What is an Emollient Fire Risk?

What are emollients and what are they used for?

Emollients are creams, ointments, lotions or gels and they can present an Emollient Fire Risk.  They are used to manage dry skin conditions such as eczema, psoriasis or pressure sores.  Pressure sores are a common problem for those who are relatively immobile.   Emollients are also used to relieve symptoms such as dryness and soreness where a nasal cannula is used to supply oxygen.

Emollient Fire RiskWhy do emollients present a fire risk?

Emollients are effective because when applied they help to retain moisture in the skin thanks to the fact that they contain high concentrations of petroleum or liquid paraffin.  Prolonged use of emollients causes the product to soak into fabrics such as dressings, clothing and bedding.  The residue is not always completely removed during laundering.  When exposed to a heat source such as matches, lighters, cigarettes or other heat sources, the soaked in residue can promote rapid spread of fire.  Those using emollients will often not be able to to respond to, or escape from a fire, they are therefore at great risk of serious injury or death.

The Emollient Fire Risk depends upon the:

  • concentration of potentially flammable ingredients contained in the product
  • amount and frequency of application
  • ability of the service user to understand the dangers posed by behaviours such as smoking
  • person’s willingness to adopt or accept safer practices.

Other medical aids such as therapeutic oxygen or an airflow mattress may increase the Emollient Fire Risk further.  As will proximity to ignition sources such as cookers, candles, heaters, faulty electrics.  Where the most suitable treatment for a condition is a paraffin or petroleum based emollient, other risk factors should be addressed.  It is sensible to avoiding smoking and naked flames.  Clothing, bed clothes and bed linen which come into direct contact with an emollient should be laundered daily to prevent  build-up.  Dressings used with an emollient should be changed daily.   Laundry should be turned laundry inside out prior to washing at the highest temperature possible allowed by the type of fabric and using a good quality laundry detergent (liquids and gels are more effective than powder products).  A prewash product should also be used before the main wash cycle, or soaking laundry overnight before washing.

What help is available?

The local Fire and Rescue Service who will provide a free Home Fire Safety Visit.  Information will be provided about potential Emollient Fire Risk and other fire risks, and measures which can be put in place to keep these risks to a minimum.  Also advice can be provided to the service user about how they can be alerted to a fire, and how to evacuate with smoke detectors, including those suitable for the hard of hearing being supplied and fitted.  To find out more, visit the Royal Berkshire Fire and Rescue Service website or call 08005876679. If you live in Oxfordshire call 01865842999.

Perhaps Gardiner’s could help you or a loved one to better manage the risk associate with pro-longed use of emollients?

John-Joe Cottam


My grandparents Dorothy & Ivan (Gus) Gardiner established Gardiner’s in 1968. Dorothy & Gus were very inclusive and ran Gardiner’s as a family business – my mother, uncle & aunt have all been involved with managing the business.