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Can Styrofoam in a Gas Tank Ruin an Engine? (Explained)

The white, fluffy styrofoam looks almost like cotton candy, but when combined with gasoline inside a car tank, it may quickly turn into a big headache.

Typically, in school, to educate students about polarity and nonpolarity bonding and how they respond with various things, a small amount of gasoline is placed on top of styrofoam and it dissolves the foam in less than a minute.

It may be the most innocent experiment for children, but when they do it at home, the most apparent location to look for gasoline is a car’s gas tank.

If they are being mischievous or doing it out of curiosity, styrofoam inside your gas tank isn’t good news at all. What could apparently happen or styrofoam in the gas tank, Is it a worst-case scenario? Let’s find out.

Can Styrofoam In A Gas Tank Ruin An Engine?

The engine is not harmed by the use of Styrofoam. Extruded polystyrene, often known as styrofoam, dissolves quickly in gasoline and also well in engine oil and diesel. Styrofoam combined with gasoline in fuel tanks may produce a little amount of slug. The oil filter will be enough to keep it clean.

Styrofoam is a nonpolar molecule, this polystyrene product is used in packaging for protecting delicate products. You may find styrofoam inside your car seat or dashboard but it’s kept quite far away from any contact with fuel or engine oil.

Car fuel, usually gasoline, is known to be nonpolar and nonpolar material is well suited with each other then why is styrofoam such an issue!

Actually, it isn’t that much of an issue; even if styrofoam reaches the gas tank there are more than a few obstacles it will have to face and it may never reach the engine.

The filtration system, fuel pumping, and transmission are so efficient at their work that they won’t let any harmful particles reach the combustion chamber.

That being said, gasoline and styrofoam may create a little bit of highly flammable napalm. So it’s better to be safe and cautious.

What is styrofoam in a gas tank?

When it comes to combustion engines, styrofoam has nothing positive to offer and may clog the filtration system. The styrofoam reaching inside the gas tank might be an act of vandalism or an accident.

You may never discover a remedy to vandalism, but what is the significance of styrofoam accidentally reaching into the tank?

Actually, most people confuse styrofoam with seafoam. Seafoam is used to remove stubborn sticky muck from engines, and the seafoam has the word “foam” in its name which is the cause of confusion.

“3” reasons why styrofoam will not ruin an engine:

As Styrofoam can be dissolved in engine oil really fast, there will be no risk of having that in the oil. But what are the other reasons why you will not face any issue while having it in the engine.

Oil filter:

The oil filter is the first line of defense against any foreign material entering the engine via the fuel line. Styrofoam won’t be able to pass through the oil filter even if it’s well dissolved in gasoline.

The oil filter, on the other hand, is not invincible; it may become clogged or lose effectiveness over time.

As more of a response, it’s advisable to change the filter at regular intervals (at least maintain a 3000 to 3500 mileage cycle). Oil filters cannot be cleaned for reuse, but the good news is that they are affordable to replace.

Fuel system and distribution process:

the fuel transmission system in combustion is so well designed that it’s kind of impossible for any harmful material to reach the combustion chamber.

First, the fuel (gasoline, diesel) will pass through the oil filter separating any dirt or dust particles, then it will be pumped via the pipeline reaching the injector filter, where the fuel will turn gaseous and will be sprayed into the combustion mixed with fresh air (mainly oxygen).

From getting into the oil tank till reaching the engine, your car fuel will have to pass through several filters, that means even dissolved styrofoam doesn’t stand a chance to harm the engine.

Non polarity:

Assume that all of the filters are heavily clogged and that the cleaning and separating systems have failed; in this case, would the styrofoam and gasoline combination cause any damage to the engine?

The answer is not much; you might not be dealing with a total collapse. However, it will undoubtedly leave a mark and diminish overall efficiency.

For not being a complete disaster you can thank the nonpolarity nature of both styrofoam and gasoline. Instead of styrofoam, if there was Sugar (polar molecule) mixed with gasoline (nonpolar solvent) then it would have been an invitation for disaster. 

Does motor oil dissolve Styrofoam?

Styrofoam is quite easily dissolved in contact with motor oil. To understand why styrofoam does not dissolve in water but dissolves almost rapidly in engine oil, you must first understand polarity and non-polarity.

You may not have the time or patience for a long and boring science lecture, so to keep it simple, styrofoam and oil both are nonpolar materials, and nonpolar molecules (styrofoam) get easily mixed with a nonpolar solvent (motor oil).

A nonpolar material (molecules and solvent) doesn’t have any negative or positive poles, which means the proton and electron (positive and negative charges) are evenly distributed throughout the molecular structure. 

So water being a polar molecule will not mix with oil or styrofoam but any kind of oil (synthetic or organic) will easily dissolve styrofoam.

How long does it take for Styrofoam to dissolve in gasoline?

It will take less than 45 seconds for the styrofoam to deflate and almost dissolve. The mixture may turn into a hazy white and the few styrofoam particles may float.

Gasoline and styrofoam mixture may not be a good idea for your car but it sure has other uses.

The gasoline and styrofoam mixture works as a great adhesive, you may have to heat it for a minute or two to create a thicker jelly.

Also if you are thinking about creating a fire outside in a snowy winter, the gasoline and styrofoam mixture will definitely satisfy your needs but keep in mind that such mixtures are highly flammable and maybe too much to handle.

What happens if you mix gas and Styrofoam in a car engine? 

Though you will witness that the Styrofoam dissolves in the engine. But what other things can you witness. Let’s get to know them.

Transforming from solid-state to liquid:

Styrofoam, in general, prefers to stay solid, and it may not even lose its solid form when combined with water.

That being said, When it comes into contact with gasoline, it dissolves quickly due to the nonpolarity of both gasoline and styrofoam.

Initially, the air trapped inside each styrofoam cell would deflate. Because of these characteristics, styrofoam is easier to mix with gasoline.

Thermoplastic nature in action:

styrofoam or extruded polystyrene has a pretty low melting point. The fluffy white styrofoam will deflect in contact with gasoline, and the astonishing heat of the combustion engine will dissolve it even more.

Any other thermoplastic materials will show the same results.

Clogging up the oil filter:

The purpose of an oil filter is to keep out any junk or foreign particles from entering and messing up the engine.

Styrofoam may get dissolved in gasoline or diesel but while going through the oil filter it will certainly be separated.

However, a concentrated mixture or too much styrofoam mixed with gasoline will clog the oil filter and other connected mechanisms.

Creating a little bit of napalm:

One of the worst things about the gasoline and styrofoam mixture is that it creates napalm.

The sticky jelly-like mixture that has a bad reputation for being highly flammable shouldn’t reach the combustion engine chambers.

All the filters may separate the styrofoam from oil but it’s too much of a risk. It’s better to drain the styrofoam and oil mixture to avoid any major or minor incidents. 

Final Thoughts

When it comes to a combustion engine, you can never be too cautious. However, styrofoam in the gas tank will not affect the engine. Whether it’s gasoline, diesel, or motor oil, as long as the quantity is within a reasonable range, the oil filter can handle it.