Using linseed oil during household projects could open you up to danger from spontaneous combustion

Posted at 11:33 PM, Aug 15, 2016
and last updated 2016-08-15 23:33:26-04

Household projects - we do them every day, but you never expect them to turn into a life and death situation.

It happened just a few months ago as fire ripped through two houses in Novi.

Although the official cause is not out yet, investigators say spontaneous combustion may be to blame.  Fortunately no one was injured in that fire.

Someone who lived in that home told investigators they were recently doing home improvements and, like many, just tossed the rags aside.

That led to spontaneous combustion. Mike and Sherri Prentiss know first hand it is.

Prentiss used linseed oil on her wood furniture. Then like many, picked up the mess and placed the oil-soaked rags in a corner of the couple’s garage.

"That was around 5 p.m. and by 9 p.m. that night our garage was on fire," she says. "I opened up the door and got hit in the face with a wall of smoke.”

The fire tore through their garage and the two cars inside. Fortunately no one was injured.

Linseed oil is pretty safe in its liquid form, but it doesn’t take much to turn it into a giant inferno.

“Outside temperatures do not factor into it,” says Dearborn Heights Fire Marshall Doug Bailey. “It’s all the chemical reaction inside the rag and inside the can it’s in.”

We decided to see for ourselves. With the help from Dearborn Heights fire department,  we set up the scene with linseed oil, rags , drop cloth and rubber gloves.  We finished our staining project, cleaned up the mess and threw it all into a box and waited.

Within just a few hours, we started seeing smoke.  The infrared thermometer showed the temperature inside the box above 300 degree Fahrenheit and just a short time later, fire erupted.

"It doesn't happen every time," says Mike Prentiss. "If we had done the same thing 10 times, probably nine times nothing would have happened, but if you get unlucky the one time, it can have some pretty serious consequences."

“It all depends on the chemicals you use,” sys Bailey. “Linseed oil is really highly combustible.  Other stains and oils are not as combustible, but there’s always a chance.“

And where you put those rags after is the key.

You can put the rags in a water-filled bucket for 24 hours.  Even then don’t set them back in a box and it’s best to not even put them in your garage or home.