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The way fabric burns depend on several factors—fiber content, weight, finished design and whether the fabric has been treated with a fire-retardant finish all play a role in a fabric’s flammability.

With colder temperatures fast approaching, there tends to be an uptick in home fires. Understanding the flammability of fabrics could help you minimize possible injuries in the event of a fire.

Flammability Testing

The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) governs the standard for textile flammability under the Standard for the Flammability of Clothing Textiles, 16 CFR Part 1610. Some items such as gloves, hats, footwear and fabrics meeting predetermined weight criteria or fiber content, are exempt from the regulation.

The flammability test consists of a standard flame which is lowered onto the fabric sample at a 45-degree angle for one second. The flammability of the sample is evaluated using the time it takes the flame to travel along the test specimen and the characteristics of the burn.

Fabrics are classified into Class 1 Normal Flammability, Class 2 Intermediate and Class 3 Rapid and Intense Burning—Class 3 fabrics cannot be sold in the U.S. It should also be noted that many retailers will also accept Class 2 fabrics.

Fabric Type and Weight

A fabrics weight can affect how fast it burns. Heavy fabrics–think winter coats and work wear–are less likely to catch fire than summer weight clothing. Gauze like fabrics and lace can ignite more rapidly. Interestingly, heavier weight fabrics can burn longer when ignited due to the presence of more fuel, i.e., material.

Finally, fabrics with a brushed or raised surface, like velvet or flannel, can quickly catch on fire as the fibers are raised and more exposed to the air’s oxygen.

Garment Design

Close-fitting clothes are less likely to ignite than loose-fitting ones. Imagine a free-flowing garment floating near an open flame; it is easy to understand how the fabric can quickly ignite.

Putting it All Together

  • Class 1 fabrics are considered acceptable
  • The CPSC exempts both plain and raised fabrics made entirely or from a combination of the following fibers: acrylic, modacrylic, nylon, olefin, polyester and wool and plain surface fabrics that weigh 2.6 ounces or more

By understanding the flammability of fabrics, your fabric choices and practicing safe habits around open flames and heat sources, you empower yourself to be safer.  As the old saying goes, being forewarned is forearmed.