In the world of specialized artificial materials for fire resisting personal protective equipment (PPE), there are materials that offer flame resistance and materials that are flame retardant. The difference between the two is about more than just vocabulary, and it’s important to know what distinguishes each. With this knowledge, you can effectively procure the materials that best suit your general needs and safety issues.
With the following overview, we’ll cover each of these materials and clearly explain how they balance against each other for different contexts or budget limitations. Let’s get started.
Flame Resistant vs. Flame Retardant: Basic Definitions
For flame resistant and flame retardant webbing, elastics, tapes or other fabrics, different materials are used for each respectively. This is because their inherent properties make them either one or the other in most cases. Here’s how they’re basically defined:
With flame resistant materials, what you essentially get is something that’s inherently resistant to catching fire. If it does do so in some unusual case, it will also self-extinguish rapidly. Materials with flame resistance include Kevlar, PBI, Nomex and others. In the past, many such materials included asbestos fibers, though this is no longer the case.
An important focus to keep in mind here is on the word resistance. Flame resistant materials resist flames and heat, but they’re not necessarily impervious to them. At the right level of temperature, nearly anything known can be destroyed by heat or burn.
In the case of flame retardant materials, what you’re dealing with is something that has been specially, chemically treated to resist flames and heat. The material in question isn’t inherently flame resistant but will hold out against heat because its either coated in something that resists fire or impregnated with fire resisting substances.
Materials such as cotton, polypropylene, nylon, polyester and different acrylics are all capable of burning or melting if exposed to fire, but they can all be treated with fire retardants. In fact, nearly any textile -natural or artificial- can be treated and turned into a flame retardant material.
Some textile designs will include a blend of flame resistant and retardant materials (typically, as a cost-saving measure). While these will continue to inhibit burning, they may, or may not, achieve the desired industry performance standards of purely flame resistant fibers.
An important further detail to keep in mind about both fire resistant and fire retardant textiles is that fire resistant fabrics only qualify as such if they’re mostly made out of naturally flame resisting materials, while fire retardant fabrics qualify as retardant only if they’re treated well enough for robust resilience to fire.
It’s also worth keeping in mind that some fire retardant materials can lose their retardant properties over time because the chemical treatment in them simply wears down with use or washing. Fire resistant materials on the other hand maintain their resilience to heat because it’s an inherent quality they have.
Temperature Resistance Levels
In terms of temperature resistance levels in both fire retardant and fire resistant fabrics, they can vary considerably. When choosing a fire resistant or fire retardant material for webbing, tape or elastic, you should also keep in mind the need to balance against other stresses it might need to endure. For example, a material might need to also have very high UV resistance while the need for resilience to heat is only moderate.
Cut resistance and chemical resistance are also important factors for many webbings or elastics, and sometimes they might be much more important for the sake of personnel protection than being able to resist flames.
Choosing the Right Materials for Your Needs
When picking a fabric for your PPE, webbing or other material needs, flame resistant substances are usually better options in terms of fire protection, as long as your budget can manage them. Fibers such as Kevlar®, and Twaron® offer a solid blend of fire resistance, abrasion resistance, tensile strength and moderate UV resiliance. However, in all cases, you should make sure to keep your specific safety and use considerations in mind. These include any factors that will maximize the personal protection of your staff for the kinds of risks they’re most likely to deal with.
OTEX Speciality Narrow Fabrics offers a professional, rigorously tested selection of narrow fabrics that include both fire resistant and fire retardant materials for even the most demanding needs. Take a look at our products and solutions to see what fits your needs, no matter how extreme they might be. We handle numerous industrial markets and other contexts that require complex production specs, and custom designs are a specialty of ours.