Linseed Oil is Hot Stuff

Linseed oil

Image via Wikipedia

 

Ever wonder about horror movie special effects where an object suddenly bursts into flames without any likely cause? Look around the movie set and there is no electrical short, match, flame or spark to set the object ablaze.  You may have witnessed a phenomenon called  spontaneous combustion.   

One of our insurance agency customers learned about this phenomenon firsthand  after cleaning her antique pumpkin pine floors with linseed oil. She placed the rags in her washing machine. The insured walked away for only a few minutes before turning on the machine when suddenly the rags combusted and began melting the inside drum of the washer. The fire department responded within minutes and the homeowner only incurred very minor smoke damage to her million dollar home.  

There was a very happy ending to this story but it brings an awareness to the dangers of linseed oil and other oils used to finish wood. Heat  is generated during the drying process for these oils. This is because the oils do not dry like paint through the evaporation of a solvent or water. Linseed and other oils dry through the same process that generates fire- oxidation. There must be enough heat in order for spontaneous combustion to occur. That’s why you won’t see a recently finished table spontaneously combust from linseed oil treatment because the chair is open to the air.  

  

Linseed oil soaked rags pose the biggest risk for spontaneous combustion. The rags act as an insulator as the oil oxidizes. This allows the oxidizing oil to become hot enough to cause the rags to smoke and eventually ignite.  Also,  the bigger the pile of rags then the greater the risk of sudden combustion. Room temperature is also a factor.  Rags reach ignition temperature quicker in warmer rooms.  

Have no fear home improvement enthusiasts- there is a way to safely dispose of rags soaked with linseed or other oils to finish wood. These cloths should either be burned immediately following use or stored in a metal container filled with water and a metal lid to be disposed as hazardous waste.  

For more topical, relevant insurance information, risk management resources, or to get a quote from us, visit our website.  

   

Kasey McCarthy, CPCU  

A. G. Gordon, Inc.  

Advertisements