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What is Flammability, How is it Measured, and How is it Relevant to Fire Retardant Fabrics?

Quite simply, flammability is defined as how easy materials will catch on fire. This is established through fire testing, which is used for, among other purposes, gauging if a particular material meets a building’s fire code. Different materials are tested, such as walls and floors, closures, and windows, fire doors, structural steel, among many other locations, rooms and situations. Clothing is also tested, and this will be explained later in this article.

There are numerous fire testing varieties used internationally. The ratings are then used to meet building code, insurance requirements, other fire codes, and other regulations. The requirements are stringent: if the owner of a building makes alterations to a unit, he or she must apply for a building permit to make sure that the overall fire protection design has not been compromised.

Flame retardants are materials that inhibit or resist the spread of fire. Examples of these in buildings and structures are minerals such as asbestos, or compounds such as aluminum hydroxide. Synthetic materials, like halocardbons, also act as flame retardants. A fire retardant, on the other hand, is a substance other than water that reduces flammability of fuels or delays their combustion.

How is Flammability Measured?:
Flammability is measured in many different ways. The United States government, for example, uses the Hazardous Materials System Identification System (HMIS) standard for Flammability Ratings (as do many U.S. regulatory bodies).

The HMIS System:
Under this system materials that will not burn are scored as 0. Materials that must be preheated before they will ignite as scored as 1. Materials that must be moderately heated or exposed to relatively high ambient temperatures before they will ignite are scored as a 2. Liquids and solids that can ignite under almost all temperature conditions are scored as a 3. On the high end of reactive substances, materials which will rapidly vaporize at atmospheric pressure and normal temperatures, or are readily dispersed in air and which burn readily are scored as 4.

Fire Retardant Fabrics:
The flammability of clothing is an important issue both in the retail space as well as when it relates to industrial applications. The flammability of fabric can be reduced significantly through the use of fire retardants. For example, many natural fibers, including cotton, can be topically treated with such chemicals to reduce its susceptibility to heat and flames. This treatment can lead to dramatically decreasing a fabric’s combustibility.

A fabric can be designated as inherently fire retardant, permanently fire retardant, or durably fire retardant, and this designation will last for the life of the fabric. Fabrics that have been treated with chemicals to enhance their flame resistance, for example, must be re-treated or this will dissipate over time. Tyvek, for example, is used by several different groups, from first responders to industrial workers, who need protection from temperature (among other) extremes.

Many companies provide FR (Flame Resistant) clothing. Make sure, before you buy, that it is the correct type of fabric for your needs. If you need a fabric that is inherently flame and fire resistant, make sure that the fabric is not a treated version, as these will lose their flame resistance over time. Your safety is very important, and cutting costs with cheaper FR protection is a dangerous gamble. Use a reputable supplier of proven FR apparel.

Matt Jancosek writes for Miller’s Precision Enterprises, Inc. (http://www.disposable-garments.com/), a company that provides a variety of protective clothing such as disposable Tyvek overalls and disposable overalls for the manufacturing and industrial markets. Learn more at www.disposable-garments.com.