Prevent Laundry Fires Before They Start

IRVINE, Calif. — Before starting your day-to-day tasks at work, you walk into the common area to make your daily cup of coffee.

As you prepare your cup, you begin to hear sounds of panic fade behind a loud continuous beeping.

After about the second beep, you register the situation. A fire broke out, and you need to evacuate the building. 

According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), an average of 37,000 fires occur yearly at industrial and manufacturing properties, including industrial laundry facilities.

Laundry fires are becoming increasingly common in the leisure and hospitality industry. Property and asset damage can cost thousands of dollars, and employee injuries can generate long-term emotional and physical effects.

Protecting employees and property assets should not be overlooked, as it can cause catastrophic losses. Every facility manager and employee needs to understand what causes a laundry fire and what steps one can take to prevent it from occurring.

Most laundry fires result from “spontaneous combustion” and usually happen overnight. This is because spontaneous combustion is more likely to occur when large piles of laundry are left unattended for long periods.

Spontaneous combustion refers to the gradual increase in the temperature of flammable materials to the point of ignition.

Spontaneous combustion depends on the following conditions:

  1. Availability of a fuel source.
  2. Availability of an oxidizing agent.
  3. Availability of a heat source.

The linens, particularly materials with high cotton content, provide a readily available fuel source. Cotton materials begin to oxidize when temperatures reach 203 F.

If the heat due to oxidization is not permitted to dissipate, the material may continue to heat to the point of ignition, resulting in a spontaneous fire.

The potential for automatic combustion increases when petroleum products or natural fats and oils are added to the mix.

It is not difficult to imagine how piles of soiled laundry left in the sun or exposed to heat sources inside a laundry facility can become potential sites for spontaneous ignition.

While it is nearly impossible to eliminate the risk of fire in industries that work with linen materials, there are several steps that staff can take to help reduce the risk of fire:

  1. Wash all laundry with the recommended amount of detergent at the right temperature by checking the ideal temperature for each fabric. Washing fabrics correctly guarantees the removal of all fats, grease and oils, reducing the fire risk.  
  2. Be aware of the different smells, such as fats, grease and oils. If a pile of laundry doesn’t smell like it’s supposed to, return it to the wash. Confirm the complete removal of any residual flammable contaminant from the fabric.
  3. When transferring laundry from a washer to a dryer, ensure the dryer you plan to use is completely cooled down. Avoid leaving damp items in a warm or hot dryer. Doing so can trap heat and increase the chance of a fire.
  4. Always use the dryer’s cool-down cycle to ensure that all the linen and fabric are cooled when it leaves the dryer. Allowing the materials to cool prevents heat transfer and ultimately decreases fire risk.
  5. Never leave large loads of laundry inside the dryer. Remove the laundry as soon as possible, allowing it to cool down immediately, reducing the risk of spontaneous combustion.
  6. Always avoid leaving laundry in large stacks or piles. Unattended linen piles can heat quickly to ignition, especially if flammable contaminants are present.
  7. Avoid folding or storing materials that are not completely dry or cooled.

Beyond training staff to take the precautionary steps advised to prevent a laundry fire, facility owners can also install an early fire detection system to ensure safety in the workplace further.

Early fire detection systems operate 24/7 and can monitor the facility for potential fire signs. These types of systems utilize infrared technology for the ability to “see” heat before turning into a hazardous situation.

Infrared cameras are the only fire detection device that can distinguish signs of fire at the earliest stages, before the appearance of smoke.

Some early fire detection systems are equipped with a unique cloud-based application that users access anytime from any smart device with an internet connection.

The application has several features that can help support staff and management to stay aware and away from a hazard:

  • Users get live access to all connected fire devices and sensors, including infrared cameras.
  • The system functions on its own and doesn’t require human monitoring.
  • Users can receive alert notifications via e-mail, text message or voice call when danger is detected. Each message is fully customizable and can be sent based on the alarm location and the severity of the issue.
  • When the hazard is cleared, the system automatically sends a follow-up notification to keep users in the know and updated on the situation.
  • Historical temperature measurements and thermal images are automatically saved and accessable through the dashboard. Automated scheduled reporting ensures that no one misses a thing.  
  • A facility layout map can easily be accessed through the dashboard and shared with external sources. First responders can access the map to analyze the hazard situation in real-time, optimizing scene assessment outside harm’s way.

Laundry fires are becoming too common to be overlooked.

The presence of flammable or reactive contaminants and the unmonitored or uncontrolled heating of laundry piles all increase the risk of spontaneous combustion.

Because the possibility of fire almost seems inevitable in laundry facilities, the safety of all employees and the protection of property assets should be the top priority of all facility managers.

Training employees to take preventative steps during the wash cycle can help reduce the risk of spontaneous combustion. However, early fire detection systems enhance peace of mind when it comes to fire prevention.

By warning earlier on the pathway to ignition, laundry facility managers can avert costly and potentially life-threatening fires before they are permitted to start and spread.                        

RELATED STORIES

Fire! What Do I Do Now? (Part 1), Jan. 19, 2023

Fire! What Do I Do Now? (Conclusion), Jan. 24, 2023

IRVINE, Calif. — Precautionary steps for staff; early detection equipment available

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