How to Safely Put Out a Grease Fire

Cooking is the leading cause of household fires and injuries, and nearly half of all home cooking fires are caused by fat, grease, or oil. Grease fires happen when oil, grease or fat on a stovetop, oven, or fryer get hot enough to ignite. They burn very hot and can become unconfined (spread) if not handled properly.

Grease fires are extremely dangerous because the fuel source (the grease) is a liquid that can easily splash and spread, particularly if you spray water on it. They can quickly spread to cabinets or other flammable areas of the kitchen. Nearly 10 percent of residential cooking fires spread and cause significant damage to the home.

This article outlines what you should know about grease fires, including how they start, how to extinguish them, and how to prevent them from happening in the first place.

Oven on fire with smoke pouring out of the door
Henrik Sorensen / Stone / Getty Images

What to Know about Grease Fires

Do not ever leave a cooking pot unattended. Leaving the stove unattended while cooking is a leading cause of home cooking fires.

Oils and grease are highly flammable, which means they can catch fire easily. Different oils burn at different temperatures (called the flash point), but every oil you can buy at the grocery store is capable of catching on fire if the temperature is high enough.

When you're cooking with grease, it's important to know the warning signs that oils are getting too hot. Boiling and smoking are good indicators that it's time to turn down the heat. Oils heat very quickly, and once it starts to smoke, oil can catch fire in as little as 30 seconds.

Common Cooking Oil Flash Points
Type of Oil Flash Point
 Butter  300F
Canola Oil  400F
Extra Virgin Olive Oil  375-400F
Lard  375F
Refined Peanut Oil  450F
Vegetable Oil  400F

Even when taking proper precautions, accidents can happen. If you're cooking with oils and a grease fire ignites in the pan, knowing the correct steps to take can be the difference between a ruined dinner and a kitchen that's engulfed in flames.

Water Makes Grease Fires Worse

Never try to extinguish a grease fire with water. Water can cause burning grease to splash, which can make the fire spread. Similarly, it is also dangerous to move a pan or pot of burning oil. Doing so can cause the burning liquid to slosh and spill. This can cause injury or make the fire spread.

How to Put Out a Grease Fire

Fires require three key elements: a heat source, fuel, and oxygen. Removing either of these components will help the fire go out.

The steps below will guide you through safe ways to extinguish small, confined grease fires in your home.

Remember: Do not ever use water to put out grease fires.

Call 911

If the grease fire is large, or if you aren't comfortable taking steps to extinguish a small fire, call 911 right away. Emergency personnel will ask you a series of questions to assess the situation and can give valuable instructions to help you put out the fire yourself. If needed, they can also dispatch firefighters to your home.

Remember that the fire department can return to the station if you are able to get the fire out without their help. Fires can become out of control very quickly. Do not wait until the fire is out of control to call 911.

Turn Off the Stove

If you're cooking and the pot catches fire, the first step is to remove the heat source. Turn off the burner, oven, or broiler. If your grease fire is in the oven, leave the door closed. This deprives the fire of oxygen and can help extinguish it.

Cover with a Lid

The easiest way to cut off oxygen to a grease fire is to cover it with a metal pan lid or baking sheet. Using metal tongs to put the lid in place can keep your arms and hands out of harm's way. Do not use a fabric oven mitt because the material may catch fire and you could get hurt.

Avoid using glass or ceramic pan lids. The extreme heat of open flames can cause these materials to shatter.

Douse the Flames

Resist the urge to put the pot in the sink and run water over it! Do not ever put water on a grease fire. There are, however, two common baking ingredients you can use to douse a small grease fire: baking soda and salt.

Baking soda is effective because when it is heated, it releases carbon dioxide that can smother the fire.

Salt forms a barrier between the fire and the air. This barrier prevents the fire from getting the oxygen it needs.

It's important, though, to note that you need large quantities of salt or baking soda to fully extinguish a grease fire. It's sometimes easier to quickly find a lid and cover the fire instead.

Though baking soda and salt are effective in putting out grease fires, other powdered ingredients can make fires worse. Flour and baking powder are highly combustible and can explode in extreme heat. Do not use them (or any boxed mixes that contain them) on a grease fire.

