Fire-resistant fabrics protect everyone from sleeping babies to race car drivers! Some kinds of material don’t catch fire, and others protect against limited amounts of heat. This might leave you wondering, what exactly is the best fire-resistant fabric?
Fire-resistant materials include synthetic cloth such as Nomex, Kevlar, and Modacrylic. Other types of fabric like polyester, wool, and cotton have a natural fire-retardancy. Coated nylon, upholstery material, and some types of apparel use chemical sprays for added protection.
In this article, you will learn what makes a type of material fire-resistant. You will find out what fabrics offer the best protection from fire. Finally, you will find tips for where to buy this kind of fabric.
- What Are Fire Resistant Fabrics?
- Fire Resistant vs Fire Retardant vs Fireproof Fabric
- What Is Flame Resistant Clothing?
- Best Fire Resistant Fabrics
- Fire-Retardant Fabric Finishes
- What Fabric is Naturally Fire-Resistant?
- What Fabric is Most Heat Resistant?
- Where to Buy Fire-Retardant Fabric
- Which Fabrics Are Most Fire Resistant?
What Are Fire Resistant Fabrics?
Fire-resistant fabrics have a natural immunity to heat and resist igniting for a certain period of time when exposed to flames. This type of fabric includes materials like polyester, nylon, and wool. It also encompasses types of fabric designed to resist heat, such as Nomex and Kevlar.
Manufacturers often apply a fire-retardant chemical spray to protect fabrics that don’t have inherent fire resistance. You see this quite often in upholstery and curtain materials, for instance.
In many areas of the United States, curtains or drapes must meet fire code standards. You will find this information in the product description or on the manufacturer’s labels inside the drapes. This is because large sections of fabric could burst into flame more quickly than many other things in a home.
Many countries around the world have pretty strict standards for the FR abilities of fabric items. Theater curtains must have fire-resistant treatment, for example. In the United States, baby and child sleepwear has to offer a certain level of fire resistance.
The Flammable Fabrics Act laid out many of these guidelines back in the 1990s for anyone selling these products in the United States. This law states that any product sold as “sleepwear” for children under nine months of age should self-extinguish if caught on fire. Because of this, you can find lots of pajamas made out of fire-resistant materials to keep your little ones safe.
But some sneaky manufacturers have found a loophole in this law. They add the phrase “not suitable for sleeping” on the pajama label. This gets them off the hook and lets them avoid putting costly FR treatments on their products.
All this says that you should read the product description on items such as baby sleepwear or curtains for your home. Unless the product lists its fire-resistant properties, it is likely not treated for added protection.
Of course, another essential use for fire-resistant materials is in personal protective equipment. This kind of gear protects people in many professions. It has uses in the uniforms racecar drivers wear, fire fighting suits, and the jackets worn by electricians and construction workers! Anyone who works near open flames, such as welders, will need gear that does not ignite if a stray spark lands on it.
Understanding the different levels of fire resistance offered by certain types of material will help you keep your home and loved ones safe! That said, very few types of fabric can prevent fires. Even fire-resistant material like polyester will melt and burn at high temperatures.
What these kinds of materials do offer is a delayed reaction to heat or flame, which gives you time to react safely in case of a fire emergency!
Fire Resistant vs Fire Retardant vs Fireproof Fabric
Fire-resistant, fire retardant, and fireproof fabrics all have varying degrees of resistance to heat and flame. In some cases, you may see these terms used interchangeably because there is no law defining when and where to use each description.
In general, manufacturers use the term fire resistant to describe items that can inherently resist burning. Fire-retardant describes a fabric with a chemical treatment to prevent burning. Fireproof means a product with a high burning or melting point, such as Nomex.
First, fire-resistant usually describes materials that have an innate ability to resist burning. This covers natural products like wool that do not catch on fire until it reaches a temperature of 570℉. Many synthetic fabrics like polyester also have excellent fire resistance. But these materials can melt into molten plastic when exposed to temperatures higher than 500℉.
It is important to note that fire-resistant fabrics are not actually fire-proof. They have a delayed ability to burn that protects from sparks or high heat.
Fire-retardant fabrics can also hold out for a considerable time when exposed to high heat or flame. But this resistance comes from special chemical treatments applied to the cloth. This treatment can make flammable fabrics like voile or velvet much more flame-resistant.
The tricky thing about fire-retardant fabrics is that so many different kinds of chemical sprays exist today. You can find hundreds of different sprays and coatings. Plus, many of them have complicated names like hexabromocyclododecane or brominated flame retardants.
The state or city you live in may mandate fire code laws requiring curtains or other items to have FR treatments.
That said, you can also find a growing number of concerned consumers who worry about the implications of these chemicals. Recent studies suggest that some FR fabrics have negative health implications. Because of this, you might want to investigate the type of treatment used on curtains or couches before buying these products.
One other key thing to note about fire-retardant fabric is that in almost all cases, the fire-retardant ability only lasts for a few years. After this, the manufacturers recommend that consumers spray on a treatment themselves! This means that the curtains or chairs you bought will not remain fire-retardant forever.
