Minor oil spills are a common occurrence in the workplace. If you work around forklifts or heavy machinery, chances are you’ll experience an oil spill at some point. Small drops of oil can be easily cleaned with a basic rag. A worker can wipe it up with an old towel and get back to doing his or her profession. But what happens to the rag once it’s saturated with oil. The volatile organize compounds (VOC) it contains is a serious hazard that may trigger a fire. To learn more about the dangers of oil-soaked rags and how to properly dispose of them, keep reading.
Warning: Oil-Soaked Rags May Spontaneously Combust
Unfortunately, you can’t toss oil-soaked rags into a normal trash receptacle. While laws regarding the disposal of oil-soaked rags vary from state to state, throwing them away in the trash may lead to spontaneous combustion. In case you’ve never heard of this before, let me explain: spontaneous combustion is the combustion (flame) of an object or item without an external heat source.
I know what you’re thinking – how in the world can a rag instantly combust without exposure to a flame or heat source? The oil covering the rag oxides over time, which in turn produces heat. When the oil-soaked rag is crumbled into a ball and tossed into the trash, this type of environment insulates it to encourage even more heat to produce. As this heat builds up, it may eventually reach temperatures high enough to ignite the oil and start a fire. Some people may brush this possibility off, but spontaneous combustion happens more frequently than you may think.
Should I Hang My Oil-Soaked Rags Out To Dry?
Some people hang their oil-soaked rags out to dry before disposing of them. Allowing them to dry in the air helps to remove some of the VOC-rich oil lingering in the fabric. Before you go drying your oil-soaked rags, though, you should first check with your state’s laws. Each state has their own set of laws governing the disposal of oil and oil-soaked fabric. Massachusetts, for instance, suggests drying oil-soaked rags outside (weighted down) before contacting a professional disposal company.
Alternatively, you can hire a professional laundry company to pick and clean the oil-soaked rags professionally. If you decide to take this route, make sure the company is informed of the rag’s oil content; otherwise, it could end up damaging other linens and fabrics.