If youre painting with oils and have oil- and solvent-soaked rags lying around your studio, its important to remember to store the rags properly. Rags collected in a pile, or stored in a box under your sink, can catch fire in a surprisingly short time. Linseed oil dries by oxidation (the absorption of oxygen from the air) and this oxidation process can produce heat. Thus a pile of rags in a confined space can spontaneously combust. Mineral spirits and other solvents like gum turpentine are well-known fire hazards in general. To avoid this problem, allow your rags to dry out before you store them: Hang them on a clothesline, or spread them out somewhere, and check to be sure theyre dry before you pile them up.
Another option is to put your oil-soaked rags in a self-extinguishing disposal can. These containers prevent the feeding of a fire with external oxygen, and smother a potential blaze. These are available through safety supply companies (check your yellow pages), or through the maker of the original: Lab Safety Supply in Janesville, Wisconsin (www.labsafety.com).
Mark Gottsegen is an associate professor of art at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.