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Published: Apr 15, 2024 6 min read

Research conducted by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) reveals that an overwhelming amount of home fires originate in kitchens, the leading cause being cooking. Among kitchen fires, grease and oil fires are among the trickiest types to extinguish because of their properties and the risks they pose. Read our guide to learn how to put out a grease fire, including what you can use, safety measures you should take, and more.

How does a grease fire start?

When the cause of a fire is burning oil or grease, it’s classified as a Class K fire. Class K fires usually occur when cooking oils, greases, fats and similar substances become ignited after being left unattended for long periods of time or exposed to temperatures that affect their stability. This type of fire is the most common among cooking-related fires.

In some cases, grease and oil-soaked rags have been known to spontaneously catch fire. Under certain conditions, towels and rags used to soak or clean up oils in kitchens and other environments can become combustible and ignite without requiring a heat source.

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Dangers of grease fires

Because they may involve oils and fats, there are added risks that come with grease fires. For example, without proper cleaning, grease or oil residue from previous cooking could be all over your kitchen, which may provide for easier kindling once a grease fire gets going.

Additionally, when it comes to handling a grease fire, the person attempting to put it out is exposed to hot oil and other substances that could cause severe burns if spilled or splattered. A serious grease or oil burn will extend past the first layer of skin.

How to extinguish a grease fire

Depriving a grease fire of oxygen might be the safest route if it hasn’t become unmanageable. Below are some tips that might help you extinguish a minor grease fire safely:

  • Turn the heat off if you’re able to reach it without getting burned. You can use oven mitts to protect your hands.
  • If on a stovetop, cover the pan or pot using a baking sheet, a metal lid or another pan. This should contain and smother small fires.
  • You can also cover the fire with baking soda (to release carbon dioxide and smother it) or salt (to cut its contact with oxygen).
  • If all else fails and you have a fire extinguisher available, you should use it. The use of fire extinguishers is recommended as a last resort because they can contaminate kitchens and can be dangerous when used by inexperienced people.

You shouldn’t try to put out a grease fire by throwing water, flour, baking powder or sugar on it, as these have properties that can exacerbate the flames and some could potentially explode.

If attempting to put out the fire is not an option, your local fire department should be able to handle it. According to the NFPA, a fire department may be more likely to respond to fires occurring in homes with alarm systems that monitor fires. If you’re currently in the market for one, check out our picks for best home security systems.

Why water and grease fires don’t mix

Water is not a safe or viable option to extinguish a grease fire. Pouring water on a grease fire will have the same effect as when water hits heating oil on a pan. It will cause the grease to splatter, which could potentially spread the flames faster and harm the person trying to extinguish it.

This is due to the fact that water can’t heat up at the same rate that oils and greases do when used for cooking. Therefore, when water is introduced to hot oil, it instantly vaporizes and expands, creating bubbles that erupt.

Fire safety tips for cooking

Although cooking is something many people do every day, it’s important to remember that it still poses great risks. Below are some tips to remain safe while cooking:

  • If you’re frying or grilling food, don’t leave the stove or cooking top unattended.
  • When heating vegetable oils, fats or similar ingredients, keep a watchful eye on them and don’t expose them to excessive heat.
  • Keep ingredients and utensils that could easily catch fire away from any open flames.
  • Regularly check on things you’re baking, broiling or roasting in the oven.
  • Smoke points may provide a general guide of the temperatures at which to cook certain oils and fats without burning them, although research suggests that other factors are more important when determining a cooking oil’s stability under heat.
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How to put out a grease fire FAQs

What can you use to put out a grease fire?

Small grease fires can be smothered with cookie sheets and metal lids. Glass lids are not recommended because they can shatter at certain high temperatures. Pouring salt or baking soda on small fires may also help extinguish them.

What type of fire extinguisher will put out a grease fire?

Grease fires can be put out with Class K fire extinguishers, which are specifically designed to extinguish fires in appliances like deep fryers without oil splashing or reigniting. Some Class B extinguishers could work as they may also be able to neutralize greases, but you should always check that the specific extinguisher you’re purchasing can get the job done.

What to do when you can’t put the fire out?

If the fire gets out of control and can’t be extinguished, you should safely make your way out with any family members and pets residing with you. Once you have ensured your safety and that of your loved ones, you should contact your local fire department and emergency services (9-1-1).

Summary of Money’s guide on how to put out a grease fire

  • Cooking remains the leading cause of home fires in the U.S.
  • According to research, cooking fires are mainly caused by burning grease, oils, fats and similar substances.
  • Oxygen deprivation or smothering is the best approach to putting out a grease fire.
  • Water should never be used to extinguish a Class K fire, as it will only make the fire worse or cause injuries.
  • If a fire gets out of control, local emergency services should be contacted.