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Sparring with spontaneous combustion in the laundry

Numerous hotels launder towels and linen within the business. Most laundry managers are well aware of the risks of spontaneous combustion from: items received in a hotel laundry which is covered with varying levels of oils, grease, and fat. These fatty or oily soils may be from the working environment in which the clothing is used - for example, at the kitchen, bakery or at engineering. 


They also know that potential fire hazards (spontaneous combustion), can result from work that has been over-dried and tightly packed into a trolley whilst still hot, and to be alert of the possible risks when washed textiles from the washer or dryer are unloaded, particularly if the textiles still have only a slight smell of oil or fat they have not been washed properly.


Nevertheless, many don’t realise that there is an unexpected fire risk – especially where the laundry handles linen and towels from a spa or wellness centre. Many laundry fires result from “spontaneous combustion” and occur overnight when there is nobody on the premises.


My hotelier friend related an incident where a fire that broke out in the hotel laundry late at night, was discovered in the nick of time and doused by hotel staff, before it became a major disaster.


Whilst working as the night manager, he received the call from a security guard who on night patrol observed smoke coming out from one of the ventilation shafts in the laundry. The laundry facilities at this particular hotel were located beside the bunker-like concrete underground car park beneath the high rise hotel.


Rushing to the basement and upon immediately opening the door to the laundry, the hotel’s fire team quickly detected where the fire had broken out and doused the flames within a few minutes.


Investigations soon revealed that used towels from the hotel’s spa, sent down the chute and lying with a pile of other soiled linen, were the culprits that caused the fire. To cut a long story short, it was discovered that towels soaked in oil after Ayurvedic treatments provided that low flash point to ignite spontaneous combustion.


Laundry fires can also start from other causes. Implement safety measures such as monthly inspection of laundry equipment to see that everything is working properly. Make sure that the back of dryers are cleaned including cleaning burner tubes and thermistor covers so that the unit is free of any lint that has accumulated over time. Check that the burner flame is fed the correct fuel-to-air ratio. Don’t also overload soiled linen in piles or laundry bins overnight before washing.


Ilzaf Keefahs is a freelance writer who enjoys focusing on hospitality related matters that he is passionate about, and likes to share his views with hoteliers and customers alike.


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