A substance is pyrophoric (from Greek: πυροφόρος, pyrophoros, 'fire-bearing') if it ignites spontaneously in air at or below 54 °C (129 °F) (for gases) or within 5 minutes after coming into contact with air (for liquids and solids). Examples are organolithium compounds and triethylborane. Pyrophoric materials are often water-reactive as well and will ignite when they contact water or humid air. They can be handled safely in atmospheres of argon or (with a few exceptions) nitrogen. Class D fire extinguishers are designated for use in fires involving pyrophoric materials. A related concept is hypergolicity, in which two compounds spontaneously ignite when mixed.


The creation of sparks from metals is based on the pyrophoricity of small metal particles, and pyrophoric alloys are made for this purpose. Practical applications include the sparking mechanisms in lighters and various toys, using ferrocerium; starting fires without matches, using a firesteel; the flintlock mechanism in firearms; and spark testing ferrous metals.


Small amounts of pyrophoric liquids are often supplied in a glass bottle with a polytetrafluoroethylene-lined septum. Larger amounts are supplied in metal tanks similar to gas cylinders, designed so a needle can fit through the valve opening. A syringe, carefully dried and flushed of air with an inert gas, is used to extract the liquid from its container.

When working with pyrophoric solids, researchers often employ a sealed glove box flushed with inert gas. Since these specialized glove boxes are expensive and require specialized and frequent maintenance, many pyrophoric solids are sold as solutions, or dispersions in mineral oil or lighter hydrocarbon solvents, so they can be handled in the atmosphere of the laboratory, while still maintaining an oxygen- and moisture-free environment. Mildly pyrophoric solids such as lithium aluminium hydride and sodium hydride can be handled in the air for brief periods of time, but the containers must be flushed with inert gas before the material is returned to the container for storage.

Pyrophoric materials



Hydrazine is hypergolic with oxidants like dinitrogen tetroxide or hydrogen peroxide, but not truly pyrophoric.


Explanatory notes

  1. ^ Phosphine, PH3 is only pyrophoric if impure, with P2H4 present.

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