14 Hidden Fire Hazards in the Home

Oct 2, 2023 5 min read

We’ve all heard about the common causes of household fires: accidents while cooking, matches and lighters in the wrong hands, lint accumulation in the dryer and space heater mishaps, to name a few. However, fires are often unpredictable, and they can ignite in bizarre ways. Find out what hidden fire hazards may be in your home and take action to protect yourself and your possessions today.

Home Fire Hazards to Avoid

It’s easy to think of house fires happening primarily in older homes due to faulty wiring or outdated building materials, but brand-new homes are at risk, too. The open floor plans in many of today’s homes allow more oxygen to fuel a house fire, and synthetic furnishings and building materials burn faster than the materials used decades ago. Here, we’re explaining some lesser-known fire hazard examples that could be in your home, what makes them dangerous and how to prevent them from catching fire.

1. Products Recalled Because of a Fire Hazard

One of the best ways you can promote fire safety in the home is to periodically keep an eye on the Consumer Product Safety Commission website to make sure you don’t have products recalled for a fire hazard. Commonly recalled items include: 

  • Microwaves
  • Indoor generators
  • Ovens
  • Clothing washers and dryers 
  • Lamps
  • Computer batteries

2. Loose Outlets

When you plug something into an outlet in your home, do you notice the cords falling out easily? This may seem like an annoyance, but it could be part of a larger problem — according to This Old House, the blades inside electrical outlets loosen over time. Loose blades can generate intense heat and lead to fires. If you notice that your plugs don’t fit snugly, replace them to help avoid this potential fire hazard.  

3. Excess Sawdust

Sawdust doesn’t look very dangerous, but any DIY-er knows that it collects quickly when working on a project. Sawdust accumulates fast and is a highly combustible material when left on surfaces. Regularly clean work surfaces with a vacuum designed to collect combustible dust or install a good dust collection system in work areas. Avoid using compressed air in a can to blow sawdust off surfaces: It can propel the dust into the air, where it can more easily ignite.

4. Pantry Staples

Powdered goods like flour and sugar consist of fine particles that can easily burn if added to a hot pan without anything else in it. If flour spills into direct flame, it can ignite. Due to flour being a carbohydrate, flour is even more explosive when it is mixed with the air.   When exposed to a spark or flame, the mix of flour and oxygen can cause explosions. In fact, flour dust caused a Minnesota mill to explode in 1878, and similar explosions are reported every year. Non-dairy milk and creamer in powder form have the same ignition properties as flour. Sugar can also become flammable when dispersed, so keep this away from open flames to avoid a disaster at the breakfast table. 

5. Nail Polish Remover

Acetone, commonly known as nail polish remover, is also highly flammable. Combustible liquids like this don't catch fire themselves. Rather, the vapors they give off are flammable. Nail polish remover should not be used near open flames, outlets or any other place where sparks can occur. 

6. Dangerous Combination of Bathroom Chemicals

Bathroom chemicals can easily become a fire risk and should be kept to a minimum in your household. The combination of ammonia, household bleach and acid-based cleaners can cause toxic vapor clouds that can combust, causing internal burning of the lung lining and more. 

7. 9-Volt Batteries

Be sure to store and dispose of 9-volt batteries safely. Even if you place the batteries in a separate bag to be recycled, you may still create a fire risk. When 9-volt batteries touch metal in the garbage can or while rolling around in your junk drawer, they can spark, igniting fires. 

8. Vintage Appliances

Vintage style is popular, and there are many classic treasures to be found at garage sales or hidden away in your parents’ attic. It’s important to remember that old-fashioned appliances were made following outdated safety standards, and time has likely taken its toll on the wiring. Closely inspect all plug-ins and wires on old products, and don’t risk keeping them in your home if things don’t look right.

9. Materials Placed Near a Fireplace

This one may seem like common sense, but it’s easy to think that if items are not in contact with an open flame, they are safe. However, just constantly being near the heat can cause materials to break down and become combustible, a process known as pyrolysis. This type of fire doesn’t need flames or sparks to ignite.

10. Bird Nests on Outdoor Lights

Some people don’t consider the things outside their homes, like house lights, to cause fires. Surprisingly, there have been cases of houses catching fire caused by bird nests sitting on top of outdoor lights. The next time you’re doing yard work, take the time to take a quick peek at any outdoor light bulbs to ensure there’s nothing nearby that could catch fire, such as branches, leaves and, yes, even bird nests.

11. Glass or Crystal Decor

Although unusual, it is possible for glass or crystal items in your home to be the hidden cause of a fire. Depending on how sunny it gets outside, glass ornaments that are in direct sunlight can potentially reflect highly concentrated beams of light into the home, starting fires. 

12. Clothes Dryers

One of the most common causes of house fires is appliances, but you may not realize that your clothes dryer could be the culprit. According to the National Fire Protection Association, more than 13,000 house fires involved a dryer from 2014 to 2018. One-third of the fires were caused by lack of cleaning, largely from a build-up of dust, fiber or lint that ignited. (So, clean that lint trap!)

13. Linseed Oil

If you’ve recently completed a few home improvement projects, you may have linseed oil laying around the house. This product is often used to polish wood furnishings, and when left on a rag, it can spontaneously combust. Instead of tossing used rags in the corner with your other project supplies, take the time to dispose of them properly right away.

14. Smoke Detectors

When functioning properly, smoke detectors are a vital part of home fire safety, but they can also provide a false sense of security if they aren’t regularly maintained. Far too often, people remove the batteries to stop false alarms, forget to replace the batteries when they die, or fail to have detectors in every room, leaving themselves and their home at risk. Be sure to regularly check that your smoke detector is still working as it should. 

Quick Home Fire Safety Tips

Once you’ve addressed the fire risks and hazards in your home, use this checklist to take your home fire safety one step further to protect your family and possessions. 

  •  Store important documents such as birth certificates, passports and social security cards in a fireproof safe.
  • Have a fire escape plan and practice it! Practice escaping from your home at least twice a year and at different times of the day. 
  • Test smoke alarms twice a month and replace the batteries every six months.  
  • Do not sleep with portable heaters on.
  • Keep pets off cooking surfaces and countertops to prevent them from knocking things onto the burner.

Protect Your Home

There are many things you can do to help prevent house fires, but you never know when the unexpected may happen. That’s where a Farm Bureau agent steps in. Connect with a Farm Bureau agent to help ensure your home is protected.

Want to learn more?

Contact a local FBFS agent or advisor for answers personalized to you.