A substance is pyrophoric (from Greek: πυροφόρος, pyrophoros, 'fire-bearing') if it ignites spontaneously in air at or below 54 °C (129 °F) (for gases) or within 5 minutes after coming into contact with air (for liquids and solids). Examples are iron sulfide and many reactive metals including plutonium and uranium, when powdered or thinly sliced. Pyrophoric materials are often water-reactive as well and will ignite when they contact water or humid air. They can be handled safely in atmospheres of argon or (with a few exceptions) nitrogen. Class D fire extinguishers are designated for use in fires involving pyrophoric materials.
The creation of sparks from metals is based on the pyrophoricity of small metal particles, and pyrophoric alloys are made for this purpose. This has certain uses: the sparking mechanisms in lighters and various toys, using ferrocerium; starting fires without matches, using a firesteel; the flintlock mechanism in firearms; and spark-testing ferrous metals.
Small amounts of pyrophoric liquids are often supplied in a glass bottle with a PTFE (Teflon)-lined septum. Larger amounts are supplied in metal tanks similar to gas cylinders, designed so a needle can fit through the valve opening. A syringe, carefully dried and flushed of air with an inert gas, is used to extract the liquid from its container.
When working with pyrophoric solids, researchers often employ a sealed glove box flushed with inert gas. Since these specialized glove boxes are expensive and require specialized and frequent maintenance, many pyrophoric solids are sold as solutions, or dispersions in mineral oil or lighter hydrocarbon solvents, so they can be handled in the atmosphere of the laboratory, while still maintaining an oxygen- and moisture-free environment. Mildly pyrophoric solids such as lithium tetrahydridoaluminate (lithium aluminum hydride) and sodium hydride can be handled in the air for brief periods of time, but the containers must be flushed with inert gas before the material is returned to the container for storage.
Powders of aluminium, iron and magnesium are highly pyrophoric in nature