The Good Oil

A friend dropped in to see me this week with a horrific story of near disaster. She had been carrying out some maintenance around the home and had given her wooden veranda its annual oiling.

One morning, before the breeze got up, Helen went out and brushed a generous coat of decking oil onto the exposed boards of her stoep and followed up by wiping the surplus off with rags per the instructions on the tin. However, what she omitted to read were the safety instructions pertaining to the safe disposal of oily rags. She discarded the rags near the kitchen door.

Helen then made a sandwich for her lunch and took it to a room at the other end of the house. The breeze was blowing steadily by this stage and she began hearing odd noises from outside. Thinking the long-handled oil applicator had simply blown over, Helen continued with her lunch. Further unusual noises ensued so Helen decided to investigate and as she walked down the corridor towards the kitchen, there were several loud bangs.

Helen walked into the kitchen to see broken glass all over the floor, the fly wires melted and the curtains on fire! Then another glass door shattered.

The rags Helen had discarded in a pile on the stoep were saturated with linseed (or some other polymerising oil) and no doubt, fanned by the rising breeze, dried rapidly; causing an exothermic reaction to the point they ignited.

The burning rags further ignited the stoep, a coir doormat and several pairs of shoes and wellington boots, all of which produced sufficient heat to shatter the safety glass doors.

I’m quite sure everyone reading this is long-aware of the dangers of casting aside rags containing drying oils, however, let this serve as a reminder.

Oily rags should be disposed of safely, preferably by submersion in water, or by careful incineration.

Jack Plane

About Jack Plane

Formerly from the UK, Jack is a retired antiques dealer and self-taught woodworker, now living in Australia.
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4 Responses to The Good Oil

  1. Joe M says:

    Very lucky!, could have been much worse!


  2. Eric R says:

    I had a similar situation in my garage a long time ago after oiling a cabinet.
    It didn’t combust as badly as your friends, but I’m sure had I not walked through the area on my way out a short time later I would have had a large fire.
    From then on I took oil rag disposal much more seriously.
    Thanks Jack.


  3. Gav says:

    I have been aware of the potential hazard for some time and still nearly got caught out after refinishing internal fitted joinery and a floor on the second floor of a rather expensive house I was working on. Having finished I bundled up the rags left flat and put them in a bucket and loaded all my gear into the lift (doesn’t everyone have one in their house?) . They then proceeded to smoulder before I got to the ground floor , about ten minutes from being put into the bucket. Let’s just say the speed with which I departed the lift was rapid and increasing heading to the nearest source of water. Good to have reminders.


  4. kaisaerpren says:

    spreading them out on the lawn works well also.


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