The Dangers of Linseed Oil

6:45 PM, Mar 20, 2013   |    comments
  • Share
  • Print
  • - A A A +

Dangers of Linseed Oil

By Shirley Rooker, Director, WUSA 9 Call For Action

Are you eyeing several home improvement projects and some of them may involve linseed oil.  Well, if that is your plan we have a warning for you!

A first- hand experience with linseed oil made me realize how dangerous it can be if not used properly.

It all started very innocently.  The fireplace in my house has a black slate hearth and the linseed oil works beautifully to keep it looking like new.  Well, I decided it needed some attention and wiped it down with a linseed soaked paper towel.  Then I proceeded to put the paper towel in a plastic garbage can in the garage along with some other trash.

That evening when I returned home from a meeting, I noticed a burning odor in the garage but it was slight and I went into the house for dinner.  A few hours later before I went to bed I decided to check out the garage just to make sure everything was okay.  Well, to my surprise, there was still a burning odor and the garbage can was beginning to melt. I quickly dragged it outside onto the driveway.  Fortunately, I had a fire extinguisher and used it to spray the can.  What luck that I checked out the garage before going to bed!

What caused the problem?

Placing a linseed oil soaked towel in an enclosed container may cause spontaneous combustion.  The process can start without any outside interference.  Through the process of oxidation the linseed oil generates heat and when I put in the plastic garbage can it began to get really hot.  For the process to occur, the rags need both a confined space and some oxygen. 


A few years ago my husband and I visited the remains of Jack London's house in California.  The house was destroyed by a fire around 1917.  Arson was suspected but never proved.  However, recently forensic experts determined that linseed oil soaked rags left by some people working on the property caused spontaneous combustion to destroy the house.

How do you properly dispose of rags containing combustible materials?

Well, you certainly do not want to put them in a garbage can!  Experts recommend soaking them with water and placing them loosely inside a separate, sealed metal container.  Or they can be dried in an open, ventilated area.  The problem occurs when the oil in the rags begins to oxide and produce heat but there is not enough ventilation to dissipate the heat.  Exactly what occurred at my house!  

Most Watched Videos