Spontaneously combusting washing sparks fire at Brighton laundrette

Posted On 25 Sep 2018 at 12:58 pm

Another Brighton laundrette has been hit by spontaneously combusting washing after a fire broke out in one of its tumble driers yesterday afternoon.

A customer had left kitchen aprons to dry at The Laundry and Ironing Shop in Upper Gloucester Road when they began to smoulder and fill the laundrette with heavy smoke.

Fortunately, the upstairs neighbour heard the alarms going and rang 999, and Brighton firefighters sped to the scene to put out the fire with a hose reel jet.

Karen Burgess, who works at the laundrette, said this was the second time there had been a blaze caused by spontaneously combusting laundry, and in both cases it had been greasy fabric from commercial kitchens.

She said: “It was just a customer who came in a did it on their own. We do have signs saying don’t leave it unattended. We did have quite a fire here a few years ago.

“It was chef’s whites which have been used in restaurants and they’re very greasy. This time it was aprons, either from a restaurant or another kitchen.

“One of our driers is damaged and we are just waiting for someone to come and fix it.

“There’s a man who lives upstairs who’s got CCTV in here. When the alarms went off he saw where it was coming from and rang the fire brigade.

“I don’t think people understand that this combustion is a big thing.”

The phenomenon has hit a string of Brighton restaurants, pubs and laundrettes, and is sometimes also referred to as exploding tea towels.

They were blamed for a blaze at Terre a Terre in 2012 which closed the restaurant for several weeks.

Brighton College, The Southove pub and Billie’s Cafe have also fallen victim and in June 2015, the phenomenon was caught on CCTV at the Soapbox Laundrette in Montreal Road, a stone’s throw from the Southover, when tea towels from another Hanover pub caught fire in a tumble drier there.

When hot and moist laundry is stacked, the oil residue can start to self-heat, resulting from an exothermic reaction within the material, due to continued oxidation.

When fabrics reach auto-ignition temperature, materials can ignite without the application of an external heat source, commonly described as ‘spontaneous combustion’.

  1. Christopher Hawtree Reply

    The spelling should be “launderette”. I suspect that Hanif Kurershi’s spelling of it for his film My Beautiful Laundrette has led to more of this. Apparently, according to Philip French, he thought that this was the spelling. Another good evocation of them is in Guy Bellamy’s novel The Secret Lemonade Drinker (he thought that he had written a tragedy and was startled to find it acclaimed as a comedy).

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