There’s a popular belief that paper burns at 451 degrees Fahrenheit, thanks to the novel with that very same title. But really, at what temperature does paper burn? Let’s find out.
Paper is practically part of our daily lives. We use it every day. So it’s only right to wonder at what temperature paper burns. After all, a piece of paper seems to burn rather quickly and instantly.
Why Does Paper Burn?
We all know that paper burns or catches fire, but why?
Paper is a combustible material. It could combust when it is exposed to a temperature high enough for it to burn.
The reason behind this is explained by a combustion reaction, or a chemical reaction wherein heat is applied to a material or an object (paper, in this case), and activates the energy within it.
Yes, the paper has energy, that’s why it combusts. Paper is made up of wood pulp. In the process of creating paper, some of the wood’s energy is stored in the paper. You don’t really see it, but the energy is there.
The paper will ignite when it is exposed to its ignition temperature consistently. The burning process allows the paper to release its energy, so it alights into flames and later on, turns to ashes.
But Why Does Paper Burn So Easily and Quickly?
You might have noticed that paper burns really than other materials. Let’s put it out there that paper isn’t created equal. Some of them are thinner or thicker than the others, while other types of paper are made of different materials. But when we think of a regular paper that we use on a daily basis, it’s true that it burns rather rapidly.
Consider this: most paper is made of wood pulp. But does paper burn at the same rate as, say, firewood?
Paper is thinner and has a lesser surface area, so there is a much quicker interaction between heat and the paper’s stored energy. This means that these two things come into contact with each other in a shorter period of time, and it starts to ignite rather rapidly.
Even different types of paper, such as cardboard, parchment paper, magazine paper, and book paper would ignite at different rates and temperatures.
About 451 Degrees Fahrenheit
Before we dive into the paper burning temperature, let us first try to understand why 451 Degrees Fahrenheit seems relevant in this context.
451 Degrees Fahrenheit is a futuristic, dystopian novel written by Ray Bradbury. This novel features a fireman who burns books, as mandated by the government. By burning books, the government suppresses people’s access to knowledge and therefore leaves them clueless as to what really makes them happy.
The main character wears a hat with 451 written on it. This is to indicate that the paper burn at 451 degrees Fahrenheit. Ray Bradbury’s work became popular and critically acclaimed and has since been adapted into movies and plays.
But in the field of science, people began to ask if it’s true that paper burns at 451 degrees Fahrenheit. After all, the burning process is more of a scientific process than a literal metaphor.
The Ignition Temperature of Paper
Now we go back to the question, at what temperature does paper burn? And does it really burn at 451 degrees Fahrenheit as what was stated in Ray Bradbury’s novel?
There are several factors that come into play when determining the burning temperature of paper. The material, density and moisture, and even the age of the paper, all contribute to the paper’s burning temperatures.
And we say temperatures because paper is not created equally, so their burning temperatures could vary as well.
The thing is, Rad Bradbury was most likely referring to paper’s auto ignition temperature or the temperature at which paper catches fire. According to older references, paper ignites at around 440 to 450 degrees Fahrenheit, so 451 Fahrenheit seemed like a closer estimate.
But newer researches suggest that the paper’s auto ignition temperature is 30 degrees hotter than this. Meanwhile, gasoline ignites at 536 degrees Fahrenheit while charcoal ignites at 660 degrees.
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The Burning Temperature of Paper
So we now know that paper ignites at around 480 degrees Fahrenheit. Let’s keep in mind that auto ignition temperature refers to the minimal temperature at which a material or object ignites spontaneously.
This means that paper catches fire at around 480 degrees Fahrenheit, but it doesn’t mean that paper burns at this temperature. When something ignites, it catches fire. But when it burns, it means that it is being consumed by flames.
The Temperature of a Naked Flame
It is essential to keep in mind that there are levels of heat in naked flame. Have you ever tried placing your finger just a little above a candle flame or a lighted match, and found the heat to be just a little tolerable?
That’s because that part of the naked flame is not the hottest. In fact, the hottest part of a candle is very near its base where you can find the blue flame (which sometimes seems invisible).
This is where the heat and energy meet and interact the most. As you move away from the base, the temperature starts to taper down.
So how is the temperature of a naked flame related to the temperature at which paper burns?
As it appears, it takes much heat to really burn paper. It requires a lot of energy for flames to really start consuming paper. Also, you need to make sure that paper is exposed consistently above its ignition temperature of 480 degrees Fahrenheit for it to entirely combust and turn to ashes.
The center of a book, for instance, which has even greater density, burns at around 1,500 degrees Fahrenheit or 815 degrees celsius. Since the book is thicker, it would require even more heat and energy to burn completely.
As a comparison, let’s see the hottest burning temperature of other materials below:
- Charcoal burns at around 1,382–2,192 °F
- The temperature of burning wood can get as hot as 2,100 °F
- A candle’s hottest spots can go as far high as 2,012 °F
- Butane can burn the hottest at around 600 °F
As you can see, even if the paper is a lightweight material, it could still burn at a very hot temperature.
What Temperature Does Parchment Paper Burn?
Many of us use parchment paper for food that we cook in the oven. According to Cooks Illustrated, parchment paper is rated for oven use at temperatures between 420 to 450 degrees celsius. But it could still withstand the heat of the oven even up to 500 degrees celsius.
According to top manufacturers, Reynolds and Regency, you could use the parchment paper in temperatures exceeding than recommended. It will remain food-safe and won’t release toxic chemicals. however, you can expect it to become brittle and turn darkish in color.
What is the Ignition Temperature of Cardboard? Does It Burn in the Oven?
Another common question we get with regards to paper’s ignition temperature is the ignition point of cardboard.
The corrugated board, commonly known as cardboard, is much thicker and denser than paper. Therefore, it has more surface area than your typical printer paper. So when it comes to ignition temperature, cardboard would obviously require a higher temperature and more time for it to ignite and burn.
Cardboard ignites at a temperature of 450 degrees celsius. Therefore, if you want to heat up pizza in the oven, you want to keep it below this ignition point.
But what if you exceed 450 degrees celsius, would the cardboard burn inside the oven?
The answer is yes, it can catch fire in the oven. Let’s not forget that cardboard is still made up of paper, a highly combustible material. So if you put a box of pizza in the oven and crank the temperature up, it does have the potential to ignite.
According to Food Champs, the safest way to heat pizza in the oven is to remove the pizza from the box and transfer it onto a rack, cookie sheet, or pizza pan before heating it in the oven. This way, you can heat pizza successfully without the fear of setting your oven on fire.
Does paper really burn at 451 degrees as what Ray Bradbury claimed? The answer is no. Paper burns at a far hotter temperature of around 480 degrees Fahrenheit.
But we’re talking about ordinary paper here. A lot of factors come into play when it comes to paper’s ignition and burning temperatures, such as the material it was made of, thickness or density, and moisture. but