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Are Coca-Cola, Pepsi, other soft drinks potent in putting out fire?

Photo Credit: Komonews.comt 5 mins read

CLAIM: A viral post shared on WhatsApp states that to ensure safety in the kitchen, people should always have a bottle of coke or pepsi in the fridge to quench fire.

Yes. Coke or Pepsi have fire quenching components of fire extinguishers but experts warn against using them as extinguishers, thus making the claim to be Partly True.

Full Text

Recently, a message went viral on WhatsApp claiming a number of things. In one of the claims, it was recommended that using soft drinks, coca-cola or Pepsi, to put out a fire is recommended. 

The long message which was supposed to give safety tips to Nigerians reads,  “I want to believe that some of us watched NTA News yesterday and saw the agony of the man whose wife was supposed to put to bed in a months time but lost her life to snakebite in Kikinau, Kaduna state. Reason for this post this morning.” 

Another section of the post also focused on snakes and the use of salt to chase them away from one’s toilet and environs.

Another claim was the mention that one or two bottles of coca-cola could help to put out a fire. 

A screenshot of the WhatsApp message

The post claimed, “ KITCHEN SAFETY *Keep 1 or 2 bottles of Coca-Cola or Pepsi in the Kitchen. Should a sudden fire occur, just open the bottle,shake it quickly & spray on to the fire.Please share this to everyone you know* Hello dear, don’t keep it to yourself please.” 

The post which was widely shared on WhatsApp showed that the message had been forwarded many times as the writer had earlier implored people to  share and not hoard such ‘important information.’ 

Verification

Coke/Pepsi versus fire extinguishers

Considering the importance of safety in homes, it is important to examine the components of a Coke/Pepsi in relation to that of a fire extinguisher. Coke and Pepsi are carbonated soft drinks. According to the official website of Pepsi, pepsi.co.uk,  Pepsi, comprises carbonated water, sugar, colour (caramel E150d), acid (phosphoric acid), flavourings (including caffeine).

Just like Pepsi, Coke is made of the following components and proportions: Carbonated water – Approximately 90% of Coca-Cola is water. The carbonated part is purified carbon dioxide, which gives the drink its “bubbles” or “fizz.”

Sugar – Coca-Cola Classic’s sweet taste (and also some of its mouthfeel) come from sugar. Coca-Cola Zero Sugar and Diet Coke are sugar-free.

Caramel colour – A very specific caramel is made especially for Coca-Cola, to give the drink its characteristic colour.

Phosphoric Acid – The tartness of Coca-Cola comes from the use of phosphoric acid.

Caffeine – The slight bitterness in the taste of Coca-Cola comes from caffeine

Natural flavours – The essence of the secret formula of Coca-Cola is its blend of natural flavours. This is the most protected and secret part of the formula. 

Fire extinguishers Source: jpt.spe.org/

Fire extinguishers on the other hand, according to  William L. Grosshandler, leader of the Fire Sensing and Extinguishment Group in the Building and Fire Research Laboratory at the National Institute of Standards and Technology, contain different chemicals, depending on the application. 

Handheld extinguishers, which are commonly sold at hardware stores for use in the kitchen or garage, are pressurized with nitrogen or carbon dioxide (CO2) to propel a stream of fire-squelching agents to domestic fire. The active material may be a powder such as potassium bicarbonate (KHCO3), liquid water, an evaporating fluorocarbon or the propelling agent itself. 

The most effective and common fluorocarbon used until recently for this application had been bromochlorodifluoromethane (CF2ClBr), referred to as halon 1211. By international agreement, however, production of all types of halons ceased in 1994 because the bromine and chlorine atoms in the chemical were found to migrate over time to the stratosphere, where they react to deplete ozone in a very efficient catalytic cycle.

Experts wade in

Although some online sources claim that some soft drinks douse simple fires, experts refuse to confirm if the claim was true or false.

The Managing Director, Safety Consultants Solutions Provider, Mrs Anthonia Beri, said she wouldn’t confirm anything unscientific because ‘I don’t want anyone going to try anything funny at home, especially because of the sensitivity of safety-related issues.’ 

She said, “I will not subscribe to such activity because every industry or profession has a principle behind it. 

“In the kitchen, you’re supposed to have a fire blanket because most of your fire is coming from your stove. The Best thing that you need to do is to throw a fire blanket over it or if you can, it is even better to take a wet bag and put it over there. So, it is cold and it suffocates the fire.

Beri said the stories and claims around using soft drinks to extinguish fire should be ignored. 

She added, “ The story of coke and all that used to put out fire isn’t an acceptable principle. I will personally say get an extinguisher or a fire blanket. I will never confirm a thing like that if you’re fighting a pure fire, greasy fire. Fire has different characteristics, for example, it could be a petroleum fire, a gas fire and you’re trying to use coke or Pepsi. Such a thing shouldn’t be encouraged.”

In the same vein, the Director of the Lagos State Fire and Rescue Service, Mrs Margaret Adeseye, told our correspondent that she does not support using coke and Pepsi as ingredients for putting out a fire. 

She said, “Professionally, I will not be in support of using carbonated drinks for putting out fire. If I may ask, how many bottles of Coke or Pepsi in terms of quantity will be enough to fight a fire.”

Adeseye asked if it was the water in the content or the chemical composition that made it suitable for fighting fire: “In terms of the content, is it the water inside the coke or the chemical that fought the fire?”

“I know the one in the breakable bottle has more water composition or if it was the chemical inside it, then if it is the chemical, it should contain  Carbon dioxide and Nitrogen to mention a few of the most effective agents to fight fire.”

Adeseye, however, advised that people should get fire extinguishers to be used to put out the fire especially in the homes. 

She said, “ People should get fire extinguishers to fight fires.”

Do Coke and Pepsi have tendencies to put out fire?

Fire extinguishers and these soft drinks have similar ingredients which are water and carbon dioxide which can serve as fire squelching ingredients. 

Confirming, Adeseye also said the major ingredients in a fire extinguisher are water, carbon dioxide and nitrogen and that the ingredients have also been confirmed to be present in both Coke and Pepsi. 

Also, a professor Emeritus of Public Health at the Ryerson University, Timothy Sly, on Quora, a social question-and-answer website, said the water component of both soft drinks can put out fire.

He added, “Yes, but it’s the water part that effectively douses the flames. If the bottle is shaken, the CO2 (Carbon dioxide) can help propel the water toward the conflagration. There are CO2 extinguishers, of course, and they discharge CO2 toward an electrical or class B fire.”

Also, a Deputy Chief Officer of the Department of Delhi Fire Services, who stated that the bottled drinks have several chemicals which are similar to that of fire extinguishers

He stated, “ It might douse simple fires because it’s liquid and reduces the heat but we would never use a Coca-Cola bottle to extinguish fires. 

“The origin of fire is essential in determining which agent to use to stop the fire. Rather than keeping a stock of soda bottles, it’s advisable to keep a bucket of water for emergencies.”

Conclusion: 

Yes. Coke or Pepsi may have fire quenching components of fire extinguishers, but experts warn against using them as extinguishers.

The researcher produced this fact-check per the Dubawa 2021 Kwame KariKari Fellowship partnership with The PUNCH to facilitate the ethos of “truth” in journalism and enhance media literacy in the country.

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