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Spontaneous combustion of laundry

Fats and oils are the trigger

A frequent cause of fire

Especially in the hotel and catering industry, but also in commercial laundries and private households, fires occur time and again due to spontaneous combustion of laundry. Thus, it is possible that freshly washed and dried piles of laundry or folded and stacked textiles in shelves, baskets or laundry containers self-ignite. There are also known cases of self-ignition of textiles in the dryer – without the dryer being in operation. Such fires often occur outside normal working hours, are usually discovered late, and cause considerable damage to property.

Spontaneous combustion is the term used when ignition occurs without any external energy supply. However, before a textile catches fire, self-heating to the ignition temperature first takes place, usually due to a buildup of heat after drying.

Fire initiation in textiles

Hotel and catering textiles, such as cleaning cloths, towels and clothing, frequently come into contact with vegetable or animal fats or oils – after all, pans, extractor hoods or deep-fat fryers, for example, are cleaned regularly. But also towels and bathrobes from the wellness area of hotels can be contaminated with massage oil. Such fats and oils usually contain so-called unsaturated fatty acids, which can cause a fire under unfavorable conditions. Washing textiles soiled in this way often does not completely remove the adhering fat or oil from the fabric, which would not yet lead to spontaneous combustion at room temperature. After washing, the textiles are usually dried in a tumble dryer and then stacked while still warm on a pile of laundry, on shelves or in laundry transport carts. The drying process creates a higher initial temperature for the reaction, which continues to increase in the laundry pile. The initially slow reaction, together with the insulating effect of the neighboring laundry, can now result in the temperature for spontaneous combustion of the laundry being reached.

Preventive fire protection measures

To prevent spontaneous combustion of laundry, several points should be considered:

  • Wash textiles heavily soiled with grease or oil separately.
  • Use a specially adapted washing program
  • Use a special grease remover in addition to your detergent
  • Avoid overloading your washing machine
  • Check the washing result regularly
  • Take into account the maximum load of your tumble dryer.
  • Do not remove laundry from the dryer until the cooling phase in the drying program has been completed
  • Never leave hot laundry in the dryer for a long time or overnight
  • Spread out warm textiles so that the heat cannot build up
  • Allow dried textiles to cool down for some time before stacking or packing them

More information and interesting facts

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