What Is the Most Flammable Chemical?

Comparing Chemical Flammability

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If something is flammable, that means it is capable of catching on fire. For some reason, the word "inflammable" means the same thing. Have you ever wondered what material burns the best? Here's a look at the most flammable chemical.

Although hydrogen can claim to be the most flammable element, the most flammable chemical probably is chlorine trifluoride, ClF3. This is a colorless, toxic, corrosive gas or pale greenish-yellow liquid that is so reactive that it initiates combustion of just about any material you can name and it doesn't even require an ignition source to get the fire started!

The reactions are vigorous and often violent to the point of explosivity.

Burning the Unburnable

Chlorine trifluoride's fluorination and oxidation power surpasses the oxidizing power of oxygen, which allows the chemical to ignite materials normally considered fire-safe, such as oxides. Chlorine trifluoride burns asbestos, sand, glass, concrete and flame retardants. Most fire control and suppression systems are ineffective or else actually worsen the resulting fire. Of course, the chemical also ignites human skin and other tissue on contact, producing hydrochloric acid and hydrofluoric acid. Both acids burn human tissue. Hydrofluoric acid selectively activates pain centers and attacks bone, causing potentially lethal poisoning.

Uses of Chlorine Trifluoride

The properties that make chlorine trifluoride so flammable also make it useful. The chemical has applications in nuclear reactor fuel processing, semiconductor production and industrial operations.

It is a component a rocket fuels, a powerful industrial cleaner and an etchant. Its primary use is producing uranium hexafluoride, UF6 for nuclear fuel processing and reprocessing:

U + 3 ClF3 → UF6 + 3 ClF

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Helmenstine, Anne Marie, Ph.D. "What Is the Most Flammable Chemical?" ThoughtCo, Mar. 20, 2017, thoughtco.com/most-flammable-chemical-607315. Helmenstine, Anne Marie, Ph.D. (2017, March 20). What Is the Most Flammable Chemical? Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/most-flammable-chemical-607315 Helmenstine, Anne Marie, Ph.D. "What Is the Most Flammable Chemical?" ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/most-flammable-chemical-607315 (accessed February 24, 2018).