Spontaneous Combustion Of Oily Rags: A Dangerous Threat To Your Property

Spontaneous cumbustion of oily rags blamed for small fire at Nantucket

What is Spontaneous Combustion?

Spontaneous combustion is a phenomenon where a substance ignites and burns without any external heat source. This occurs due to the buildup of heat generated by chemical reactions within the substance. Oily rags are one of the most common materials that can ignite spontaneously.

Why Do Oily Rags Spontaneously Combust?

Oily rags are prone to spontaneous combustion because oil oxidizes when it comes in contact with air. This oxidation process generates heat, which can accumulate and ignite the rags. The risk of spontaneous combustion increases when the rags are crumpled or piled up, as this can trap heat and prevent it from dissipating.

What are the Risks of Spontaneous Combustion?

Spontaneous combustion can cause fires that can quickly spread and damage property. In addition to the risk of property damage, spontaneous combustion can also lead to serious injuries and fatalities. It is essential to take precautions to prevent spontaneous combustion to protect yourself, your property, and your loved ones.

How to Prevent Spontaneous Combustion

Preventing spontaneous combustion is relatively easy. The following steps can help reduce the risk:

  • Store oily rags in a ventilated area.
  • Dispose of oily rags in a metal container with a tight-fitting lid.
  • Avoid piling up oily rags.
  • Wash oily rags with soap and water before reusing them.
  • Consider using disposable wipes or towels instead of reusable rags.

What to Do if You Encounter Spontaneously Combusting Oily Rags?

If you encounter spontaneously combusting oily rags, it is essential to act quickly to prevent a fire. The following steps can help:

  • Remove the rags from the area and place them outside or in a metal container with a tight-fitting lid.
  • Do not touch the rags with your bare hands, as they may be hot and can cause burns.
  • Call the local fire department to report the incident and request assistance.


Spontaneous combustion of oily rags is a serious threat that can cause fires and put lives and property at risk. By taking simple precautions, such as storing oily rags in a ventilated area and disposing of them properly, you can prevent spontaneous combustion and protect yourself and your loved ones from harm.