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Press Release - Service warning on spontaneous combustion of tea towels
Posted on 18/05/2017

Fire chiefs are warning about the possibility of the spontaneous combustion of tea towels at catering premises following a fire at the Exeter Chiefs rugby ground.

Fire crews were called to Sandy Park in the early morning of Thursday 11 May and extinguished the fire in the kitchen on the ground floor.

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, of Devon & Somerset Fire & Rescue Service, said: “The fire crews did an excellent job to limit the spread of the fire, particularly at such an important part of the season for the Chiefs.

“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.”

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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