This has never been asked before on this site, so I thought I would ask this to help future searchers, passerbys, or others understand this better.

What are the key differences between burning something and melting something?

For example, you can burn cake before it melts in an oven, but you can't burn water in a solid state at the same temperature(it will separate the molecules and flow into space; you can't burn H20 either).

So basically, why do some things burn then melt, and some things melt and burn, or do not burn at all?

What does "burn" mean atomically, and what is its relation to melting? They are sometimes used interchangeably to express "burning something", or "melting it" as a greater extreme, despite the fact that ice will melt into water and will never burn, and cake will burn way before melting.

  • $\begingroup$ Burning is a phenomenon with heat, flame, etc. Typically it is a reaction with oxygen. Water does not react with oxygen, at least in normal condition. Melting is a phase transition from solid to liquid, without reaction with external substance, such as oxygen. $\endgroup$
    – user26143
    Commented Nov 16, 2013 at 21:06
  • $\begingroup$ You will need to explain more than that for future searcher $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 16, 2013 at 21:19
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ user26143 gave a fairly succinct answer. However, the finer details are generally reserved for intro-level science courses, and the answer to this question is generally considered common knowledge, which is why you probably had difficulty finding someone who had asked this question (since most people already know the answer, and thus never ask the question). Do you have any good libraries nearby? Playing with some chemistry textbooks can yield answers to a lot of interesting questions like this. $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 16, 2013 at 21:30

2 Answers 2


"Burn" and "melt" are completely different things.

"Burning" is a chemical reaction, usually with the oxygen in the air (or any oxidant, really). In organic burning, like the cake you suggested, the carbon compounds react with atmospheric oxygen, producing carbon dioxide, water (vapour) and (sometimes) an ashy residue.

"Melting", on the other hand, is a physical process in which the atoms of the thing you're melting can no longer carry more energy while remaining in the solid state.

The wikipedia articles for Burning ans Melting are pretty self explanatory, to be honest


I've been wondering about what makes things melt versus light on fire, or why somethings burn at some temperature rather than melt(or vice versa) maybe I started off thinking of things burning or melting on a pan. I had this same line of thought to a large extent--some things will just melt at some temperature before they burn, but other things seem as if they will just burn (before?) they melt.

The question is WHY one and not the other or one before the other in a given circumstance. I've had a few chemistry and physics classes, and maybe i'm just dense but it didn't appear obvious to me (at first, (at least))--i know fire is basically the result of a chemical reaction where molecules will transfer atoms/ electrons to get to a lower energy state, usually with O2 while melting is the physical process where the molecules in a substance essentially can move farther apart from each other... With a little more thought, I suppose it is just that at certain temperature some substances have enough energy to react with O2, while others don't, sometimes that's before their melting temperature, sometimes its after, and some things will never "burn," at least not with oxygen. . .

Also i'd note: if "something" melts after it "burnt" technically speaking, we should probably think of that "something" as something else now, as it has undergone a chemical reaction it is now a new chemical structure--the melting substance now is not the same thing that burnt--so i guess by definition, in essence we probably can't think a substance can burn and then melt (on a molecular level that is--although perhaps its possible for a more macroscopic thing with different sets of molecules composing it to have some molecules "burn" before others melt). Some things may only burn and never melt in our oxygen-rich air then, but i'm guessing without oxygen present we could get a lot more things to melt...

Feel free to burn me--inform me, what-not. I am down to learn


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