Back to overview May 22, 2018

The Ins and Outs of Fire Retardant Fabrics

Fire retardant fabrics are used in everything from high-end upholstery to soft furnishings to schoolroom curtains - but what exactly qualifies a fabric as "fire retardant"? Read on to discover what makes a fabric count as flame retardant, how flame resistant fabrics are made and some of the practical matters of owning fire retardant upholstery.

Today we are laying it all open and getting to the meat of the matter. We're answering the burning questions (see what we did there!) that we're often asked, hoping to give the world a clearer, 360 view of what fire retardant textiles are all about.

What makes a fabric fire retardant?

Fabric is classified as fire retardant fabric based on, unsurprisingly, the time it takes for the fabric to burn and at what temperatures it does so. Our fabrics undergo rigorous testing in independent laboratories. The fabric is then assessed on a range of criteria to show the strength of the fire retardant properties, so that the end consumer can know exactly what they're investing in.

Tests are carried out in laboratories like Labotex for the speed at which the fabrics catch fire, using methods such as a gas burner or gas flame, smoldering cigarette, a small stack of dry wood

There are also worldwide furniture standards that measure the fire retardant properties of upholstered furniture through testing such as Britain's BS 5852. Check out our post 3 things you need to know about upholstery fabric testing for a read jam-packed with information.

FR-One: inherently fire retardant

Fabric may be naturally fire retardant due to the fiber's innate properties: FR-One uses 100% Inherently FR Polyester for this same reason. Polyester is also easy care and durable, whereas fabrics such as wool could shrink after washing - which isn’t something you want happening on your furniture! 

Besides durability and fire retardancy, our fabrics are just, well, amazingly soft. No really. You need to feel it to believe it. We’re all about that luxurious feel here, combining an easy elegance with a coziness you can feel.

Check out our dedication to the art of hygge here.

While some fabrics can also be treated with a fire retardant chemical that resists heat and helps to extinguishes flames, this is not the way FR-One safeguards our fabrics. FR-One Fire Retardant fabrics begin by perfecting the fibers with Inherent Fire-Retardant characteristics (IFR), a quality that is embedded in the molecular structure of the fiber and will therefore never diminish.

Textiles that are naturally fire retardant

The best solution is inherent FR polyester, because it starts us off with a naturally high base level of fire resistance - and then we add the FR-One magic. This guarantees that our fire retardant fabrics look and feel just like natural ones, and that's even before they undergo rigorous testing for high safety standards!

Certain textiles do naturally resist fire better than others. For example:

  • Wool is generally considered the most fire retardant natural fiber, as it is difficult to ignite and may extinguish smaller flames on its own.
  • Silk also burns slowly, is difficult to ignite and may self-extinguish under certain circumstances.

Acrylic, polyester and nylon are also all considered fire retardant fabrics, as they catch fire at a much higher temperature than natural fibers.

3 ways you can make a fabric fire retardant

There are three different ways a fabric can be made fire retardant, so we'll start off with the best and most efficient way: it's when the FR properties are inherent in the yarn itself.

This is what makes FR-One special. We do not apply treatments or finishes to fabrics, nor do we coat our fabrics. There are ways though to make your textiles fire retardant using chemical treatments and finishes, and we'll have a quick look at those below.

There are two types of treatment commonly used in fire retardant upholstery:

Coating: With the coating technique, a fire retardant back-coating is applied to the fabric in question. This stiffens the fabric, making it better for upholstery use. The coating technique is considered less suitable as curtain fabric though, as the drape of the material end up less natural than with other fabric treatments.

Dipping: Another common fire-treatment method is known as chemical dipping, which is more often used for fabrics made from natural fibers (or that have a high percentage of natural fibers). As the technique suggests, the fabric is dipped into a chemical solution, which absorbs into the fibers, creating a barrier between the fiber and the flame.

Should the fabric catch fire, the chemicals applied during the fabric treatment process are activated by the heat, triggering a chemical reaction which extinguishes the flame - similar to the way chemical fire-extinguishers work.

Inherently fire retardant?

Not wanting our beautiful designs to have anything to do with fire extinguishers, however, we went down a different path. We spent years researching and producing and testing, crafting our fabrics from the fiber up to be fire retardant as default. The actual chemical structure of the fabric itself is not flammable: that's what we mean when we say inherently fire retardant.

These intrinsic properties can never be removed from the molecular structure of the fabric. What you buy from FR-One will remain fire retardant...permanently.

Just how washable is your fire retardant upholstery anyway?

What about caring for this indestructibly fire retardant textile though? Surely that's going to be difficult? Well, one of the most important factors when investing in fire retardant upholstery is understanding the manufacturer cleaning recommendations: we’re going to tell you ours.

You've probably read that washing may destroy your fire retardant fabric's protection, but rest assured: with our fabrics this is not the case. All FR-One fabrics are machine washable and the effectiveness of the fabric won't fade due to washing.

In the case of cotton/nylon blends for example, washing the fabric with chlorine bleach will remove their flame-resistant properties - that's another reason we went for 100% polyester.

Fun fact: FR-One fabrics use less water to wash, thanks to their lower water absorption rate and higher dehydration characteristics. Save energy and the planet, one fabric wash-load at a time!

Safety, design and choices

Choosing the right fire retardant upholstery is a delicate balance between safety and design.

Without a solid fire retardant qualification, you may not meet safety standards, but a poorly-designed fabric might ask you to sacrifice design. Why choose between form and function when you can have both? See how our Lithology range epitomizes this vision

FR-One fabrics are high quality, design-forward and both natural looking and feeling. On top of all this, we meet fire safety standards the world over, ensuring that our fabrics are used globally, from Paris to New York, Dubai to Berlin.

FR-One fabrics are found even at sea because we pass IMO FTPC P7 and IMO FTPC P8, certifying us for Maritime use (PS: these are the hardest tests to pass).

Here to help

If you need help choosing fire retardant textiles for your next design project, get in touch and we'll be happy to help you out!

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