A pile of tea towels almost started a fire in a Daventry home when they started burning after being folded and piled straight out of the tumble dryer.
A photo seen by Northamptonshire Fire and Rescue Service - to whom the incident was not reported at the time - shows burn marks to the towels, which had started to catch fire at their owner’s home in November.
The Daventry woman, who runs a pub restaurant business in Northamptonshire and who doesn't want to be named, had taken the tea towels home to wash them before tumble drying them.
She took them out of the dryer and folded them before going out shopping.
She returned less than four hours later to the smell of smoke in her house.
"When we walked in, the stench of smoke was horrendous," she said.
"We started running around and checking everything. Then I saw smoke coming from the pile of tea towels and I called to my husband.
"The smoke wasn’t coming from the top or bottom, just the middle section. I am so relieved we returned home when we did.
"The frightening part of it is what the consequences could have been if this had happened at night.
"I’m now more aware of what comes out of the tumble dryer and more cautious about tea towels. I just wanted to warn others to prevent it happening to someone else."
Although the phenomenon of combusting tea-towels is very rare, there are nationally reported cases of significant damage being caused to different premises.
These types of fires happen when apparently clean tea towels containing residue fats or grease are taken from the tumble dryer and piled up, holding the heat still within the centre of the stack.
The combination of heat, cooking fats and oxygenating chemicals from stain removing detergent products can create a chemical reaction, causing towels to start smouldering and catch fire. When piled, heat has nowhere to escape, which can result in the ignition point being reached.
Scott Richards, Community Protection Manager at NFRS, said these incidents are rare but can pose a risk, predominantly to commercial or business premises such as restaurants, care homes and pubs.
"Although we did not attend this particular incident, judging by the photos, the lady involved was extremely lucky the incident was not much worse," said Mr Richards.
"These fires are particularly shocking as they are so rare and unexpected – who expects a pile of tea towels with no apparent flame nearby to suddenly catch fire?
"We would like to warn people that this type of incident does and can happen, but also take the opportunity to highlight the more common risks that are unfortunately experienced."
The fire service has the following prevention tips:
- Avoid placing freshly dried laundry which may have come into contact with greases or fat into stacks or piles.
- Ensure laundry has an opportunity to cool down before it is folded. Air it first before folding, to allow the heat to escape.
- Always wash tea towels/other similar purpose cloths on a hot wash.
- Do not leave damp washing in a hot or warm tumble dryer.
- Check the manufacturer’s instructions to ensure correct and proper use on a day to day basis but also understand any periodic checks or maintenance tasks that are required.
- Ensure all filters are cleaned as required, there may be more than just the one inside the door which collects the fluff.
- Overloading a machine can create additional risks of fire, due to the motor having to work harder.
- If the machine is in commercial premises, ensure you understand the checks and testing needed and make sure arrangements are in place, either by staff or a contractor, to undertake the required action. Don’t assume someone else is doing the job.
- If you believe for any reason that the machine is not working correctly or there is a fault, have it checked by a qualified person.