Hidden Hazard In The Home: Cloths Heavily Soiled With Vegetable Oil Can Start Fires

January 06, 1992
Release Number: 92040

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), the U.S. Fire Administration (USFA), and the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC) are urging consumers to be aware that cloth kitchen towels used to wipe or drain large quantities of vegetable cooking or salad oil can catch fire if heated. Normal laundering procedures may not remove all of the oil from the cloth. If these oil-containing towels are dried in the clothes dryer, left in a pile while still warm, or stored in a warm area, they may begin to smoke and catch fire. Fires can also occur with paper towels and with other household oils (chemically unsaturated oils, such as linseed oil and tung oil that are used to refinish furniture). It appears that some combination of soiled towel, heat, and air is required to promote a potential fire.

The CPSC, USFA, and IAFC believe that consumers should be aware of this potential risk observed in preliminary lab tests. Although the Commission knows of only a few confirmed fires related to oil-soiled cloths, there is concern that the risk could be more widespread if consumers are not aware of this potential problem.

To prevent such fires, consumers should always dispose of wiping cloths or paper towels used to wipe up vegetable oil spills, drain foods cooked with vegetable oil, or refinish furniture. When discarding cloths or towels soiled with these oils, do not tightly pack them in the trash container. Make certain that the trash container is placed in a ventilated area and is not exposed to excessive heat, such as direct sunlight, or placed near a heat source such as a space heater, oven or stove.

The CPSC is providing this advice as part of its mission to protect the public from unreasonable risks of injury and death associated with consumer products. The Commission's objective is to reduce the estimated 28.5 million injuries and 21,600 deaths associated each year with the 15,000 different types of consumer products under CPSC's jurisdiction.