Finally, we come to fire-proof fabrics. Fabrics like Nomex or Kevlar have high fire resistance, meaning they have an inherent ability to resist burning. But Kevlar does not burn until it reaches a temperature of 800℉, so for all intents and purposes, it often gets described as fire-proof.
Firefighters, race car drivers, and military test pilots often wear protective gear made out of Nomex.
This material can catch on fire in some conditions. It will not keep burning, though, because it has an amazing ability to stop burning. Once the fabric escapes the heat, such as when a race care driver rolls away from a burning car, it extinguishes itself. This material also never melts.
Modacrylic is another synthetic fabric recently developed that does not catch on fire. That said, modacrylic will melt like polyester when it reaches a high enough temperature. It is not as protective as products like Kevlar or Nomex.
What Is Flame Resistant Clothing?
Flame-resistant clothing describes protective clothes created to keep you safe from flames. This clothing may burn when it gets hot enough, but the flame will extinguish instead of melting or burning up the cloth. Nomex, Kevlar, and modacrylic are the most popular fabric choices for flame-resistant clothing.
You often see these products described with the abbreviation (FR) listed after the product’s name. If you see this designation while shopping, make sure to investigate what makes the fabric flame resistant!
These types of clothing are used in some type of work-related PPE. This includes military gear, firefighting suits, and pilot uniforms. These fabrics cost a lot and are not widely accessible to the layperson.
Best Fire Resistant Fabrics
The best fire-resistant fabric offers protection for your home, your baby’s crib, or your work life. Check out this overview of different materials that offer varying levels of protection.
Fabrics classified as fireproof include Nomex, Kevlar, and Modacrylic.
Technically, the only 100% fireproof fabric ever designed contained asbestos. For obvious safety reasons, no one makes this material anymore! Instead, scientists have developed other products like Nomex that can catch on fire, but only at insanely high heat.
1. ModacrylicModacrylic is a synthetic copolymer made into a trendy new fabric. It contains high-performance flame-resistance fibers.
This material does not react to chemicals or other dangerous solutions. This helps prevent it from burning in many workplace situations.
That said, Modacrylic will burn at around 375-425℉, but will often extinguish the flame just like Nomex. It also does not melt and is considered one of the safest types of material available for flame protection.
This fabric has many popular uses in PPE for workplace environments. Interestingly, you do also see modacrylic blended with cotton in everyday wear. It feels quite soft and breathable, though it costs more than a synthetic like polyester.
2. NomexYou can think of Nomex as the official fire-fighting fabric! Most fire fighters’ protective suits feature this heat-resistant material. It also gets used in the military world and high-risk environments like car racing or test piloting planes. Space programs often use Nomex sheets to build heat-sensitive portions of things like space ships or space stations, too!
Nomex is the brand name used by DuPont, a company that first invented this material. The fabric undergoes a production process similar to the method used to make nylon and polyester.
The difference is that Nomex contains the monomers m-phenylenediamine and isophthaloyl chloride. This creates a much tougher, more durable fabric that won’t rip or tear even in extreme circumstances.
Nomex fabric costs a lot, with Nomex thread selling for about $200 per pound and various fabrics selling for at least $30 per yard. You don’t see this material used much in anything except special protective equipment.
3. KevlarMany people know Kevlar as a bullet-proof material. You may be surprised to learn that it has remarkable fireproofing abilities as well!
Dupont also invented this material. It has a special molecular structure that features high crystallinity. It also has the inherent stability of conjunction. What this means in simple terms is that the molecules inside each fiber of the fabric line up in perfect, close-fitting chains.
One of the cool things about this material is that it is five times stronger than steel! This impenetrable fabric protects against things like knife cuts and bullets. But it also prevents the material from igniting until it reaches 800℉.
Flame-resistant fabrics have inherent heat resistance but will melt or ignite at high enough temps. Synthetics like polyester and nylon offer pretty strong flame resistance. But some natural fibers, like wool, also have high flame resistance!
It is worth noting that these kinds of fabric usually do not meet the standards required by OSHA or other safety organizations. These materials can melt or burn when exposed to a flash arc or high heat. This means that you could not wear a polyester shirt to work as a welder or in place of actual PPE for firefighting!
The molecular structure in polyester makes it inherently flame-resistant. It can resist burning up to a temperature of 488℉, but it can melt at temperatures as low as 220℉. This is an important safety concern to be aware of because melting polyester can cause severe injuries.
Lots of home decor items like curtains and upholstery contain polyester because it has a natural ability to avoid burning. This is a great safety feature if you ever have a fire in your home!
Most everyday fire-resistant clothing is also made out of polyester. You see this a lot in pajamas for babies and small children. The good thing about polyester is that you do not have to add chemical coatings to make it resist catching on fire.
Wool is a natural fabric derived from sheep, alpacas, or goats. It has the strongest fire resistance of any natural fiber in the world, with a burning point of 570-600℉! For this reason, it is the least flammable natural fabric.
Wool contains a lot of water in its structure, as well as significant amounts of nitrogen. This means that you would have to expose wool to a very high, consistent heat source to cause it to ignite.
