a med call which actually almost turned out to be a fire call. The patients inhome o2 line some how cought fire and melted into about 4 inches from where the canula connects to the main line. the only thing that had happened in the last hour was the patients back side had been rubbed with a patrolium base cream.we dont know if this was the cause of this situation but we are going to investigate this and have the tubbing checked and see if we can figure this out for there was several places burned on the carpet,and had this happened at 2am the outcome could have been very bad. just some food for thought on this oxygen/patrolium mystery

Anonymous said...

I am a retired AF pilot and Aerospace Physiologist. Way back when I went to pilot training, we had some really corny videos to watch. One was called Doctor LOX (liquid oxygen). One of the scenes in the vidoe shows them dropping a fw drops of LOX on a blob of petroleum based grease. The grease exploded. We would not let people into the altitude chamber with lip stick, chapstick or any other petroleum based product on their face because we used 100% oxygen in the chamber via the face mask. We did not want them burned. When the local partial pressure of oxygen gets above 23%, things start to get a little scary because things can start to burn. It is really amazing to me just how we have the right 19% in the atmosphere to have life but not more which could cause a lot of stuff to start burning.

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Gg said...

Lipopneumonia... is the other reason not to use Vaseline... as it warms if thickly applied, the risk of it entering the lungs increases and a "fat" pneumonia is a very hard thing to treat.... just an old dog reporting old training lol RRT-1983

Anonymous said...

I have read that the problem comes in when the petroleum breaks down and mixes with the o2 it creates a mixture that is highly flammable. And not that this mixture could or will spontaneously combust but that an ignition trigger as small as a static electricity spark could cause it to ignite.

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Anonymous said...

Not true. Vaseline does not ignite. Do an experiment yourself. Slather vaseline on a dry alcohol swab. Put it on a concrete floor. Try to ignite it with a lighter. Open an alcohol swab. Put it on a concrete floor. Try to ignite it. See for yourself how volatile vaseline is.

Unknown said...

My uncle is in hospital in the Cumberland Infirmary following a stroke, and is on oxygen. Today his lips were badly blistered and burnt. The nurse said it is because a visitor must have put vaseline on his lips. She said they never use it because it causes burns.

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Unknown said...

There is a chemical reaction between petrolatum and oxygen that can cause a chemical burn that looks like chapped lips or blisters. I saw it plenty on the pulmonary/ID floor where I first worked as a nurse for 5 years, and since then several times in hospice. It's pretty uncomfortable, especially since people try to treat it using vaseline, so it keeps getting worse. Lipstick was the culprit last time I saw it.

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Based on the data it looks like it would be very unlikely to be a hazard even in a “high 02 environment.”

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