Checking fire extinguishers - one of the steps you need to take to reduce the risk of laundry fires.

With the recent news of domestic dryers being recalled due to the risk of fire, there’s never been a greater time to ensure commercial laundry equipment operates safely and efficiently. Each year, there are hundreds of fires in commercial laundry environments caused by varying reasons.

So, how can you ensure you reduce the risk of a fire in a commercial laundry? Why do these fires occur?

Spontaneous Combustion

Many laundry fires result from “spontaneous combustion” and occur overnight when there is nobody on the premises and so, fortunately, there is no loss of life.

Most launderers are well aware of the risks of spontaneous combustion from work that has been over-dried and tightly packed into a trolley whilst still hot. In this case, there is no real opportunity for the linen to cool and residual chemicals in the linen can react with the heat. This reaction generates further heat until a temperature is reached on the surface of the linen which causes it to self-ignite. However, not all laundry fires start because of this alone.

Frequently, work that has only been pre-conditioned for a few minutes in the tumble dryer and is only just warm can be a source of spontaneous combustion if it has not been washed correctly and is still loaded with residues of fats, greases, and oils.

Most of the items received in a laundry are covered with varying levels of oils, grease, and fat. These fatty or oily soils may be from the working environment in which the textile is used. For example, a kitchen, bakery or engineering works. However, any item that is worn regularly can collect this type of soiling from the perspiration and fatty acids excreted by skin and hair. These can also be a potential fire hazard in the laundry.

It is absolutely essential that operators are aware of the possible risks when they unload washed textiles from the washer or dryer.

If the textiles still have only a slight smell of oil or fat they have not been washed properly. This will not only affect the finished quality of the items but will also significantly increase the risk of a fire through spontaneous combustion.

If the washed items that are loaded with residual fat and oil are crammed into a trolley the risks of a fire starting increase. This can even happen with relatively cool items if they are left long enough.

Risks of Laundry Fire Increase

The risks increase even further after finishing. The heat applied during the finishing process will often only be sufficient to drive off the moisture and a portion of the lighter fats and oils.

This can often be readily identified by the clouds of bluish/grey smoke that appear over the top of a steam/air tunnel finisher. Another warning sign is a plume of smoke from the garments when the head is released on a hot-head press. If the garments are then folded whilst still hot, there are all of the ingredients for a fire.

Some launderers will increase this risk even further by storing the now dry folded items on the top canopy of equipment such as rotary presses. They do not realise that this practice poses a big fire risk.

Follow the Rules

To minimise the risk of a fire in your laundry, apply the following rules:

  • Ensure staff are adequately trained and know not only where the fire extinguishers are but which type they should use for the different types of fire (NVQ Level 2 Laundry Operator training will cover this topic).
  • Check all fire extinguishers regularly and make sure they are all working correctly.
  • Make sure all textiles are washed correctly – with the right detergent dosage levels and at temperatures that are sufficient to remove all fats, grease and oils.
  • Train washroom and tumbler staff to be aware of any residual smells – especially oily, fatty smells – on processed items and to return them for re-wash if still smelly.
  • Check the timers on all the tumblers to ensure they all work correctly and repair/replace any that are faulty.
  • Routinely check the tumbler evaporation rates and ensure that the tumbler is operating as effectively and efficiently as possible and that the timer settings are correct for each classification in each tumbler.
  • Institute a cleaning regime for all tumblers making sure that ALL lint filters – both inlet and exhaust – are correctly cleaned regularly and the lint disposed of correctly.
  • Always use the cool-down function on the tumbler.
  • Never cram hot tumbled work into a trolley and never leave a load of hot dried work in the tumbler or in a trolley.
  • Keep a check on the finishing line. If a plume of blue/grey smoke ever appears over the top of the steam/air tunnel finisher or ironer or when the head of the press is released, make sure that this work is not folded while it is hot and immediately check your wash processes.
  • Never store pressed, dried work on a hot surface, especially on the canopy of a rotary press.
  • Make sure good housekeeping procedures are in place. Equipment must be kept clean and all lint and dust must be regularly removed. It only takes a small spark to cause a devastating fire.

The above rules will not totally eliminate laundry fire risks but they will certainly go a long way to minimising them. They will also ensure that re-wash levels are kept to a minimum and that you are not, therefore, wasting resources and losing production. This will improve quality as well as extend fabric life and reduce the premature degradation of ironer and press clothing.

Finally, it’s worth brushing up on the recommendations for fire safety in laundries.

Next, refresh your knowledge on the serviceable lifespan of the textiles you’re washing.