Spontaneous Combustion: fire risk in massage and health practice


Spontaneous combustion… Whoever would have thought?!

Spontaneous Combustion

It’s a very real risk, albeit a rare one, in the healthcare landscape with freshly laundered linen. There are all kinds of stories of practices burning to the ground because of towels catching fire or self-combusting. This article attempts to identify the risk and provide some simple steps all practitioners should take to mitigate the risk, especially for businesses that launder their own linen.

What is the risk?

The risk occurs typically when hot laundered towels or other linen are taken directly from a tumble dryer and stored without sufficiently cooling down. The heat from the towels is insulated and gradually builds until the towels eventually catch fire.

It occurs due to oxidation of the hot materials which is an exothermic reaction, exacerbated by the presence of oil. Where hot towelling from a laundry dyer is left in a pile, the additional heat that is released by the reaction is insulated, and so the temperature within the pile increases, which may lead to a runaway condition and ultimately fire.

Factors that can increase the risk

How can practitioners mitigate the risk?

How does this relate to good practice hygiene?

The risk is almost totally mitigated if practitioners are following good hygiene practices with their linen. This will mean ensuring each towel is sufficiently cleaned after each use and again inspecting each towel before it is packed away. A new set of towels should be used for each client. Practices such as ‘flipping’ or reusing linen for the next client are not accepted practices. Practitioners should also be aware of cross-contamination and should clearly store and transport clean towels in a designated area or receptacle separate to that of the used linen.


Spontaneous combustion is a rare hazard in the complementary health industry. Businesses that do not follow good hygiene practices and who do not regularly check the cleanliness of their linen will have a higher risk of spontaneous combustion occurring in the workplace, especially if freshly laundered linen is neglected after the drying cycle.

Following accepted practices when it comes to cleaning, maintenance and storage of linen will not only help reduce the risk of cross-contamination but also mitigate the risk of fire caused by spontaneous combustion.


**Please click the link to download a flyer on Spontaneous Combustion from Guild Insurance.