The recent incident of a laundry shop explosion in Manila with at least 16 injuries has put the spotlight on the handling of volatile materials in laundry shops, such as fuel sources.
According to initial reports, the explosion was caused by LPG leak. Laundry shops use LPG as a source of fuel for gas-heated drying, and this is for practical reasons. While commercial laundry businesses can use other sources of energy for drying, electric-powered tends to be expensive (especially in the Philippines) and steam’s capital outlay requirement only makes it an ideal option for major commercial operations. Therefore, for others, LPG has been the popular choice.
Leaking is an ever-present danger in laundry operations. Leaks can occur from the gas pipe, adapter, and the connection of the gas with the dryer.
When gas leaks in a room, it can cause fire (or explosion) with a single spark of a switch. This is why business owners and staff should exercise caution before a shop is opened, especially when the shop is air-conditioned. Before you switch on anything in your shop, you must assume that a gas leak is potentially present. While it is possible to physically smell leaks, this can also be difficult when the staff gets used to the smell from daily exposure. Ensure you open air sources such as windows or doors for around 20 minutes to dilute any gas in the air – if any.
A simple way to test leaks is to apply a soap solution on the pipe. If there is a leak, this would cause the soap to bubble.
Ideally, one must have an LPG leak detector or LPG tanks must be located out of the laundry and in a well-ventilated area.
Laundry businesses should strictly follow local fire regulations and relevant laws.
Regular checkup of the dryer is also needed to check leaks and the status of the machine. A good practice is to attach a preventive maintenance schedule on the machine for everyone’s awareness.
Preventive maintenance can also help remove lint, which are flammable. Lints are produced during the drying process. Lint is usually found on ducting (conduit of exhaust air) and lint filter where they are deposited and start to accumulate. Polyester cotton, as the polyester part degrades, produces lint in the form of microplastics, which are harmful to the environment and can be flammable.
This makes smoke detectors in laundry shops necessary.
Aside from lint, regular dry-cleaning solvents are also flammable although much preferred because they are cheaper than the premium dry-cleaning solvent (chlorinated hydrocarbon). Regular solvents must never be used on dry cleaning machines for the premium solvent, otherwise it can cause fire.
When manual dry cleaning is done (as is the case when no dry cleaning machine is available in shops), it is never advisable to dry the items in a drier. Air drying is done. Further, there must be no open flame or smoking, and proper distance should be observed from LPG-powered drier. Good ventilation is always a must.