Read This Before Your Kitchen Catches on Fire

A kitchen fire happens fast. Here's how to get it under control.

Published June 12, 2023.

It can happen in seconds: The food in your skillet suddenly flares up, or your potholder touches the burner and starts to burn—or the crumbs in your toaster oven catch fire. It’s easy to panic. 

Cooking is the main source of household fires and fire-related injuries in America, particularly what experts call “unattended cooking”—meaning you walked away and got distracted. It happens. But these fires cause more than $1.1 billion in property damage each year. 

Don’t worry. We’ve got you covered. 

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I have conducted extensive testing of fire extinguishers under the supervision of the Firefighter Training Division of the Worcester, Mass. Fire Department. Along the way, they gave me lots of advice and useful tips about what to do—and what not to do—when a fire breaks out at home. 

In that spirit, here are some things you should do—and a few you shouldn’t. 

Equipment Review

The Best Fire Extinguishers

When you have only seconds to put out a kitchen fire, you want an extinguisher that’s easy to use and effective. We were shocked at how many aren’t.
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How to Put Out a Kitchen Fire

Remember these do's and don't's the next time you get a flare-up.

  1. DON’T pour water in a burning pan. Overheated oil and water definitely do not mix, and you’ll cause a dangerous eruption of scorching oil and searing steam. 
  2. DON’T rush the pan to the sink. In fact, DON’T move it at all. You’ll be far more likely to slosh the burning oil over your kitchen and spread the fire or burn yourself and anyone nearby. 
  3. DON’T use baking soda. You may have read that pouring baking soda on a fire will put it out. But by the time you bother to find, open, and pour baking soda over the fire, it will be out of control. 
  4. DO put a lid on it. And then DO switch off the burner. If you cut off its air supply, fire will die. Leave the lid on until the pan fully cools. 
  5. DO shut the door and unplug any appliance that catches fire. A toaster oven is a common fire culprit. Again, don’t try to carry it anywhere or try to spray it with water. 
  6. DO call the fire department. If the fire was anything more than a tiny flare-up that you absolutely fully extinguished, it's better to be safe than sorry. Fires can potentially spread and be smoldering out of sight, so you want the real experts on hand to be sure you’re in the clear. 

As a preventative measure, DO consider buying a fire extinguisher. In fact, buy two and go outside to practice with one. Once you use it, you can’t reuse a fire extinguisher, but at only about $20 apiece, it’s an experience worth having under your belt. Make sure everyone in the household knows where it is kept and how to use it. 

Watch me review fire extinguishers here.

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