What is Fire Resistant Fabric?

Diane Goettel
Diane Goettel

Fire resistant fabric, also commonly called fire retardant fabric, is a kind of textile that is more resistant to fire than others. Fire resistant fabric becomes resistant either through chemical treatment of its fibers or because its fibers are specifically manufactured to be resistant to fire.

Firefighters wear gear made of fire resistant and fire-proof fabrics.
Firefighters wear gear made of fire resistant and fire-proof fabrics.

It is important to note that neither “fire resistant” nor “fire retardant” mean “fire proof.” Although these fabrics may have a slower burning rate than others, it is still possible for them to burn. Furthermore, it is most likely that they will be damaged if they are exposed to fire and high temperatures for a long enough period of time. The purpose of these fabrics is to reduce the spread of a fire, not to preserve the fabric itself.

Fire resistant fabrics may prevent some burns and lessen the potential severity of others.
Fire resistant fabrics may prevent some burns and lessen the potential severity of others.

It is possible to use natural fibers to create fire resistant fabric. Cotton, for example, can be treated with a chemical that reduces its flammability. The chemical that is topically applied to reduce the flammability of a fabric will react with the tars and gases that are naturally produced by the fabric. When the chemical reacts with these tars and gases, it causes the fabrics to char instead of combust.

Different fire retardant fabrics have different levels of durability when exposed to heat and flame. Normally, fabrics that are manufactured to be fire resistant are more durable under such conditions than natural fibers that are simply treated with chemicals to make them fire resistant. Polyester, for example, can be manufactured so that fire resistant properties are built into the structure of the fibers themselves.

One of the reasons that manufactured fire resistant fabrics are considered to be more effective at retarding fire than topically treated fabrics may lose their ability to resist fire over the course of time. This is especially true for fabrics that are regularly laundered.

One of the most common uses of fire resistant fabric is in the suits that fire fighters wear. These suits are usually made of the most durable fire resistant fabrics that are available, including cutting-edge fabrics that have fire resistant propertied built into the molecular structure of the fibers. Not only do these fabrics have to resist fire, but it is also important that they don’t char and thin when they are exposed to heat and flames. Furthermore, it is important that these fabrics conduct as little heat as possible so as to protect the firefighter from the high temperatures of a fire.

Diane Goettel
Diane Goettel

In addition to her work as a freelance writer for wiseGEEK, Diane is the executive editor of Black Lawrence Press, an independent publishing company based in upstate New York. She has also edited several anthologies, the e-newsletter Sapling, and The Adirondack Review. Diane has a B.A. from Sarah Lawrence College and an M.A. from Brooklyn College.

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Discussion Comments

anon288363

Westex seems to be the biggest company for fire resistant fabrics, so it's probably best to use whatever fabric, sprays or techniques they use.

TunaLine

@anon93571 -- You might want to try those fire resistant sprays that lightning88 was talking about.

It sounds like that might get your fabric at least somewhat back to it's original state.

lightning88

A lot of places sell fire retardant spray that you can just put on your own fabrics if you are particularly worried about them.

I think that some people use them for aprons, oven mitts, curtains, that sort of thing.

Some of them are even naturally made, and not toxic, so it's not always necessary to coat your fabrics in chemicals to make them fire resistant.

zenmaster

This may be just me, but I always hated fire resistant fabrics. My school uniform skirts were made of flame resistant fabric (though for the life of me I could never figure out why), and they were just stiff and uncomfortable and unflattering.

I can understand why you would use such things for something like hotel room curtains, but for a school uniform skirt? What were the makers thinking?

anon93571

Is there a home remedy to re-fireproof an over laundered fireproof fabric?

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