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Flame Resistant Fabric & Fibers: What You Need to Know

a welder using a flame resistant fabric

If you’re familiar with flame-resistant (FR) welding apparel then you’ve definitely heard of treated fabrics and fibers or intrinsic textiles and fibers. When discussing fabrics and fibers that are flame resistant, there are several significant variances. Safety failures could occur if those variations are not understood. Understanding what they are and how these work in particular settings is important. Here, we define these terms and discuss some of the applications in which they are used and how they should be cleaned and processed.

What Is Treated Fabric in Flame Resistant Fabric?

Treated fabric is a fiber blend that, when combined with other pieces of fabric, forms a garment. This fabric can be thought of as the stage of production between fiber and garment. Treated fabrics have had a flame retardant chemical applied to them to make them flame resistant. The fibers used in these fabrics are not typically regarded as protective. Because of the chemical treatment, they become flame resistant.

 

The fibers used in these fabrics are typically 100% cotton or a blend of cotton and nylon. In terms of durability, the fabric made of cotton fibers has little abrasion resistance. Fabrics containing nylon fiber perform significantly better in terms of abrasion resistance. Utility, oil and gas, chemical, and petrochemical applications benefit from treated fabrics.

 

Water with a hardness of 1.5 grains (25ppm) or less should be used to clean treated fabrics. Hard water contains mineral salts that can leave deposits on the fabric, so less hardness is preferable. These deposits may compromise the garment’s flame resistance. If the garment is exposed to an ignition source, the deposits could even serve as fuel.

 

What are Treated Fibers in Flame Resistant Fibers?

Treated fibers have a flame retardant chemical applied during the fiber formation process. As a result, the fibers become flame resistant. For the life of the garment, fabrics made from treated fibers are flame resistant. Normal wear and laundering will not remove the flame retardant chemical. Only if the garment becomes torn or soiled to the point where the soil cannot be washed out will it no longer be flame resistant.

 

One type of fiber is treated with 100% rayon. These fibers are treated during the fiber formation process and are flame resistant indefinitely.

 

A fiber blend of cotton and Modacrylic fibers is another option. Fabrics made from these fiber blends have a soft and comfortable cotton-like hand. Modacrylic fiber contains both soft and strong components. It is also chemical and solvent resistant. As a result, these fiber types are ideal for use in flame-resistant environments.

 

These fiber types have a broader range of applications. Industrial protective clothing, utility work uniforms, and firefighter uniforms are all good matches. It is recommended that treated fibers be washed in the same manner as treated fabrics. If exposed to an ignition source, hard water may leave deposits that could ignite.

 

The only major distinction between the two types of care is that Modacrylic/cotton blends should be treated in soft water with non-chlorine bleach because chlorine bleach weakens the fabric.

flame resistant fabric

What exactly are innate fabrics and fibers?

Chemical treatment is not required for naturally occurring fabrics and fibers. The FR properties are an important aspect of fiber chemistry. Once again, these fibers are FR fibers, but this time from the manufacturing process. Normal wear and laundering will not cause inherent fabrics or fibers to lose their flame resistance properties. Throughout its life, the garment will retain its flame-resistant properties.

 

The most common inherent fibers are modacrylic fibers. They are most commonly used in blends with other naturally flame-resistant fibers. Modacrylic fibers are frequently blended with varying percentages of lyocell, para-aramid, and polyamide-imide fibers. These combinations result in a long-lasting fabric that meets the NFPA 70E CAT2 and NFPA 2112 standards. NOMEX is used in clothing as a stand-alone fiber or as a blend with KEVLAR.

 

Petrochemical, electrical, and utility industries all use inherent fabrics and fibers. Firefighter station wear and turnout gear are another popular application. Most natural fabrics and fibers should not be used in welding operations or around molten substances. Caring for natural fabrics and fibers is the same as caring for treated fabrics and fibers. Because hard water contains mineral salts that can leave insoluble deposits on the fabric, soft water is recommended. These deposits may compromise the garment’s flame resistance. Chlorine bleach is also not advised because it weakens the fabric.

 

With FR clothing, proper garment care is essential. The right maintenance makes sure that FR properties are not jeopardized. Your safety at work will be improved by educating yourself on what Flame Resistant fabrics and fibers are. 

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