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The material’s ability to self-extinguish when coming into contact with an open flame is important in many industries from oil and gas to fire fighting. Flame-resistant (FR) fabrics are designed to resist burning and withstand heat but flame-resistant material is not fire proof. This blog looks at factors you should consider when selecting FR material.
Like the name suggests, inherently flame-resistant fibers are materials that have flame resistance built into their chemical structure. These are brand names such as Rhovyl® or Nomex®. Flame-retardant treated (FRT) fabrics are made flame-resistant by adding flame-retardant chemicals such as Proban®. According to DuPont™:
“During a fire, chemically dependent fabrics rely on a chemical reaction to extinguish the flame. This reaction is triggered by the heat of the fire and the amount of time the fabric is exposed to the fire.”
Inherent flame-resistant properties can’t be washed out or damaged through laundering with chemicals. There will also be no degradation of fire resistance over time. That being said, be sure to follow the garment’s laundering instructions to extend the lifespan of your PPE.
Chlorine bleach, hydrogen peroxide with hard water, or exposure to oxidizing chemicals may damage fire-resistant garments. The chemical potency of FR-fabrics may diminish over time with repeated washes.
The limiting oxygen index (LOI) determines the smallest amount of oxygen that will support combustion of a polymer. It’s measured by passing oxygen and nitrogen over a burning sample and reducing the oxygen level until reaching a critical level.
This is a very relevant indicator for flame retardancy because it highlights how much oxygen is needed to keep a test material aflame. The higher the index, the more flame retardant the fiber is.
Rhovyl® is the brand name for polyvinyl chloride. This naturally non-flammable fiber protects users from heat and flame and one of the most cost-friendly options. Due to a low thermal conductivity and a low heat capacity, Rhovyl® absorbs and transfers the least amount of heat. Rhovyl® has the highest LOI of any textile fiber. This means that Rhovyl® limits flame spread not only when the fire starts but also in the early stages of fire. Other flame-resistant material typically becomes less effective during early stages of fire. Another benefit of Rhovyl® is that when burning the fibers don’t produce any incandescent droplets that could burn the skin or spread the flame to other materials.
Nomex® is the brand name for meta-aramid, the cousin of para-aramids like Kevlar® — both of which are manufactured by DuPont™. Para-aramids, like Kevlar®, are inherently flame-resistant but these fabrics are used primarily for its high tensile strength for cut resistance. Meta-aramids, on the other hand, have a lower tensile strength but offers good thermal, chemical and radiation resistance. Though Nomex® will not melt or spread the flame, it does not have as high an LOI as Rhoyvl®.
Proban® takes fibers like cotton and uses a chemical treatment to create a textile with flame-resistant properties. Proban® fabrics don’t smolder or melt and flame doesn’t spread outside the charred area. While chemically-treated flame-resistant materials may be more cost effective, repeated washes can reduce their FR properties.
When selecting flame-resistant material for repeated use, the best option is to look for a fabric that has FR properties built into its structure. If selecting inherently flame-resistant material, consider how it tested on the limited oxygen index before looking at cost savings.
(Need FR gloves for your workplace? Click the sample button below to get your FREE pair of Sure Knit™ Flame Resistant Rhovyl® Gloves)
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