Last week we were reminded of the dangers that can come from improper care of flooring materials when a friend of ours described how she and her now husband lost their entire house to a fire right before their wedding. It's hard to imagine that kind of tragedy in the midst of what should have been one of the most celebratory seasons of their lives. The saddest thing about the incident was that it wasn't due to bad wiring, a forgotten stove, an unsupervised candle, or a runaway firecracker. It started with an innocent home improvement project and a few wet rags.
The couple was a victim of what is known as spontaneous combustion. This is a reaction that most often occurs when rags covered in oil-based stains, finishes, and sealers are left crumpled up in a pile after a day of flooring. Rags are great insulators that retain heat, and because oil dries by way of a heat-producing process called oxidation rather than evaporating like water, you are left with the perfect combo to light some unintentional sparks.
To prevent this from happening, you have to take some precautionary measures. You can start by checking the labels of any products you plan on using to see if they're oil-based. Ask a professional if you're not sure, but don't leave the store without knowing.
Once you're sure of what is in your product, come up with your game plan for drying and cleaning any used rags. The best option for all of our DIY floorers out there is to get a piece of metal that can be place outside or in a well-ventilated area. You'll want to be diligent about laying the rags you use out flat to dry over whatever kind of metal contraption you choose. Make sure they're situated where they won't be blown away. Leave them out for a minimum of TWO DAYS. They need to be cured, not just dried. You'll know they're ready to leave their perch when they're stiff.
When you're sure they're safe you can dispose of them in the trash ON TRASH DAY. Don't leave them to sit in your garbage can for too long. It's always better to be safe rather than sorry later on.
Our advice leans a bit more in the direction of common sense from here, but we'll go ahead and say it anyway. Always, ALWAYS keep a fire extinguisher nearby if you can when flooring. If you don't have a fire extinguisher you can keep dirt, sand, or water close instead. Evacuate the area immediately if you're indoors and the fire starts to grow.
Note: while rags are the most common cause of spontaneous combustion, they are not the only cause. Leaving sawdust, another insulator, from your project all over the newly-oiled floor or in your sander for too long can have the same effect. Prevent any issues by cleaning up any sawdust you see on the floor and emptying your sander once the bag is filled halfway. Dispose of the sawdust in a place that is a safe distance away from your home.
As always, if you have any questions about spontaneous combustion, or if you want to go above and beyond to avoid the issue by hiring some of our Floor It flooring professionals to redo your floor, just give us a call. We want what is best, and safest, for you and your home. Always.