According to this XKCD what-if?, the explosion of a pressure cooker is not dangerous in itself, the heat is the sole danger.

They can explode, in a sense, but not as violently as you might fear (or hope). The pressure inside a consumer cooker doesn’t go above about two atmospheres—about the pressure inside a can of soda. Those levels can be dangerous, but they’re generally not high enough to cause the metal to violently rupture.

The blast couldn’t even fling the lid very far. If you mounted a rifle-style barrel on a pressure cooker, even in ideal circumstances it wouldn’t be able to fire the lid much faster than you could throw it.

But then, this fire department blog (in Spanish) warns of the risks of pressure cookers. This is an image after an accident:

enter image description here

And it seems there was a case of a pregnant woman killed by head injuries, but it doesn't detail the accident.

Is there any evidence or studies which could clarify this?

  • Possibly relevant is the case of someone who died from an exploding lava lamp he put on his stove. A steel pressure cooker (with a broken safety valve) is going to contain a lot more energy than a glass lava lamp. komonews.com/news/archive/4139111.html Aug 2, 2014 at 2:38
  • That XKCB article actually does say, if you read to the bottom, that a pressure cooker with a clogged or broken release valve could easily turn lethal. I think now-a-days they commonly have a blow-out of some sort to make such events harder. I have heard anecdotally of someone who was injured and did significant damage to a kitchen with one. I love them, BTW -- terrific tool.
    – goldilocks
    Aug 2, 2014 at 18:50
  • @goldilocks The lethal possibilities he mentions are with compressor air, fluorine and some other unrealistic scenarios.
    – jinawee
    Aug 2, 2014 at 20:14
  • @RussellMcMahon people certainly do have these doubts, and for this exact reason we do not apply "common sense" on this site. I'll remove your comments because they are an attempt to answer in comments.
    – Sklivvz
    Aug 3, 2014 at 8:47
  • If you have a useful contribution to make on our policies, which I'm merely applying, please do so on Skeptics Meta and not here.
    – Sklivvz
    Aug 3, 2014 at 8:47

1 Answer 1


To say the explosion can't kill you seems a bit exaggerated.

In this case, Elderly woman has leg horrifically severed after home pressure cooker exploded, a woman died after the explosion of a pressurecooker severed her leg (but not immediately!).

Here is a second report of the same incident that is a lot more comprehensible: Miami Woman Dies After Exploding Pressure Cooker Severs Leg

So assuming a shrapnel makes it into your skull, cuts your throat or anything similar - I'd say the explosion can actually kill you.

  • 4
    That report is strange. The captions on the pictures and the initial sentence say her leg was severed and she died. The rest of the text says that her leg was cut badly, a family member used a tourniquet which saved her life, and she's listed as stable. Is there a clearer report or a followup to this?
    – Is Begot
    Aug 1, 2014 at 16:08
  • 1
    @Geobits I agree, it's a bit strange - the article in the second link is better and makes it clear that she was saved from bleeding to death by her son, but died a month later Aug 1, 2014 at 16:18
  • The article unfortunately doesn't state that severed leg (or complications from it) was the reason that the woman died (her autopsy was pending at the time of the article). Nonetheless, though we can't assume that the pressure cooker was the cause of death for this particular woman, it's most definitely safe to conclude that if a piece of shrapnel can sever your leg it can most certainly kill you. However, now I'm more skeptical of Randall's calculations ;)
    – Conor
    Aug 1, 2014 at 18:02
  • 1
    the explosion can actually kill you it's not the explosion itself that kills you, it's the shrapnel.
    – TC1
    Aug 2, 2014 at 12:13
  • 2
    Well at some point it gets a bit far stretched. A normal explosion can't kill you either then because in the end it is the pressure, the heat, fragments or some other part of the explosion. When someone gets crushed by the rubble of a burning house that collapses, we still say they died in a fire Aug 2, 2014 at 21:53

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