The good folks at the International Journal of Professional Holistic Aromatherapy (IJPHA) shared some interesting information that came out of England regarding essential oils and laundry. While the information is dated 2012, considering the current surge in general essential oil use and, particularly, essential oil use in natural, homemade laundry detergents, boosters, fresheners, and dryer sheets, I think it’s important to share the information they provided here to keep everyone safe…
I have no personal experience with fire in my laundry, but I am also washing everything that comes in contact with essential oils, including all linens from my blending and massage studios, on a special “sanitize” setting at considerably higher temperatures than most people. In the event you are using essential oils or carrier oils, especially directly in your laundry at cooler wash temperatures, this caution is worth noting.
Towel Fires Lead to Safety Warning
Wiltshire Fire & Rescue Service in Great Britain issued a warning about the risk of fire breaking out in towels and linen that have absorbed essential oils.
A number of recent incidents in launderettes, salons and homes have been traced back to the same issue.
Group Manager Julian Parsons, from the Technical Fire Safety department, explained: “We’ve seen fires in tumble dryers, linen baskets and airing cupboards where towels that have had oil on them have caught alight. The problem only seems to arise when the wash cycle has been at a cool heat. It is now common to have washes at lower temperatures – sometimes as low as 15°C (59°F). When the wash has been at 40°C (104°F) or above, the oil residue is more likely to be safely broken down by the wash-ing detergents.”
He added: “At lower temperatures, the oil isn’t removed from the fabric. When the material is then heated in the tumble dryer, the residue can self-combust either in the dryer or when the linen is stacked.”
A beauty therapy room at Swindon College was badly damaged in April after a blaze broke out in a pile of towels, and fire investigators have now identified at least half a dozen other incidents that appear to have been caused in the same way.
Group Manager Parsons said: “Our message is simple – if you use essential oils at home or in your business, make sure you use a wash temperature of at least 40°C (104°F) to clean the affected towels and linen. It is hard to believe that fire can just break out in a pile of fabric, but we have seen a great deal of damage caused by this type of blaze.”
© 2012 Wiltshire Fire & Rescue Service
UPDATE 2016: The concern that emerged here may be as much about carrier oils as it is essential oils. ABMP (Associated Bodywork & Massage Professionals) recently shared an article describing how massage sheets spontaneously ignited in a backpack!
UPDATE (again!) 2017: In the past few months, I have heard directly from no less than four individuals who suffered spontaneous fires in apartments, dryers, hampers, and trash cans containing linens heavily exposed to essential oils and/or carriers. The latest recommendations suggest linens should be washed at high temperature as soon as possible–don’t leave them sitting about!