Flame Resistant VS Flame Retardant Fabric: What’s the Difference?

Burn-related injuries are common in industrial workplaces, particularly in the oil and gas sector or jobs related to ironwork like welding, etc. While companies take extensive measures and implement strict controls and regulations to safeguard their workplace against fire hazards, accidents can happen anytime. 

The resultant burn injuries are not only painful but take a long time to heal. In this regard, it is important to ensure employee workplace safety by using flame resistant and flame retardant clothing. However, while many use the two terms interchangeably, they vary considerably. This article addresses the debate of flame resistant vs. flame retardant and highlights the relevant issues, including how they work and which may be better. Let’s have a look. 

The Difference between flame resistant and flame retardant fabric

Flame resistant and flame retardant are different material classes with unique attributes that make them essential safety tools. It is why they are considered useful for their applicability in protection against intense flame or heat. 

Since the two terms indicate prevention against flame, a novice may wonder if flame resistant is the same as a flame retardant. However, this is not the case, and the two differ mainly in terms of how they are produced. 

Here are the attributes of the two materials.

Flame Retardant fabric

Flame retardant fabric is treated with chemicals that make it resistant to fire, and it extinguishes any flame striking it. The chemical spray is intended to limit the impact of the fire on the clothing or any object on which it is used. Besides fabric, flame retardant chemicals can also be used on plastics or furniture. 

Also known as fire retardant fabrics, they are standard material that has been treated with a flame retardant coating. It implies that the fabric will burn but at a slower rate than standard fabrics that are not treated. Flame retardant fabric is categorized into three types; durably flame retardant, inherently flame retardant, and simply flame retardant.

Flame retardant fabrics can be made from any type of material as the fire retardant property is achieved by a chemical finish applied on the fabric to delay the fire’s impact on the fabric. Fire retardant fabric is typically used in home furnishings, carpets, upholstery, curtains, protective garment for industrial workplaces, and processes involving fire hazards. 

The key aspect of these fabrics is that they are not cleaned frequently. Since, in most instances, the chemical finish is not bonded or penetrated deeply into the fabric, it may wash off due to frequent cleaning. The fabric may require a new flame retardant finish in such a case. 

Flame resistant fabric

A flame resistant fabric is made from fiber that resists getting burnt when exposed to fire. Also known as fire resistant or fire proof, flame resistant clothing is made from synthetic fiber that can resist burning even when it is exposed to heat or flame for a prolonged period. It implies that a flame resistant clothing material will naturally deter fire.

However, the material may catch fire if directly exposed to flame. In any case, it will not catch fire by just being near a flame, and if it does catch fire due to direct exposure, the fire will not stay for long as the material will cause the fire to extinguish. Some examples of flame resistant materials include wool, leather, coated nylon, etc. 

In some instances, flame resistant fabric is also referred to as flame retardant due to its production. The fabric does not burn and melts instead. The degree of resistance in the various kinds of flame resistant fabric can vary depending on the manufacturer. At the same time, it is important to note that many clothing lines manufacture mixed materials, which may reduce the fabric’s ability to resist fire, so it is important to practice caution when purchasing the clothing.

Fire Retardant vs. Fireproof and Fire Resistant

When the term fireproof is used, one may assume that the material cannot be burned under any circumstances. However, this is not the case, as any product will burn when exposed to extreme heat for a long time. It may be difficult to burn and may also stop the fire from spreading, but the danger of fire will always be there.

Hence fire resistant and fireproof refer to a material’s ability to withstand heat and fire. Since they have similar definitions, using them interchangeably may not be wrong. Marketers often use the two terms to market products having similar properties. If an item is stated to have fire resistant or fireproof properties, it implies that the product has built-in safety measures to thwart fire or heat.

In some instances, a fireproof product is treated with a fire retardant to enhance its heat capability to withstand flames and heat. In any case, be it flame retardant or fireproof or fire resistant clothing, while they may be safe; they are not intended to be exposed to heat and flame for a prolonged period.

Flame Resistant vs. Flame Retardant: Which may be better?

When it comes to safety gear, there must be no compromises. Flame resistant and flame retardant clothing plays a vital role in various industries, including manufacturing, oil and gas, etc. From safety vests, shirts, and gloves to welding pants, there is a wide array of fire resistant and fire retardant safety gear range that is designed or treated to ensure protection from flame and offer users an added preventive tool. 

Whether flame retardant or flame resistant, the clothing will specify the degree to which it provides protection. Moreover, standard tests are also conducted to verify the product’s effectiveness so users can assess which would be more suitable for them. 

Another important aspect to consider is cost. Flame retardant clothing is more economical than flame resistant clothing. The key is maintaining it properly to ensure that it retains its flame retardant qualities and that the chemicals do not wash off.

Therefore it is important to practice caution when cleaning flame retardant clothing and avoid frequent washing. Usually, the manufacturer labels provide guidelines on how to wash the fabric. However, flame resistant fabrics also come with specific laundering instructions that must be followed to ensure that the fabric maintains its flame resistant qualities for longer.

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