Hotel Oily Rag Fires

Preventing oily rag fires at your hotel or restaurant

When most businesses think about fire safety, they often think of having proper fire evacuation plans, the right amount of fire extinguishers or proper sprinkler systems. However, for a hotel or restaurant oily rags can pose a great fire risk. While it might sound like a myth, oily rags have been the cause of several large scale fires, including the famous fire in the One Meridian Plaza which resulted in the deaths of 3 fire fighters and the loss of the entire 38-story high rise. There also have been many incidents in hotels and restaurants where rags or towels that were used to clean up oily spills, such as oil from deep fryers, have caused fires once placed into the dryer, resulting in large losses.


Why Oily Rags Pose a Risk

Oily rags pose a risk of creating fire due to the potential for spontaneous combustion. Spontaneous combustion occurs when a combustible material is heated to its ignition temperature by a chemical reaction involving oxygen even without the presence of a heat source. It can be a source of fires wherever oily rags are used; not only in restaurants or hotels but also in homes, garages and workshops.

A number of materials are prone to spontaneous combustion when combined with the right chemical(s). Within the kitchen, rags used to clean areas or equipment that use vegetable oils are high risk for spontaneous combustion. The risk of combustion increases when the surrounding air is warm and dry, which can be caused by kitchen heat sources, such as ovens, fryers or heat lamps.

Due to the fire risk posed by oily rags, restaurant staff should ensure that used rags are never disposed of in ordinary trash cans or left piled in the workplace. All oily rags should be disposed of in metal safety cans specifically manufactured to hold oily waste.


Safe Cleaning Procedures

  1. Soak up oil spills with rags or old towels.
  2. If keeping rags, wash them in warm soapy water or use a degreaser.
  3. Hang oily rags to dry.
  4. Keep used rags well away from heat sources, such as furnaces and water heaters.
  5. Do not put oily rags or towels in a dryer (even if washed).
  6. If discarding oily rags – ensure they are placed in a metal safety can with appropriate self-closing lid.
  7. Always allow linens to dry and cool before stacking.
  8. Never leave hot/damp clothes or linens in a pile, always spread them out.


For more information on how to manage fire risks at your business, please contact one of our risk management professionals. While risk management strategies can reduce your chances for loss, in the event of a loss it is important to ensure your business has the right level of insurance coverage. Visit our HIP Commercial Insurance page to learn how we can help protect your business.