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 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.
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.
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:
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.
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:
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.