Spill Response Guide: Flammable or Combustible Liquids

Potential Hazards

  • Flammable/combustible material may be ignited by heat, sparks or flames.
  • Vapors may travel to a source of ignition and flash back.
  • Containers may explode in heat or fire.
  • May be poisonous if inhaled or absorbed through skin.
  • Contact may irritate or burn skin and eyes.
  • Vapors may cause dizziness or suffocation at high concentrations.

Basic Supplies

(See EHS Spill Preparedness and Response Training for additional information)


  • Absorbent pads, pillows, or loose sorbent; OR  

  • Solvent absorbent such as Spill-X-S or Solusorb (Spill-X-S, Solusorb may be used for non-oxidizing liquids, only)


  • Splash goggles
  • Lab coat or apron
  • Shoe Covers (optional)
  • Chemical-resistant gloves

Waste Handling

  • Sealable container
  • Non-sparking (plastic) mixing tools
  • Heavy duty waste bags
  • Tape to seal bags
  • Hazardous waste labels

Response Actions/Cleanup Methods

  • Act quickly.
  • Alert other workers.
  • Don’t touch or walk through the spilled material.
  • Extinguish all flames.
  • Turn off all spark-producing equipment. If vapors are in the vicinity of an ignition source, shut off power from a remote circuit breaker box instead.
  • Wear eye and skin protection. Use gloves compatible with solvents. Avoid breathing vapors.
  • Quickly, dike or soak up the spilled liquid; cover with a sheet of plastic or plastic-backed absorbent pad to suppress vapor if absorbent is not immediately/readily available.
    • Spill pillows, pads, or a general absorbent material may be used but do not reduce vapors.
    • Use a solvent spill absorbent such as Spill-X-S, Solusorb, or activated charcoal for materials with a low flash point since they can reduce vapor as well as absorb the spill; however, excess absorbent may be needed to significantly reduce the flash point. Refer to the absorbent manufacturer’s spill treatment information. (Keep this information available in the spill kit).
  • Use non-sparking tools (plastic scoop, shovel, dustpan) to:
    • Mix the absorbent with the spilled material until it appears dry and free flowing.
    • Place the cleanup material into a plastic or glass container with a sealable lid.
  • Label spill cleanup materials for collection by EHS.
  • Thoroughly ventilate the area after the cleanup.
  • Clean the area with detergent and water after the spill cleanup.
  • NEVER use a vacuum cleaner or Shop-Vac to clean up flammable material spills or debris because contact with the motor could start a fire.

Factors That Can Complicate Spill Response

  • Many flammable/combustible solvents can readily permeate some protective gloves. Keep gloves in the spill kit that are resistant to solvents (e.g., Silver Shield®/4H® available from vendors such as Fisher Safety, Lab Safety Supply, or VWR).
  • Spilled flammable/combustible material can become a major spill if:
    • There are nearby ignition sources.
    • A large quantity of the material is spilled.
    • Multiple chemicals are spilled or are involved in a spill.
    • Special respiratory protection is required for response.
  • Respiratory protection may be required if an inhalation hazard is present due to:
    • A material’s increased toxicity and/or volatility.
    • The material causes severe short term health effects.
    • A highly volatile or toxic material is spilled in a poorly ventilated area. For example, if spilled, a significant quantity of the flammable material diethyl ether would quickly generate a high concentration in air due to its high volatility.