Don’t Panic – What to do if You Spill Fuel at the Gas Station

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A fuel spill can spread dangerous, flammable vapors.
Photo by John Rourke

Aloha! If you’re here to learn about what to do if gas is spilled at the gas station, and what steps you can take to avoid spills, you’re in the right place.

Gasoline is part of our everyday lives, we use it in our vehicles, and most states in the U.S. allow us to pump it ourselves. However, with familiarity frequently comes complacency, and it’s important we stay cautious when using gasoline. Due to gasoline’s low flash point and high vapor density it’s one of the most dangerous liquids that we see in our everyday lives, but with a little information and vigilance it’s a simple matter to keep yourself and those around you safe while visiting the gas station. Visit here to learn more about gasoline vapor. Keep reading for a few easy steps on avoiding spills while pumping fuel.


A Maui Oil Company employee demonstrating safely pumping fuel.
Photo by Julie B

Step 1: Never Leave the Pump Unattended

Once you begin fueling, never leave the pump. Spilled gasoline is a serious hazard, and risking a spill by walking away from the fuel pump is never worth it. It’s highly possible for a fuel spill to occur when the pump is left unattended due to a variety of reasons, including malfunctioning sensors. Leave your phone in the car as being distracted at the pump can be just as hazardous as walking away from it. Stay with the pump until the refueling process is complete. If your mind wanders, the best option to stay alert is to watch the gallon count, and monitor the fuel spigot carefully, which leads to our next point…


Holding a fuel trigger in the on position with your hand instead of using a stand is the safest practice.
Photo by Skitterphoto

Step 2: Don’t Wedge the Fuel Spigot Handle Open

Many fuel stations have a locking lever installed on their pumps that allows users to let the spigot flow independently, and it stops once the sensor detects the tank is full. Conversely, some stations remove this lever, in order to circumvent the spills that occur when the sensor malfunctions. Some gas station visitors have unfortunately developed the bad habit of forcing fuel spigots open in the absence of the locking lever, with anything they have on them, from soda cans to their phones. Forcing the fuel spigot open can cause seriously bad fuel spills since it allows fuel to flow freely onto your car and the ground around you, creating a hazard. It’s best to just hold the fuel spigot with your hand as the design was intended. Plus, allowing the fuel spigot to function as normal is safer and sets a good example for children, and speaking of children…


Photo by Julie B

Step 3: Never let a Child Pump Fuel

It’s never a good idea to let a child refuel your car for you. Just as you would never leave a kid to start a campfire, never let them pump gas. In addition to being a bad idea due to children’s inexperience and lack of education on the dangerous properties of gasoline, the legality of letting minors pump fuel varies from state to state. In the state of Hawaiʻi it is illegal to let anyone under the age of 14 pump fuel. Children can also be distracting, and a fuel station with cars moving in and out is not a safe place for them to be. It’s best for your keiki to wait inside the safety of the vehicle while you refuel.


Observe safe filling procedures and keep your gas can on the ground while fueling.
Photo by Julie B

Step 4: How to Fill a Fuel Can Correctly

A lot of accidents occur when filling a fuel can, but these spills are easily preventable. First, take your fuel can, remove the spout, and place it on the ground about five feet from your vehicle. Leaving the fuel can on the vehicle leaves it susceptible to static electricity, placing it on the ground disperses electricity. Second, only fill the can to 95% fullness, leaving room for fuel expansion. Third, secure the lid and the fuel can in a safe spot in the vehicle. Finally, take the fuel can to its destination immediately, leaving the fuel can in a hot car is a recipe for disaster.


Photo by Julie B

What to do if You Spill Gas at the Gas Station

If you’re involved in a spill at a gas station near you, don’t panic, everything can be taken care of in a safe fashion, just follow these steps.

  1. Notify an employee if one is available. Don’t worry, this sort of thing happens all the time. You won’t be in trouble.
  2. Next, see if the station has fuel spill products available, usually it’s a sand-like granular absorbent which closely resembles kitty litter. Spread this on the fuel spill and it will absorb the gasoline.
  3. If it’s a large spill, do not start your car as the ignition may cause a flashback with the gasoline vapor, instead, notify an employee immediately. If you are at Maui Oil Company, call the phone number next to the emergency off switch and we will assist you.
  4. If there is a large spill and you are at a strange gas station with no one to assist you, call the police. Remember, do not start your vehicle in a large spill situation. 


Photo by Julie B

What to do if Gas Spills on You

Spilling gasoline on yourself is a serious situation. As soon as possible, remove and throw away clothes that have been doused in gasoline, and definitely don’t wash and put them through the dryer, the leftover residue of gasoline will ignite in the dryer. Rinse your body with water as soon as you can, using a non-abrasive soap.


Hopefully you found these tips on avoiding and taking care of spills at the gas station helpful! Gasoline is a powerful substance but the hazards can easily be managed with a little knowledge and vigilance. Mahalo nui loa for reading. Aloha, a hui hou!


About the Author:

Julie is Maui Oil Company's Social Media and SEO Specialist.
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