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A Comprehensive Guide on Flame Retardant Fabric

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Fire safety molds itself to many different forms. Fabric is no different. Flame retardant fabric has been used for decades and in different ways. Wide use within various commercial communities opened the door for more secure methodologies regarding the fabric. Namely, a standardization system agreed upon by multiple organizations.

Here we explore the history of flame retardant fabrics, their main uses, and how this fabric can work to your advantage. Learn more on how flame retardant fabric improves the resiliency of a project overall.

Flame Retardant Fabric History

Flame resistance is not a new concept. It dates back to ancient Chinese and Egyptian times, respectively. Simple methods created used  various materials such as vinegar or salty sea water to treat fabrics. Fire safety precautions prevented costly fabrics from being lost to fires or damage due to extensive use over time.

In the 1950’s however, manufacturers of fire retardant fabrics developed a new method for industrial purposes. With the help of flame retardant chemicals like tetra phosphonium chloride (THPC), fabric manufacturers could apply this chemical compound onto a slew of fabrics, making them flame retardant for a length of time. This would change industrial safety in many ways.

The National Fire Prevention Association (NFPA) would later create guidelines on the flame-resistant properties of garments and other coverings in industrial businesses. These safety qualifications lead to the Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace, or more commonly known as the NFPA 70E. Under the NFPA 70E came the NFPA 701, which outlines the standard of fire testing against textiles and films.

Eventually, OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) adopted the guide. It became the point of reference for all businesses centered around a manufacturing or industrial environment.

Flame Retardant Fabric Manufacture

While durable fire-retardant fabrics aren’t a new concept, there are many ways to make fabric flame resistant. Fire resistance testing uses the guidelines provided in the NFPA 701. Manufacturers treat flame retardant chemicals with compounds like THPC.  

These make a textile flame retardant during an immersion (fully dipping the fabric in a chemical solution) process prior to the finalization of a textile. While most immersion processes keep fabric flame resistant for an extended length of time, those properties can fade or break down depending on many factors such as environmental conditions or the amount of upkeep given to said fabric.

Create your own flame retardant fabrics at home! Using over the counter chemicals such as borax can also have a similar effect as other chemical compounds used during the immersion process.

Flame retardant fabrics can be anything from treated wool or cotton to woven inherent fibers that are up to the NFPA 701 code. For example, at Canvas Etc., we carry IFR Banjo Cloth made from inherently fire retardant polyester fabric. While polyester is synthetic, this fabric is up to NFPA 701 standards and is flame resistant. The woven fibers in the fabric make this fabric flame retardant.

Whether fibers or already made fabric, the differences between what makes something fire retardant from fiber versus what makes it flame resistant through an immersion treatment is key. Each classification affects the use of the fabric.

Flame Resistant Fabric Classifications

Classification is necessary when knowing how to find the right fabric for your fire retardant application. Finding the right fabric for your project aligns with understanding the difference between each fabric classification. Per the NFPA 701 code, flame retardant fabrics are classified as:

  • Non Fire Retardant (NFR): Used to classify fibers and fabric that are not in any way fire or flame resistant or retardant.
  • Fire Retardant (FR): Used to classify fabrics that are fire retardant or resistant through topical treatment after being woven that are up to code with the NFPA 701 guidelines.
  • Inherently Fire Retardant (IFR): Used to classify fibers that when woven into fabrics that are up to fire code and do not require any additional chemical treatment after being transformed into a textile. These fabrics also uphold the NFPA 701 standard.
  • Durably Fire Retardant (DFR): Used to classify synthetic fibers (i.e. nylon or polyester) that are woven into fabrics which are considered flame retardant for a lifetime. Washing or cleaning these fabrics do not disturb its fire resistance. These essential fabrics service for certain industrial applications.
  • Can Be Made Fire Retardant (CBFR): Fabrics that can be treated once created to be considered flame retardant.
  • Cannot Be Made Fire Retardant (CNFR): Fabrics and fibers (typically a small number of synthetic fibers or metallic fabrics) that cannot be processed or treated to become fire resistant. Properly labeled fabrics discourage use in public spaces or dangerous situations.

Fabric and Flame Resistance: Testing

Flame retardant ratings are under the determination of the NFPA 701 guide, as well as state and federal guidelines. The NFPA suggests a step-by-step process on fabric testing. Tests conducted on fabrics require these guidelines to maintain compliance.

Tests are typically performed in a lab prior to the sale of the fabric. The NFPA also developed the NFPA 705 field test (like the NFPA 701) for fabrics tested on-site during manufacture. This form of on-site testing upholds the standards set out by the organization.

Small scale special event NFPA 701 and 705 tests record the “resistance of ignition” to a treated fabric. Brief tests assess and assist in classifying a fabric’s retardant properties.

Flame Retardant Fabric: Best Uses and Projects

As a result, flame retardant fabric comes in all shapes and distinctions! Standard guidelines mean applications are never in short supply. Some interesting uses for flame retardant fabric are:

  • Drapery (Indoor & Outdoor): Flame retardant fabric can be purchased with sellers like Canvas Etc. Fashion flame resistant fabrics into stylish indoor or outdoor curtain applications! Make your own with the variety of FR and IFR fabrics.
  • Coverings: From industrial machinery to grill covers, some flame retardant fabrics (especially DFR fabrics) can not only be safe against fire. but also bad weather! Use indoor or outdoor to keep your most precious items safe.
  • Garments: Clothes of all styles can be made with fire resistant fabric! Make yours with a simple pattern.
  • Bags: Want to add a layer of protection to your travel? Consider something like our Sunforger Canvas to make a duffle bag that will withstand even the toughest of conditions!

The uses for flame retardant fabrics are endless. To learn more, contact us today! Our experienced team of specials can assist you in finding the right materials for your next project.

 

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