Spontaneous laundry combustion

Oh no, the tea towels exploded.

Brighton cafe becomes the latest victim of exploding tea towels (From The Argus).

Another cafe has been hit by the strange phenomena of exploding tea towels.

Firefighters were called to Billie’s Cafe in Hampton Place, Brighton, at just before 7pm yesterday to a fire in the basement of the cafe.

It is believed that chemicals or fats still on the tea towels can cause the material to ignite when they are dried.

Back in October (unfortunately, we missed posting this story), there were two cases of combusting towels in one day. The warm towels from the laundry caught on fire. Odd.

Sounds weird but it’s real.

Here is a case of a serious fire caused by combusted towels in Washington restaurant.

The restaurant manager said the night of the fire that they used the dryer just before closing.

It was the second restaurant fire in Olympia in two years caused by towels in the dryer, and the fifth in five years to other businesses including hair salons.

The cleaning towels that were left inside the dryer smolder for hours and then spontaneously combust. The greases and oils used in the cleaning process apparently don’t all get washed out.

Also this restaurant in New York experienced a damaging fire when freshly dried towels were left in a plastic bag.

According to this industry informational piece [PDF], there are three kinds of spontaneous combustion:

Hay, grass or other organic substance will start to burn when heat is generated by bacteria, molds and fungi;
spot heating of trapped gasses and particles in a space, such as in coal mine fires; and reactive materials that burn where a heat source is not required as occurs in piles of laundry. Therefore, leftover oils on rags, towels or clothing may ignite if placed in a dryer .

When textile fires occur, the common factors found are a source of fuel, contaminants, and ambient
temperature is high enough with insulatation the heat reaction which does not allow for the generated
heat to dissipate, such as in a dryer, a plastic cart or plastic bag. Advice? Towels and other laundry should be washed thoroughly and removed immediately from a dryer and allowed to cool.

  4 comments for “Spontaneous laundry combustion

  1. November 12, 2013 at 9:09 AM

    I remember when I was living on the Navy base, there was a fire of this sort involving diapers. Those days, when the dinosaurs roamed, we put plastic pants over the diapers we put on the babies. The plastic pants somehow held in the heat (they were on top of the diapers, which were in a plastic bin). I never quite got HOW this could happen, terrible fire and thankfully everyone, including the baby got out…now I think I understand a bit more! Anyway, when the buzzer goes, out go the diapers, towels and whatever else from now on.

  2. November 12, 2013 at 10:50 AM

    The same thing happened in my town a few years ago. Here the laundry was removed from the dryer, but left bunched together in a basket. It still had enough heat to ignite.

    “A laundry basket of clean linens and kitchen cloths that were washed the night before ignited… it was the restaurant’s normal routine to do the laundry off site, and return the clean but unfolded linens to the restaurant, where they were folded and put away in the morning. The basket of linens, still warm from the dryer, combined with oil residue and air pockets to ignite the fire. The flames spread to the wooden chair the basket was sitting on, and then burned through the floor.”

  3. BobM
    November 12, 2013 at 1:28 PM

    Heckfire – my ONLY claim to fame is that I sparked off the Mythbusters episode on exploding ‘pants’. Now I’m being sidelined? :-).

  4. Cathy
    November 12, 2013 at 9:29 PM

    Same thing happened to a masseuse friend of my hairdresser. She had her hot, recently dried towels returned in a plastic bag and luckily she noticed them smouldering and threw them out on the lawn before they burst into flames.

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