Tea towels could spontaneously combust, warn Devon firefighters

Tea towels can spontaneously combust – and it’s more common than you might think.
Tea towels can spontaneously combust – and it’s more common than you might think.

‘Strange phenomenon’ highlighted following rugby club fire

Fire chiefs have warned that oil residues left on tea towels could cause them to spontaneously combust.

Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Service has issued a warning to catering premises following a fire at Exeter Chiefs’ Sandy Park stadium.

The service says spontaneous combustion of tea towels can occur when organic oil residue remains in the material after washing, and they are then folded and stored in piles while still hot from the tumble drier.

Watch manager Gareth Sydenham said: “It may sound like a strange phenomenon but is actually more common than you might think. Cotton laundry can often be contaminated with organic cooking oils that can self-ignite if dried and stored.”

The service says residue of grease or oil – particularly from vegetable and animal based fats – still present in linen can start a fire.

The problem arises when the wash cycle has not been hot enough to remove the residue.

If laundry is then heated in a tumble dryer it can ignite spontaneously a period of time after the drying process has finished.

Watch manager Sydenham added: “Make sure you do your wash at the right temperature, usually above 90 degrees celsius, with the appropriate detergent to remove any oil-based contaminants.

“Also make sure you wait for your laundry to cool down before packing it away and store it in a well ventilated place.”

The service is also giving the following advice to businesses:

• Run the full cool-down cycle of the dryer

• Do not place laundry into large stacks or piles

• Do not leave damp items in a warm or hot dryer

• Clean filters, remove fluff, lint and debris from dryers and keep them regularly maintained

In addition, ensure an adequate and well maintained fire detection system is in place.


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