What is spontaneous combustion?
Spontaneous combustion is a chemical reaction that occurs in certain materials which causes them to burst into flame spontaneously. Spontaneous combustion can occur when hay, sawdust, coal, compost, oil-based products, and other everyday materials are stored improperly and—in simple terms—the internal heat that is generated isn't allowed to escape.
The scenario DIYers need to be very cognizant of is the one dealing with oily rags. A pile of oil-laden rags not given enough elbow room for the oils to dissipate can be a disaster waiting to happen. One painter tells the story of having left a few dozen rags out on a client's sidewalk to dry. The homeowner came home and did him a "favor" by cleaning up and packing all of the rags in a trash can in the garage. The rags burst into flame, taking the garage with it.
To prevent spontaneous combustion, let rags dry out in the open air after use and store them in a sealed metal container, and check out these other tips for preventing home fires.
Fire safety: Don't cook with a dirty stove
If your stove is covered with grease and other flammable grime, a small kitchen fire can get out of hand quickly. Clean and clear the area around the stove before turning on the heat.
Fire safety: Beware of sawdust
Sawdust is highly combustible and shouldn't be left around the garage or in the shop. There are a lot of components like electrical wiring, a short spark from metal objects colliding and chemicals during woodworking projects that can quickly ignite a sawdust pile. Also, beware of these other hidden home dangers you should never ignore.
Fire safety: Laptops have ignited fires
Laptops have caused fires in homes in the past. In 2013 a laptop running on a bed for 16 to 18 hours with a recalled battery in a Manassas, Virginia condo contributed to a fire that burned the condo down, according to an NBC Washington report. It seems the battery played the bigger role in igniting the blankets and comforter than the laptop. Most laptops include automatic shutdowns to prevent them from overheating.
Fire safety: Don't keep 9-volt batteries in junk drawers
People know a 9-volt battery and some steel wool is a great fire starter. So batteries shouldn't be kept loose in a junk drawer, especially 9-volt batteries. It's possible that the metal in the junk drawer could short out a 9-volt battery and spark a fire. It's best to keep batteries in the packaging or keep the posts covered with tape. Check with local officials on how to best dispose of 9-volt batteries. Just don't keep a 9-volt battery in your pocket with change like one reader did. Read about what happened and 29 other spectacular fails around the house.
Fire safety: Dust bunnies can spark fires
There's a super important reason why dusting is a vital chore at home. Those dust bunnies when near a spark will ignite and spread a fire quickly. Dust bunnies near a space heater and electrical sockets are a huge fire hazard.
Fire safety: Don't have exposed lightbulbs
Those closet lights that don't have an enclosure around them pose a fire and safety risk in the home. According to Buell Inspections, under normal circumstances a 60-watt light bulb will not get hotter than 175 degrees Fahrenheit but under some conditions it could reach close to between 290-500 degrees, high enough to ignite things like table tennis balls, which begin to melt around 130-150 degrees, according to Nittaku, a table tennis equipment manufacturer.
Fire safety: Don't carelessly store chemicals
Garages are the place people tend to store the most dangerous chemicals in their homes—including flammable liquids like gasoline and toxic ones like antifreeze. Make sure chemicals are stored far away from items that could create a spark, especially hot water heaters, lawnmowers, and grills. And don’t forget to place them far out of reach of kids. Less dramatic than a house fire are these other subtle ways your home could be making you sick.
Fire safety: Don't keep your propane tank indoors
That propane tank that powers your summer barbecues can become explosive relatively easily. Even a small leak can ignite with a spark from the grill or the mower. It’s best to store it in a sheltered area away from your house, such as a garden shed.
Fire safety: Flour can be a fire hazard
Yes it's true! Flour can be a fire hazard, especially flour dust in the air. In fact, many powdered foods, such as non-dairy creamer, spices, and dried milk, will ignite readily. This is because they can burn easily from all sides, so they flare up quickly when exposed to a naked flame. So beware when you're using dried, powdery foods like flour. If you should be unlucky enough to suffer a house fire, a smoke alarm could save your life, so always be sure yours is properly maintained.
Fire safety: Beware of beauty products
Many beauty products contain highly flammable chemicals, making them some of the sneaky things you use every day that could be toxic. Our favorite pampering products such as hair mousse, hair spray, and antiperspirants can all pose a danger if they're not used carefully.
They're especially dangerous if they come in aerosol cans—not only will they ignite if exposed to a naked flame, but they can also explode if left on a sunny windowsill. Always store such products safely out of the sun.
Fire safety: Hand sanitizers have started fires
Hand sanitizers are useful when you're out and about, but many of them are alcohol-based products, so they can ignite very easily at relatively low temperatures. While extremely rare, there have been instances when fires have been caused by hand sanitizers and static electricity, so always use a small amount that will dry quickly. And by the way, rubbing alcohol is also highly flammable.
Fire safety: Know how to put out cooking oil fires
It stands to reason that cooking oils are highly flammable, yet a high proportion of house fires are caused when cooking oils ignite, often when pans are left unattended. In 2018, three houses were destroyed in Calgary, Ontario, and two more damaged after a cooking pan caught fire when left alone.
Never throw water on a pan fire—it will only cause greater combustion. Find out how you should actually be putting out a grease fire. And don't try to carry the pan outside either, because it's likely to drip burning oil as you go, causing an even greater fire. Cover the pan with a damp cloth or dish towel and leave at least 30 minutes. And, take a look at these other hidden fire hazards that could be in your home.
Fire safety: Keep nail polish remover away from candles
Nail polish remover contains acetone which is highly flammable—the fumes can even be ignited from some distance away. In 2016, Texas woman Brittany Smith was burned over 30 percent of her body when the fumes from her nail polish remover were ignited by a nearby candle. Never use nail polish remover anywhere near a naked flame. And check out these other safety tips to protect your home against a fire.
Fire safety: Be careful with pool cleaning chemicals
Owning your own pool is a taste of heaven in the heat of summer, but keeping the water clean and hygienic takes work and the use of powerful chemicals. But pool chlorine doesn't even need a flame for it to ignite—it can happen with the addition of just a small amount of water. So always store your pool cleaning products in a safe, dry environment.
Fire safety: Don't throw lithium-ion batteries in the trash
There's a reason you shouldn't put lithium-ion batteries in the trash. It's because they can cause an explosive fire if they're punctured. Lithium is highly reactive and if they're improperly disposed of, they can cause massive problems at waste and recycling facilities. Lithium-ion batteries are found in electronics like phones, laptops and power tools. In 2017, 65 percent of waste facility fires in California started because of lithium-ion batteries, according to USA Today. Next, find out more things all homeowners should know in this video, and learn more home dangers with these things in your home that could suddenly explode.