Even when it does burn, it will smolder and burn out when removed from the heat. It will not release fumes or toxic gases like some synthetic materials.
Nylon affords some protection from fire as it has great resistance to igniting and burning. It contains polymer fibers made out of plastic that resist burning. But like polyester, nylon can melt and cause dangerous burns in a molten plastic state.
Nylon is a super-strong material with much greater tensile strength than polyester. But it has a slightly lower heat resistance than polyester. This makes it the less desirable choice for fire-resistant clothing or household items.
Fire-retardant fabrics resist burning because of special chemical treatments. Sometimes these treatments take the form of backing on the fabric, but most often, they form a coating or sealant over the surface of the fabric.
On its own, 100% cotton is quite flammable. Fire-retardant sprays can make it very resistant to heat, though! These products form chemical bonds with the cellulose inside cotton fibers. This makes the material quite durable and flame-resistant.
Flame-retardant cotton is a popular choice for lightweight, protective gear. For example, a protective jacket or hood you would wear onto a construction site might feature treated cotton.
Like most products treated with special fire-retardant sprays, this material does not remain fire-resistant forever. Sometimes it loses effectiveness after laundering. It will lose its protective ability at some point.
Voile is a light, semi-transparent fabric often used for sheer panels in window treatments. Both voile and many other drapery fabrics often receive fire-resistant chemical treatments. United States law requires curtains or drapes used in public spaces to have very high fireproof abilities!
Curtains purchased for home use do not always come with that little (FR) label, though. Make sure you do your homework and read the product description to determine what kind of chemical coating the curtains have and how long it will last!
You can also buy FR voile by the yard if you prefer to sew your own curtains.
9. Upholstery Materials
Upholstery materials can encompass everything from velvet to linen to canvas. Some types of upholstery cloth offer more fire retardance than others.
Safety laws require most pre-made upholstered products to have some level of fire-retardance. This means that furniture manufacturers will apply a chemical treatment to the upholstery fabric in most cases.
If you buy furniture featuring polyester, wool, or another fire-resistance material, the manufacturer might skip the chemical treatment. A material like polyester already resists burning and may not need extra treatments.
Fire-Retardant Fabric Finishes
Flame-retardant treatments contain chemicals that suppress the fabric’s ability to ignite. They do this by preventing oxygen from reaching the fibers. The coatings delay the materials’ ability to catch on fire.
Over the years, hundreds of different chemicals have served this purpose. Scientists and manufacturers constantly invent new flame retardants as well.
Common treatments include brominated flame retardants or BFRs. This type of coating contains many different chemicals but always features a large percentage of bromine. This chemical has a high atomic mass and can suppress flame.
You can also find popular types of nitrogen-based flame retardants. Treatments based on chlorine or phosphorous show up a lot, too.
In some cases, manufacturers recommend purchasing a home-use fire retardant finish. After the coating expires, you can reapply a new surface spray on curtains or upholstery. None of these chemical treatments lasts forever!
What Fabric is Naturally Fire-Resistant?
Many man-made fabrics like polyester, nylon, Kevlar, and Modacrylic have great fire resistance. This type of material has a unique synthetic fiber structure that resists ignition. All-natural fabrics almost always burn easily, with the notable exceptions of wool and silk.
Wool has an incredible fire resistance inherent in its unique molecular structure. Silk also has slight fire resistance, though not at the same level as wool.
Most other natural fibers burn very easily. For instance, is 100% cotton fire resistant? Nope!
On its own, cotton is highly flammable. However, you can find cotton treated with a finishing spray composed of chemicals that suppress burning.
What Fabric is Most Heat Resistant?
Specially designed synthetic fabrics like Kevlar and Nomex are the most heat-resistant materials available today. Many textile companies offer their own version of synthetic heat-resistant fabric as well. These include products like the brand-named materials Z-Sil and Armetex.
There is a considerable amount of experimentation on this kind of cloth today. You can find new types of heat-resistant material made out of silicone, for example!
Where to Buy Fire-Retardant Fabric
You can buy fire-retardant fabric in clothing, upholstery, curtains, or even just by-the-yard from many different venues.
Most clothing stores or online sellers like Amazon will offer a variety of FR clothing. You will want to make sure you read exactly what makes the clothes fire-retardant, though!
You can also purchase this kind of material by the yard from many sellers. Specialized sites like fabric.com offer this material. So do online sellers like Etsy or Amazon.
For specialized FR fabric like awnings or curtains, you can also visit home improvement stores like Home Depot. They may also offer certain types of PPE for worksites to keep welders and electricians safe.
Which Fabrics Are Most Fire Resistant?
Kevlar, Nomex, and similar synthetic materials are the most fire-resistant fabrics available today. For everyday clothing, synthetics like polyester and nylon resist burning. Natural materials like wool and silk also offer high fire resistance.
Fire-retardant seals or coatings can also protect cloth items from heat or flames. These finishes protect many household items like curtains and upholstery. Common types of FR treatments include sprays containing bromide or nitrogen.