Freon: Is It Flammable or Explosive?


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Found in air conditioning units, refrigerators, and freezers, Freon is a brand name for refrigerant gases or liquids manufactured by The Chemours Company. As chlorofluorocarbons or CFCs, these products are gradually being phased out due to their harmful impact on the ozone layer. Freon chemicals are stable and non-toxic but can become extremely dangerous in some situations. 

Freon is nonflammable but can still cause explosions. When Freon is stored in pressurized containers and is then exposed to fire, air pressure changes can lead to vessels blowing up. Detonations involving Freon can be fatal due to toxic gases created and released during the explosion.

The rest of this article will explain why Freon is not flammable, what makes it explode, and when it is dangerous. I will share some tips on keeping your refrigerant safe, and I will also look at what Freon is, how it works, and some alternatives to Freon.  

Is Freon Flammable or Explosive?

Refrigerant chemicals are heavily regulated with multiple factors considered, including flammability. Measured and labeled in three categories, all refrigerants’ flammability is thoroughly tested before products hit shelves. 

Freon products are nonflammable at room temperature, and they are classed as A1. Products labeled as A1 have low toxicity and low flammability, as shown in the table below.

Refrigerant Classifications

A3B3Higher Flammability
A2B2Flammable
A2LB2LLower Flammability
A1B1Non-Flammable
Lower ToxicityHigher Toxicity

What Makes Freon Explosive

The two primary causes for an explosion involving Freon are a change in air pressure and a source of ignition. It’s worth bearing in mind that heat will increase the air pressure. The hotter the air is, the faster the molecules move, which means they have much more energy. High-energy molecules moving at fast speeds collide with the container more and increase the pressure. This makes it more likely that the container will explode.

What Happens When Freon Explodes

When exposed to flame or another source of ignition, refrigerants like Freon release a deadly gas called phosgene. Phosgene was used in chemical warfare, claiming 85% of all lives lost to gas in World War I. Phosgene poisoning causes pulmonary edema, which can lead to death. 

How to Manage Fire Safety While Using Freon

If there is a fire involving Freon, use a dry fire extinguisher or a fire blanket, like this Parcil Large Fire Blanket from Amazon. It comes in a two-pack, or you can buy them singly. Fire blankets are beneficial as they won’t damage your property, unlike fire extinguishers. 

You can also purchase Freon leak detectors, like this Wale&Morn Portable Refrigerant Leak Detector, available on Amazon. The Wale&Morn leak detector will alert you to refrigerant leaks within one second! It also has both audible and visible indicators and a dual battery gauge.

As always, in any emergency, put safety first, and call the relevant professionals, rather than attempting to tackle the situation on your own.  

How Do You Keep Freon Secure?

I mentioned leak detectors above; those are essential to Freon safety, especially if you are storing industrial amounts. However, for the average HVAC owner, as long as you have your HVAC unit regularly serviced by a professional, you should be fine. 

What Is Freon?

Freon is a registered brand name for a series of refrigerant chemicals. The chemicals are odorless, colorless, and extremely stable. Freon was developed to replace more dangerous refrigerants like ammonia; however, Freon itself is highly damaging to the ozone layer. Many alternatives to Freon are now being developed, with several already in circulation. 

Other names for Freon include R-22, R-12, R-13B1, and Freon-12. FreonTM also sells R-410A under the same trademark as less eco-friendly versions of the refrigerants. 

FreonTM

As previously mentioned, Freon is a trademark owned by The Chemours Company. Freon can apply to any of several halocarbon products used as refrigerants. 

The Chemours Company sells in three main categories, including fluoro products, like Freon and Teflon. Their other business interests lie in titanium dioxide products and chemical solutions, such as cyanide. 

Gaining trading rights from an older chemical company, The Chemours Company hit the New York Stock Exchange in 2015. Freon was already in its catalog, developed by Kinetic Chemicals. A collaboration between DuPont and General Motors from the 1930s, Kinetic Chemicals was set up primarily to produce Freon. 

Freon’s Effect on the Environment

As a CFC gas, Freon is a carbon-based product, and when released into the atmosphere, it becomes incredibly damaging to the environment. CFCs are now illegal in most products due to their capacity to deplete the ozone layer.

From a safety perspective, Freon’s stability is beneficial, but stability is a bad thing from an environmental perspective. Some substances will react with other compounds or gases as they rise towards the stratosphere, preventing them from damaging the ozone layer. However, Freon remains stable and reaches the stratosphere quickly. 

Alternatives to Freon

The new eco-friendly R-410A refrigerants are categorized as A2L, meaning they are more toxic and have a higher flammability rating than Freon. R-410A is commonly known as Puron but is still considered an interim option. 

Other low Global Warming Potential (GWP) refrigerants are in development, such as Solstice N41 and Daikin’s R-32

How Do Refrigerants Work?

Refrigerants are selected for their low boiling points so that they become vapor quickly. This allows them to extract heat much faster. The refrigerant can then disperse the heat into the atmosphere. 

Cooling systems, such as an HVAC or freezer, work in similar ways. The refrigerant is sucked into a compressor, which then increases both the temperature and the pressure. Once the Freon vapor has been superheated, it is sent into the condenser. The condenser emits the excess heat into the air and funnels the refrigerant into an evaporator. Evaporators are regulated by valves, which control how much Freon can enter the evaporator at any time. 

As Freon travels through the low-pressure environment of the evaporator, it can expand. This further reduces pressure and temperature. In the evaporator, the refrigerant returns to a vapor state at room temperature.

Alternatives to Refrigerants

Some of our appliances rely entirely on refrigerants, and the only way to make them greener is to use greener chemicals. However, there are several ways you can cool a room without using a refrigerant:

  • Solar-powered fans
  • Keep curtains closed during the day
  • Add greenery to your roof
  • Air coolers
  • Bowls of ice
  • Bladeless fans
  • Patio misters

Some excellent air coolers include the EEIEER Portable Air Conditioner, available from Amazon. The EEIEER Portable AC can be used to keep just the room you are in cold and will therefore use much less power. It also relies on water, rather than the refrigerant, to cool the air.

If you’re attached to your HVAC, you can still improve its eco-friendliness by using it less often and making sure you’re getting the maximum effect. For instance, keeping windows and doors closed and turning it off when you aren’t in the house. 

Final Thoughts

Throughout this article, I have explored whether Freon is flammable or explosive and what happens to Freon around an ignition source. It should be reassuring to know that Freon has a low flammability rating and that Freon leak detectors are available. However, bear in mind the gases emitted when Freon is involved in an explosion. 

The article also covered Freon’s alternatives since Freon is a CFC gas and has a high global warming potential or GWP. Nevertheless, alternatives to Freon are flammable, but only mildly, whereas Freon is nonflammable.

Jake Alexander

Jake is a freelance writer from Pennsylvania who enjoys writing about science and sports. When he's not writing for Temperature Master, he can be found watching the NFL or playing basketball with his friends.

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