Fire Breathing: Science & Safety

The science behind fire breathing and how to do it safely

Person breathing fire

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Fire breathing involves exhaling a fine mist of fuel over an open flame to form a fireball. It's playing with fire in a big way, so there are obvious risks involved. It's also an adult-supervision-only kind of activity. Never attempt fire breathing using a flammable fuel because you run the risk of the fire traveling back to you and setting you on fire. Additionally, most flammable fuels are toxic.

Fire Breathing Project

The following instructions will show you how to breathe fire using a nontoxic, nonflammable fuel. This project should only be done outdoors, not just due to the risk of a fire, but because you're going to make a big mess with the fuel—which is cornstarch. (A video tutorial of this project is available if you would like to see what to expect.)

Materials

  • Large container of cornstarch
  • Large spoon
  • Large glass of water
  • Large flame

Procedure

  1. Fill your mouth with a big scoop of cornstarch. Do not breathe in any of the cornstarch. The biggest risk from this project is inhaling cornstarch, which, like any fine powder, could damage your lungs. (Laughing is your biggest threat here.) The cornstarch doesn't have a bad taste, but the texture is very unpleasant.
  2. Blow the cornstarch out over a large flame. Remember, your aim is to make a kind of mist. (The trick is to try to whistle the cornstarch out.) You're going to need a fairly large flame. Blowing out a candle or lighter is generally too easy, plus doing so can put your hand in harm's way. Light the top of a large length of cardboard to use as your flame source. You can blow the starch over a campfire, but be careful not to blow it toward anyone or anything that might catch fire.
  3. Repeat as desired. When you've had enough, swish some water around in your mouth. Spit the water out and repeat to clean your mouth. The big advantage of using cornstarch over flour—which would also work—is that cornstarch rinses out pretty easily.

How It Works

A mass of cornstarch won't easily burn (try it), but when you disperse the starch into a fine powder you can ignite it as a fuel. Starch, like sugar or flour, is a carbohydrate and can be burned. In fact, the dust burns instantly. If you've heard of a grain elevator explosion, this is the most common cause. A much smaller quantity of starch is used for this fire-breathing trick.

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