This story was first published on January 23, 2013
Widely circulated message recommends covering burns with plain flour as a first aid treatment and claims that the ‘miraculous’ remedy will stop the burn from blistering.
The remedy described in the message is not an effective treatment for burns and may actually make matters worse. The treatment is certainly not recommended by burns experts. The recommended first-aid treatment for burns is to apply cool (not chilled) running tap water for at least 20 minutes. (Please review the detailed analysis below for more information).
The Miraculous Powers of Plain Flour
Once I was cooking some corn and stuck my fork in the boiling water to see if the corn was ready. I missed and my hand went into the boiling water….
A friend of mine, who was a Vietnam vet, came into the house, just as I was screaming, and asked me if I had some plain old flour…I pulled out a bag and he stuck my hand in it. He said to keep my hand in the flour for 10 minutes which I did. He said that in Vietnam, this guy was on fire and in their panic, they threw a bag of flour all over him to put the fire out…well, it not only put the flour out, but he never even had a blister!!!!
So, I put my hand in the bag of flour for 10 minutes, and then pulled it out and had not even a red mark or a blister and absolutely NO PAIN.
Now, I keep a bag of flour in the fridge and every time I burn myself, I use the flour and never ONCE have I ever had a red spot, a burn or a blister!
*cold flour feels even better than room temperature flour.
Miracle, if you ask me. Keep a bag of white flour in your fridge and you will be happy you did. I even burnt my tongue and put the flour on it for about 10 minutes, and the pain was gone and no burn. Try it!
Don’t run your burn area under Cold water first, just put it right into the flour for 10 minutes and experience a miracle!
This widespread message, which circulates via email and social media posts, espouses the supposed wonders of plain flour as a “miracle” treatment for burns. The message advises people to cover any burns they may receive with plain flour and leave the flour on the burn for ten minutes. The message cites a case in which a person burned her hand in boiling water but was able to recover from the burn without blistering or even pain by immersing her hand in a bag of flour. According to the message, she was advised to use the flour method by a Vietnam veteran who had seen it used to put out a fellow soldier who was on fire. The remedy supposedly stops even serious burns from blistering.
However, the advice in the message is spurious. Flour should NOT be put on burns. The method described in the message is NOT an effective first aid treatment for burns.
During research into a related – and equally spurious – message that advises putting egg white on burns, I contacted Dr Leila Cuttle, PhD, a research scientist with the Centre for Children’s Burns and Trauma Research (CCBTR) at the Royal Children’s Hospital in Brisbane, Queensland, Australia. Dr Cuttle replied to my query with the following information:
The first aid treatment of burns is an area plagued with myths and home-remedies! I guess a lot of these remedies have persisted simply because applying anything to a burn (which covers it and prevents it being exposed to the air) will make it less painful, and so people believe it is effective. But we have proven that cold [cool water from tap, not chilled], running water applied for 20 minutes duration will significantly improve wound healing and reduce scarring and so that is the ONLY thing that people should be using as first aid.
Moreover, an FAQ on the CCBTR website titled “What shouldn’t I put on a burn?” notes:
Do not put ice on a burn. Do not put household substances such as butter, oil, flour, toothpaste, sauce, onions or moisturizer on a burn. They do not help and can make things worse.
And in a DenverChannel.com article discussing spurious food related burn treatments, Dr McCallister explains that it “is not a good idea to put any food on your burn” – including flour – because it can increase the risk of infection.
Information about burn first aid on KidsHealth.org, concurs, noting:
Do not apply butter, grease, powder, or any other remedies to the burn, as these can make the burn deeper and increase the risk of infection.
In fact, there are no credible modern medical sources that recommend using flour as a first aid treatment for burns and the advice in this misleading message should NOT be heeded.
I should point out that, back in the 19th century, flour was indeed recommended as an effective burn treatment by some medical practitioners and this may explain in some part the enduring nature of this myth. However, using flour has long since been discredited as an effective burns remedy by medical authorities.
In fact, even in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, some medical experts were already raising concerns about the practice. In his 7 volume work “Manual of Surgical Treatment”, British surgeon and bacteriologist, Sir William Watson Cheyne noted:
It is necessary to warn the practitioner against certain commonly recommended applications for burns. Carron oil (a mixture of linseed oil and lime water), for example, is a filthy application; poultices or water dressings and dusting with flour are equally bad. The wound must be treated aseptically as far as possible, as sepsis is the primary cause of death in a large number of deep burns.
Another worrisome aspect of this message involves the Vietnam veteran’s tale of tossing flour on a burning man. In fact, throwing flour or other powdery substances onto naked flame would be an extremely bad idea. Information on WiseGeek notes:
Flour explodes when its particles become suspended in the air in a dust cloud and are then ignited. The starch molecules burn relatively quickly, and it is their rapid expansion in the presence of heat that causes an explosion. Ignition is most common in the presence of a flame or heat source, though spontaneous combustion has been documented when the cloud is large enough.
Thus, throwing a bag of flour over a burning person as suggested in the message could lead to an explosion and even more severe injuries or – indeed a painful death – for the victim.
Passing on this highly misleading and inaccurate advisory message could actually increase harm to burns victims rather than help them.