Use the Proper Fire Extinguisher

If you are unable to smother the fire with a lid, baking soda, or salt, it's time to reach for the fire extinguisher. But not all fire extinguishers are created equal. Make sure you're using one that will work for a grease fire.

Each type of fire extinguisher is designed for different types of fires. Every fire extinguisher is marked with a letter to designate which kinds of fires it should be used on.

The best fire extinguisher to use for a grease fire is a Class K. These are wet chemical extinguishers that are commonly found in commercial kitchens. They are designed specifically for cooking fires and work by forming a soapy foam on the surface of the fire that cuts off air flow. They also cool down the fire.

If you do not have a Class K extinguisher in your home, a Class B extinguisher (which uses dry chemicals) can also work.

Do not ever use a Class A-only fire extinguisher on a grease fire; it is water-based. If you decide to use a multi-use fire extinguisher, make sure it includes a B. For example, an ABC fire extinguisher would be effective on a cooking fire.

If you use a fire extinguisher in your kitchen, take steps to clean up the residue properly.

Recap

Small, contained grease fires can usually be handled without assistance from the fire department. Always avoid splashing burning grease by moving the pan or using water. This can keep the fire from spreading. Use a metal lid or cookie sheet to seal off air, or extinguish the fire with salt or baking soda. If you aren't sure what to do, or if the fire becomes out of control, call 911.

How to Prevent Grease Fires

Cooking fires cause more residential damage each year than other types of home fires. The best way to prevent them in your kitchen is to remove common fire hazards and to understand the flash points for the oil you're using.

Make sure you're staying safe in the kitchen by:

Keeping your eyes on the stove. When you're cooking, especially with oil and grease, don't walk away. Pay close attention: when hot oils begin to boil and smoke, it's a sign they could ignite and start a grease fire.

Don't overheat your oil. Cooking oils should be heated slowly. Each type of oil is meant to be used at certain temperatures, and should not exceed them. If you are cooking with oil, it's important to know the flash point so you don't let the oil get overheated.

Removing combustible materials from the area. Keeping your cooking space clean is important. Always wipe up when pots boil over on the stovetop, or if you have food or grease buildup in the oven. Keep items like paper towels and recipe books at a safe distance from burners or hot oil.

Keep a lid handy. If your cooking pot catches fire, there's no time to hunt for a lid. When you're cooking, keep the lid for your pot on the counter nearby, even if you don't think you'll need it.

Knowing where your fire extinguisher is and how to use it. Having a fire extinguisher in the house won't make a difference if you don't know where it is or how to use it. Examine your fire extinguisher so that you know what type of fires it's designed for. Always keep a safe distance from the fire when using a fire extinguisher, and spray the fire from the side so it blows away from you.

Summary

Fires in the kitchen can be scary and dangerous. Because half of all cooking fires are grease fires, it's important to know how to prevent them, and how to handle them safely if they do occur.

If you have a grease fire in the kitchen, leave the pan where it is and turn off the heat source. Take steps to cut off air to the fire by sliding a cover on top of the pan or using salt or baking soda. Do not ever use water on a grease fire.

it's wise to have a fire extinguisher in the kitchen, and to know what kind you have. Make sure that you (and others in your home) know how to properly use it. Call 911 right away if you don't know what to do, or if the fire becomes out of control.

Keeping your cooking space free of combustibles and monitoring your pans closely is very important. The best way to prevent kitchen fires is to stop them from ever happening.

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Article Sources
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  1. U.S. Fire Administration. Cooking fires in residential buildings (2014-2016). December 2018.

  2. Masterclasee. Cooking oils and smoke points: What to know and how to choose the right cooking oil. Updated Sept 25, 2019.

  3. Brigade Fire Protection. How to prevent and put out a grease fire. August 31, 2018.

  4. University of Texas at Austin Fire Prevention Services. ABCs of fire extinguishers.

  5. McMillan CA. The ABCs, Ds, and Ks of fire extinguishers. Occupational Health & Safety. August 1, 2004.

Additional Reading
  • Hall, John R. Jr. "Home cooking fire patterns and trends." July 2006. NFPA Online. 20 Nov 2006