A recent case of fire at one of the major Ayurvedic practice in Melbourne has encouraged me to write this article. The cause of fire at practice was spontaneous combustion of a pile of towels causing all the practice to burn into ashes.
“Fire caused by spontaneous combustion of oily laundry is a serious, yet relatively unknown, hazard facing ayurveda practices, spas and massage parlours.” A recent survey of hundreds of spa proprietors, massage parlours operators, however, has shed some new light on the prevalence of the problem.
10% of spas doing their own laundry experienced a laundry related fire.
25% of these fires were caused by spontaneous combustion.
Only 50% of practices, spas have a written laundry safety protocol.
Why do oily towels spontaneously combust?
The massage oils sometimes stay in towel fibres as potentially flammable chemicals even after being washed and dried several times, leading to a build up leading to an exothermic reaction and thus resulting in fire.
Heat builds up in large piles of towels from fungi, bacteria. After being washed some liquids can self-heat during the drying process and, if temperatures get hot enough, may self-combust. Cotton or linen in towels removed from a dryer may become oxidised and can also contain a large amount of static.This static can cause a spark which can ignite chemicals which remain in the towels. Oxidisation makes towels more susceptible to catch fire. In other words pontaneous combustion of oily laundry occurs when a flammable or combustible substance is slowly heated to its ignition point through oxidation. A substance will begin to release heat as it oxidizes. If this heat has no way to escape, like in a dryer or pile, the temperature will raise to a level high enough to ignite the oil and ignite the laundry
How to prevent it:
- Use disposable towels and through away after single use wherever possible
- Wash and dry items by type and use: Linens, towels, robes, etc. should be sorted and washed separately.
- Don’t let soiled or saturated items sit too long: If oily laundry sits in a pile too long the heat generated as the oil oxidizes will increase. With no way of cooling, the heat will increase to a point that the oils will combust, starting the laundry on fire.
- Promptly washing them will reduce the chances of spontaneous combustion.
- Store laundry in well ventilated areas: Keeping the laundry room cool is important. By keeping air flow in the room, the temperature will stay lower and reduce the risk of laundry getting too heated and combusting.
- Wash thoroughly on hot cycle: Using a hot water cycle to clean oily laundry will help remove the substances more efficiently than a cold cycle.
- Dry at proper temperatures: Drying laundry at too high of temperatures can greatly increase the risk of spontaneous combustion. Any residues that are left over after the wash cycle will be at a much greater risk of ignition if the dryer temperature is too high.
- Always have a fire plan ready at your practice or massage parlour.