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  1. #1
    Join Date
    Sep 2006
    Location
    Oslo, Norway
    Posts
    4,066

    oily rags and spontaneous combustion

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    Short story - yes, it happens. Be VERY careful with rags (or laundry) with a lot of oil on them, be it bike oil or anything else.

    Long story: my BIL applied some furniture oil to some tables and left them out on the rooftop terrace to dry, on a hot day. He had heard of spontaneous combustion in oily rags, and put the rag in a metal bucket for safety, also outdoors. Somehow the entire shebang ignited anyway, and burnt like a torch. The fire blew in the window, and set the sprinkler system going. His (brand new, just moved in, lovely penthouse...) apartment is now soaked in water, covered in soot, everything reeks of smoke and most of his belongings are ruined. The cat made it, but inhaled some smoke. It will be 4-6 months before the place is habitable again. The water soaked all the way through to the ground, 6 floors below.

    I have now learnt that oily rags should either be burnt immediately, or hung up to dry, or immersed in water. Just wanted to be sure that noone else I know has to experience this!
    Last edited by lph; 07-27-2013 at 02:36 PM.
    Winter riding is much less about badassery and much more about bundle-uppery. - malkin

    1995 Kona Cinder Cone commuterFrankenbike/Selle Italia SLR Lady Gel Flow
    2008 white Nakamura Summit Custom mtb/Terry Falcon X
    2000 Schwinn Fastback Comp road bike/Specialized Jett

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Sep 2010
    Location
    Whitmore Lake, Michigan
    Posts
    920
    Really sorry for your brother in law, sounds like a real mess and a huge inconvenience, how awful. This serves as a great reminder, thanks for the heads up.
    Bike Writer

    http://pedaltohealth.blogspot.com/

    Schwinn Gateway unknown year
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  3. #3
    Join Date
    Apr 2008
    Posts
    3,176
    Yikes!
    He bombed his own house!
    Each day is a gift, that's why it is called the present.

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Jul 2012
    Location
    Houston
    Posts
    1,301

    Re: oily rags and spontaneous combustion

    I'm so so sorry about his place. This is an excellent reminder that we should all be more careful.
    2012 Jamis Quest Brooks B17 Blue
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    2013 Electra Verse

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Sep 2007
    Location
    Uncanny Valley
    Posts
    14,501
    Yikes. That's probably the first time I ever heard of that actually happening - so sorry it had to happen to him.

    That, plus the environmental considerations, led me to mostly using disposable rags any more. Even shops that use a towel service, a few years back they greatly increased the amount of toxic waste the laundries can leave in the rags before washing and draining to municipal water systems.


    Funny story though, when I was growing up I don't think my parents owned a single tool. I suppose they must have had a screwdriver around for switch plates and the like, but I sure don't remember seeing it. So when we would always learn in the fire safety classes in grade school never to pile up oily rags, I'd be thinking in my head, "Why would anyone have oily rags?"

    Then DH and I rebuilt my Sportster engine in the garage....
    Speed comes from what you put behind you. - Judi Ketteler

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Mar 2007
    Location
    Troutdale, OR
    Posts
    2,600
    I've heard of such stories but OMG!! So horrible. The good in it was only things that can be replaced were damaged or ruined and that no lives were lost. I wish speedy recovery to the kitty and your BIL's well being.

    Scary!!

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Sep 2006
    Location
    Oslo, Norway
    Posts
    4,066
    Oak: Hehe. Growing up with my mother after my parents divorced when I was 10 or so, I was designated the handy one. Didn't take much but I changed lightbulbs and fuses, sawed down trees and even started using a chain saw at some point. I had no idea what I was doing, but then, neither did she. Not many tools around there either. Now we have enough to build a helicopter with.

    I had heard vaguely that rags could self-combust, but I seriously didn't think they'd do anything but smoulder a little, and even then I thought other stuff like terpentine was the most dangerous. It turns out linseed oil is insanely inflammable, and oil-soaked rags cause fires every year. Luckily for my BIL this is something most people don't know much about, so his insurance company was understanding. He had made an effort, after all, and not just stuffed them in the garbage or left them lying around.

    Poor guy. Not much fun having to go move in with your parents for months on end instead of a lovely new apartment, at age 40.
    Winter riding is much less about badassery and much more about bundle-uppery. - malkin

    1995 Kona Cinder Cone commuterFrankenbike/Selle Italia SLR Lady Gel Flow
    2008 white Nakamura Summit Custom mtb/Terry Falcon X
    2000 Schwinn Fastback Comp road bike/Specialized Jett

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Apr 2008
    Posts
    3,176
    Years ago my MIL created a fire in her washing machine in this way.
    At least the damage was contained.
    Each day is a gift, that's why it is called the present.

