Laundry fires - common?

A laundry near me recently burned down, not the building at least, but the place was gutted inside. Apparently freshly dried (hot) clothing was left out and the aircon wasn’t on, and somehow something sparked and flame took.

Anyway, I’m now wondering if this sort of thing is common in laundries? Are they likely fire hazards?

How old was the AC, my first thought is that maybe it malfunctioned and managed to get a spark onto the dry clothes. Otherwise the only thing I can think of is that the person didn’t use any dryer sheets (or something else to get rid of the static), and then the air blowing over the (already charged) clothes caused them to become even more charged they eventually sparked and caught fire. I can’t imagine this is at all common. If it was I think that we’d hear about them more often and we’d get a list of safety precautions shoved down our throats. [sarcasm]Look how common gas station fires are[/sarcasm] and we all know all the precautions to take there.

Without knowing particulars of the occupancy, my first suspicion is lint buildup in ductwork from the dryer exhaust. As a finely divided class A combustible, lint and similar dusts take little energy to ignite, and since they’re located in a plenum have little trouble with adequate oxygen to feed the process.

Clothing fresh from a dryer isn’t hot enough to cause ignition, otherwise the clothing would itself be involved in flame.

Laundries, like other commercial occupancies are subject to the same old list of risk factors. Poor housekeeping, electrical work not done to code, abuse/misuse of flexible cords, careless disposal of smoking materials, combustibles stored too close to heat producing appliances, etc. Rarely do I read a report in NFPA Journal that strikes me as new and different.

No, but the equipment that is used in Laundromats(Washers, dryers, water heaters) draw the most electricity than the common household appliances. The possibility of fire may be greater.

Laundry fires are extremely common, not only from the build up of lint, the electrics in the machines, gas burners that have failed to ignite releasing unburnt fuel, faulty bearings causing hot spots.

Maintenance in laundries is absolutely essential, the flame failure devices must be checked at least once a week and in a big industrial laundry its not a bad idea to check these daily.

Lint build up is paricularly hazardous, needs to be shifted at least weekly, especially in laundries with large ironing machines and the like.

Sorry but not true.

As for material not getting hot enough to set fire, wrong, it certainly does, but as long as there is forced air circulating and the dryer drum is rotating, the hot spots are cooled just enough to prevent this.
Dryers are designed to have a drying cycle of X minutes, then the flame or heater is turned off (sometimes this control uses air moisture sensors instead of a timer). The dryer will continue running and air is still blown in under forced draught and this is the cool down period, all dryers have such a cycle.

One of the biggies for causing fires is that the operators try to get more production out by adjusting the cooldown period shorter, but the load must then be seperated quickly or the heat accumulates and self ignites.

What tends to happen is that workers forget to seperate the load properly because they are more intent on going home or off to mealbreaks, so the load sets on fire.

In industrial laundry, dryers do not rely only upon the ambient temperature sensors alone, there is a final safety cut out.Large industrial dryers will have bi-mettallic strip trip devices, when the heat gets above a certain level, the strip expands differentially and releases a catch, this drop a mercury filled switch from level to vertical on a hinge, and this breaks the flame device circuit.

It is also common to have emergency sprinkler systems in dryers too.

Thermocouples are designed to fail safe, that is, when they go wrong they read high temperature so the trip devices operate. It’s not unknown for the thermocouples to fail so that they read low, and the burner just keeps piling on the heat.

The reason I’m going on about all these safety devices is the reason for most of the fires, good maintenance is expensive, in down time, parts and also in wages for competant maintenance staff, margins are usually pretty tight in commercial laundries fo all sizes.
No safety device is effective if not kept well maintained and not bypassed by managers under pressure, so things get missed out, the clearing of lint is one, ignoring flame cut outs and relying instead on the last chance back up devices for normal running - thus reducing whole tiers of safety to one last resort.

The machine operators are selected usually on the basis of being prepared to accept low pay, so its not hard to see why fires would be common in laundries.

Thank you. I found out about this years ago, and it was a shock to me how easily this can occur.

[minor tangent] I was having my kitchen remodeled several years ago, and was recommended a contractor by someone I know who had had good luck with this person. It turns out that that person was recommended that contractor by another person who had to renovate most of their house due to a dryer fire. I know, FOAF, but I trust the source. So, it happens a lot in homes as well. [/minor tangent]

I’ve been more attuned to this over the years, and have picked up some common sense suggestions. Some ways to avoid a dryer fire in your own home (sorry to sound like Parade Magazine here :slight_smile: ):

-Don’t run the dryer when you aren’t home. This is the most important advice, bar none. If the belt breaks, the dryer will start heating one part of your load more than the rest, and it can easily overheat.

-Clean your lint screen frequently

-Make sure the exhaust hose is clear of blockage and that it meets code. A lot of folks use the expanding plastic hose (looks like a Slinky in a condom). That stuff should only be used for venting unheated air, like fans. The proper hose for a dryer is aluminum sheathing; you can find in most home supply stores.

-Use the timer on your dryer. I was amazed to realize that dryers can be set to run indefinitely. The short trip to reset the timer on larger loads is worth forgetting about it and setting something on fire, which you can do even if you don’t leave the house.

-There is an email circulating around now, and I can’t tell if it’s one of those damn chain letters and totally false, but here it is: Evidently dryer sheets can build up a film on your dryer screen. The email recommends washing the screen every so often to ensure that it is still functional. The test is to run water on it to see if the water passes or is retained on the screen. Can’t see how it can harm…

best to all,


Doesn’t anyone clean the lint trap after every use?

Most people do on residential machines, but those traps only get some of the lint.
I take a knee high and fit that into my discharge tubing at the first joint. Every month or so, I take it out and clean it. You’d be surprised at how much lint is sent out of the dryer vent and would otherwise sit there as potential fuel. Every year or so, I like to pull the front off of the machine and suck out stray lint inside the cabinet, just to be safe.

Apparently that one is true, actually.