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Engineering Controls Database

Control of Fire Hazard in Commercial Dry Cleaning Shops Using Petroleum-based Solvents

Dry cleaning shops contain all elements necessary for uncontrolled fires: fuels, ignition sources, and oxygen. Potential combustible materials include furniture, garments, lint, and portions of the building. The greatest risk of fire and explosion exists if the dry cleaning shop uses a petroleum-based solvent in dry cleaning machines.
Approximately 10% of dry cleaning shops in the United States use the highly flammable petroleum-based solvents. Ignition can be triggered by a burning or smoldering cigarette, heated equipment such as a press, a frictional spark inside the solvent reclaimer cage, or even static electricity within the reclaimer.
New solvents/machines
New petroleum-based solvents with higher flashpoints (above 55oC/131oF) have recently been developed. These solvents are less likely to ignite or explode than solvents with lower flashpoints.

New, much safer petroleum-based drycleaning machines are also available. Several machine technical advances have been developed to reduce greatly the risk of fire and explosion. These advances include using a vacuum technology, an inert gas such as nitrogen, or controlling the operation parameters of the machine to prevent fire or explosion.

Building features
A “No Smoking” policy that eliminates smoking within the building should be enforced. “No Smoking” signs should be posted.

Shops should be provided with at least two remote means of excape in the event of a fire. Also the drycleaning rooms should be provided with two remote means of excape. Fire exists and exit routes should be kept free and clear of clutter.

The drycleaning room should be separate from the rest of the building by a partition with a 2-hour fire resistance rating.

The floors and ceiling of the drycleaning room should be constructed of fire-resistant material.

The drycleaning rooms containing petroleum-based solvents should be equipped with an emergency drainage system that directs solvent leaks and fire protection water to a safe location.

Fire Safety systems
Install an approved wet-pipe sprinkler system in the drycleaning room of any shop uxing petroleum-based drycleaning solvents. Automatic sprinkler systems are effective in preventing loss of life and controlling the spread of fire.

Provide at least two approved 10-BC portable fire extinguishers inside a drycleaning room where petroleum-based solvents are used. Provide suitable portable fire extinguishers throughout the shop according to appropriate codes.

Perform routine maintenance to prevent accumulation of fluff, lint, or waste that could ignite or cause a fire to spread rapidly.

Handling combustible liquids
Drycleaning rooms and tank storage rooms should be installed on the lowest floor above grade.

All containers with flammable or combustible petroleum-based solvents should be closed to prevent evaporation. Petroleum-based solvents should not be transported in open containers, but should be pumped through rigid iron or steel pipes to prevent ignition.

Special attention should be given to generation and accumulation of static electricity. If garments are transferred from a washer using petroleum-based solvents to a dryer, bond together electrically and ground equipment.
201-11A; 201-12A; 201-13A; 201-13B; 201-14A; 201-15A; 201-16A; 201-17A; 201-18A; 201-19A; 240-11; 240-12; 240-13; 240-14; 240-15; 256-16B; 256-17B; 256-18B; 256-19B;
NIOSH [1997]. NIOSH Report: Control of health and safety hazards in commercial drycleaners: chemical exposures, fire hazards, and ergonomic risk factors. Cincinnati, OH: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. DHHS (NIOSH) Publication No. 97-150.
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