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Oct 2010
    Location
    Denver, CO
    Posts
    575
    LPH, I give up and have to ask - how do you know English so well? I've been curious about your excellent command of the language for quite some time, and now your use of the term "shebang" makes me think that either English is your first language or you've spent A LOT of time with Americans
    LORI
    Pivot Mach 4 / WTB
    Updated Vintage Terry Symmetry / Bontrager InForm RL WSD

  10. #10
    Join Date
    Sep 2006
    Location
    Oslo, Norway
    Posts
    4,066
    Quote Originally Posted by Artista View Post
    LPH, I give up and have to ask - how do you know English so well? I've been curious about your excellent command of the language for quite some time, and now your use of the term "shebang" makes me think that either English is your first language or you've spent A LOT of time with Americans
    Thanks, Artista :-)

    English is my first language - sorta. My mother is American, but has lived in Norway since she was 18. I guess my father's English was better than her Norwegian, for whatever reason I spoke only English until age 7. We lived in various places, but moved here for good then. I remember struggling to learn Norwegian before I became truly bilingual.

    Now I read a lot of English and often "think in English", but I almost only speak Norwegian, so for many purposes I feel more fluent in Norwegian than English. My English may well be a bit dated at times, since I don't get the everyday feedback.
    Winter riding is much less about badassery and much more about bundle-uppery. - malkin

    1995 Kona Cinder Cone commuterFrankenbike/Selle Italia SLR Lady Gel Flow
    2008 white Nakamura Summit Custom mtb/Terry Falcon X
    2000 Schwinn Fastback Comp road bike/Specialized Jett

  11. #11
    Join Date
    Oct 2010
    Location
    Denver, CO
    Posts
    575
    Quote Originally Posted by lph View Post
    Thanks, Artista :-)

    English is my first language - sorta. My mother is American, but has lived in Norway since she was 18. I guess my father's English was better than her Norwegian, for whatever reason I spoke only English until age 7. We lived in various places, but moved here for good then. I remember struggling to learn Norwegian before I became truly bilingual.

    Now I read a lot of English and often "think in English", but I almost only speak Norwegian, so for many purposes I feel more fluent in Norwegian than English. My English may well be a bit dated at times, since I don't get the everyday feedback.
    That's an even better story than I was hoping for! I've never noticed that your English is dated, although now that you mention it, you could substitute "whole enchilada" for "entire shebang"

    Bummer about your BIL. Thanks for the testimonial that spontaneous combustion isn't just an urban legend. We always wet our oily paper towels but I worry that they'll dry out before the garbage gets picked up. We're going to start sealing the wet, oily, paper towels in those ultra-lightweight, produce bags that we bring home from the grocery store.
    LORI
    Pivot Mach 4 / WTB
    Updated Vintage Terry Symmetry / Bontrager InForm RL WSD

  12. #12
    Join Date
    Jul 2010
    Location
    Austria
    Posts
    364
    I'm sorry this happened to your brother!

    A trick I use to keep oily rags safe: Wet the rag/towel and put it in an old Pickle jar, screw the lid on tightly.

  13. #13
    Join Date
    Mar 2008
    Posts
    2,704
    LPH, thanks for the warning! I'm curious about something, if you don't mind.....was there a lid on the metal bucket?

  14. #14
    Join Date
    Sep 2006
    Location
    Oslo, Norway
    Posts
    4,066
    I don't really know, since by the time I saw it it was just a misshapen lump... but I think not. A lid would probably have contained the flames or maybe stopped it from igniting in the first place.
    Winter riding is much less about badassery and much more about bundle-uppery. - malkin

    1995 Kona Cinder Cone commuterFrankenbike/Selle Italia SLR Lady Gel Flow
    2008 white Nakamura Summit Custom mtb/Terry Falcon X
    2000 Schwinn Fastback Comp road bike/Specialized Jett

  15. #15
    Join Date
    Mar 2008
    Posts
    2,704
    Quote Originally Posted by lph View Post
    A lid would probably have contained the flames or maybe stopped it from igniting in the first place.
    That's what I always thought (re: covering the bucket), but I've never had a chance to test that theory (thankfully!).

 

 

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