Hospitality Today Christmas 2016 - Jan 2017 - Page 4

4 | Hospitality Today | Christmas 2016 / January 2017
Darren Seward of NFU Mutual

Fire warning about ‘ selfcombusting ’ tea towels

A ‘ spate of catastrophic fires ’ caused by self-combusting tea towels is driving commercial insurer NFU Mutual to advise restaurateurs , hoteliers and publicans to exercise caution when handling , washing and tumble-drying tea towels .
The little-known ‘ self-combusting tea towel ’ phenomenon occurs when remains of oil and fat contaminate fabrics made of natural fibres . The remaining oil can undergo a chemical reaction with oxygen in the air , which releases heat , and in certain circumstances this can lead to the spontaneous ignition of the fabric initially as a smouldering process .
The reaction is even more likely when combined with heat such as that from tumble drying - especially when removed from the dryer and left in a pile , which offers perfect conditions of thermal insulation for the heat to thrive - and also if left near a heat source . Oxidising detergent chemicals such as peroxide in stain remover can also cause the chemical oxidising reaction , with or without heat .
Darren Seward , Hospitality Specialist at NFU Mutual ( insert above ) said : “ Although tea towels may appear clean once washed , they may still have the remains of cooking oils and fats or chemicals on them that are invisible to the eye . If they are then put into a tumble dryer , the combination of heat , cooking fats and oxygenating chemicals from stain-removing detergent products can create a chemical reaction and cause the towel to self-heat , smoulder and eventually catch fire . The danger is particularly high if the tumble-drying cycle is interrupted , as typically the final few minutes will tumble without heat and allow the tea towels to cool down .
“ Equally , dirty tea towels contaminated with oil pose a similar combustion risk , especially if they are dry and placed near a heat source . A fire could be caused by a situation as innocent as someone leaving a pile of dirty tea towels in a pile ready for washing the next day , so we would advise people not to stack them up ready for washing . An unsuspecting mistake could put people in danger and cost your business thousands of pounds if there is a fire .”