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I’ve posted the following before about one of my client’s caretakers bringing in his own painters to perform maintenance on exterior mahogany I had originally finished, cutting me out of the loop.

His painters used the garage as a shop to coat $350K’s worth of mahogany screens and privacy shutters with a penetrating linseed oil based clear.

The painters had left their linseed oil soaked wiping towels all bunched up in the garage late one afternoon. By 2:00 AM the towels spontaneously combusted and the garage was engulfed in flames.

The day before the incident, I was discussing with the architect my concerns about the potential for spontaneous combustion with regard to the caretaker’s painters working with linseed oil soaked rags, my exact words being, “It’s not a matter of if they go on fire, but when….”

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Link is to a photo of firefighters in action on another client’s mansion which burnt to the ground due to the next painters working with xylene. I think they were de-waxing wood paneling when it happened. I unfortunately was too busy to do the project, and they ended up hiring someone else. The home was a total loss.

NY Fire News – East Hampton Fire Department Battles Fire at Historic Home
 

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The article in the OP’s post mentioned something to the effect that rags and brushes came into contact with an organic floor stainer. Below are wiping towels on a client’s driveway which also came into contact with an organic vegetable oil based floor stain. They were being carried to a fireproof storage container after being used only minutes before they combusted..
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Great reminders!!!

I try to be careful, and always throw oily rags into a bucket of water as soon as I'm done using them, but you can't be too careful. It only takes one time.
I’ve had Watco Oil soaked rags combust even when soaking but not completely submersed in pails of water.

I’ve also had Padco floor finish applicator pads combust on 2 different occasions when applying linseed oil on IPE decks. The heat before combusting in both instances melted the applicator pads’ backing adhesive, and the pads detached from the handle before combusting. I then grabbed them, tossing them off the decks. One literally combusted in mid flight before hitting the lawn..
 

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I was staining some base boards with a mix of watco and ppg stain, that we needed to mix together to get the color we needed, in the sun when the bucket started smoking. Moved to the shade and it was fine. Was on another project where the home owner was staining some stuff and tossed the rags and started a dumpster fire.
 

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These are all really good reasons why I switched to waterborne wood finishing products for the most part 7 or so years ago, although I’ve had one water based product which resulted in spontaneous combustion and/or melting 5 gallon pails when in contact with cotton wiping towels..that product being concentrated hydrogen peroxide wood bleach.
 

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funny thing about Watco rags. If you stuff a bunch into a bucket and you put that bucket into the back of your truck, and drive home at night at 60mph. You can see the rags ignite as they fly out. Scared the crap out of me.
Somehow I actually believe it..I think I may have shared a similar story in a prior thread of a fire in the back of my open pickup truck when en route to a job site. I had oiled some sample boards at my house early one morning, balled up a couple of slightly damp oil rags in a tarp when done, and tossed it in the back of my truck, noticing the fire in the truck bed when looking in my rear view mirror.

On the topic of Watco and spontaneous combustion…Below is a link to an article about a fire at one of my supplier’s hardware stores which allegedly was caused by Watco Danish Oil spontaneously combusting when used on a string flooring mop.

Emporium Fire Remembered 25 Years Later - The Sag Harbor Express

The store owner shared with me a sad story of an earlier incident in 1990, allegedly involving Watco Oil soaked rags spontaneously combusting. The resulting fire claimed the lives of a father and 3 of his young children.

Lawsuit by the surviving spouse:

Dangerous stuff, that linseed oil is..
 

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Man! I had no idea this was so common. I usually just hang them to dry and haven't had issues. Thinking now that they go straight into a bucket of water.:oops:
Me and my crew were oiling ~ 100 pieces of teak furniture on a scorching 100 degree day with Watco Teak Oil. We had 5 gallon pails half filled with water for the spent oil soaked rags, but the rags which weren’t completely submersed (they initially were yet floated to the surface) kept igniting..so that isn’t even a fail-safe method. I’ve resorted to storing oil rags in air tight steel drums with water and detergent added which breaks down the oils.
 

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Me and my crew were oiling ~ 100 pieces of teak furniture on a scorching 100 degree day with Watco Teak Oil. We had 5 gallon pails half filled with water for the spent oil soaked rags, but the rags which weren’t completely submersed (they initially were yet floated to the surface) kept igniting..so that isn’t even a fail-safe method. I’ve resorted to storing oil rags in air tight steel drums with water and detergent added which breaks down the oils.
Thats what we do, drum filled with water and a box of sodium hydroxide

The store in great falls, mt burned down a few years ago after cleaning up some oil paint with xylene and all rags going into the bin.
 

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Thats what we do, drum filled with water and a box of sodium hydroxide

The store in great falls, mt burned down a few years ago after cleaning up some oil paint with xylene and all rags going into the bin.
I remember you posting that about the store burning down.

I use lined DOT transportation drums and pay a hazardous waste remediation company to haul and dispose of.

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Is this true for water stains also? I'm assuming this is mostly true for oil or chemical based stains and leaving them "bunched up" after use. Like I mentioned before, we usually just hang our rags on a ladder or something until dry and have never had issues. Although I'm not condoning this, It's just what I've always done.
 

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Diluting oily rags in a bucket of water should effectively eliminate possibility of spontaneous combustion, making sure that all of parts the rags are fully submerged.

After they've soaked in water overnight, they should be spread out open to dry. When they are dry and crispy I believe they are safe to throw away.

Agree, it is another very good reason to make the switch to water-based. Stain and varnish, and deck stain, is the only thing I still use that is oil based.
 

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"Spontaneous combustion of oily rags occurs when rag or cloth is slowly heated to its ignition point through oxidation. A substance will begin to release heat as it oxidizes. If this heat has no way to escape, like in a pile, the temperature will raise to a level high enough to ignite the oil and ignite the rag or cloth."
 

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My SOP is find a safe spot (prefereably in dirt) to lay them flat to dry. Not that its impossible, but they shouldnt ignite unless they are crumpled in a way that has airflow, and contains the heat buildup. Then put them in a water bucket.
 
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