Spontaneous cumbustion of oily rags blamed for small fire at Nantucket restaurant

– From Nantucket Fire: This morning at 520 AM, Group 3 was dispatched for a fire alarm at a restaurant downtown. On arrival, they found a smoke condition and gained entry to the building through a window. The crews quickly found the source of the smoke and removed the items on fire from the building to a safe area to extinguish.

What they found were rags used by the restaurant in a container that had caught fire spontaneously. This occurs when heat is generated (by a chemical reaction) in the oily rags until they spontaneously combust.

Please always wash or dispose of oil-soaked rags appropriately


1. Use only commercial-grade appliances and detergents designed to clean greasy rags. Standard washers, dryers, and detergents are not strong enough to remove the chemicals.

2. Pre-soak towels to remove as much oil as possible before washing.

3. Remove materials from the dryer as soon as the cycle is done. Refrain from leaving them in the dryer for long periods of time.

4. Store clean and dirty linens separately in metal cabinets or containers with closing lids.

5. Consider contacting an outside vendor who specializes in laundering greasy fabrics.

Safe DISPOSAL of oily rags

Oily rags are a source of fire because people don’t know that they can spontaneously combust. Dispose of rags safely in two steps:

1. Hang them outside to dry in a safe area or spread them out flat, making sure they are weighted down. They should not be in a pile.

2. Once they are dry: •For those who use oily rags daily or weekly: place dry rags in a listed oily waste container to be emptied by a private contractor.

•For less frequent users: store dry rags in a small, airtight, non-combustible (such as metal) container with a tight-fitting lid. An old paint can is a good example. Cover the rags completely with a solution of water and an oil breakdown detergent. Do not add any other combustible material. Dispose of the container during a hazardous waste collection event.

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