By Jayden Mark
For workers in many industries, FR clothing is one of the most important aspects of their PPE regime. Ironically, very few understand the difference between flame resistant and flame retardant clothing.
Types of Fire Protection PPE
I’m going to explain below the basics about the primary differences between the two types of fire protection PPE that are available. The gear that we use to protect us from heat, flames, and arcs differ and include:
Depending on the work you do, understanding the difference between flame retardant and flame resistant apparel will help you prevent serious injury. In many cases, a combination of the two could be the best solution. For example, a flame retardant shirt in conjunction with a flame resistant jacket and gloves can be more comfortable yet still offer the level fire protection that is required.
As I explain the differences, choosing between the variants of FR clothing will be easy.
Flame Resistant vs Flame Retardant Fabrics
The primary difference between fire resistant clothing and fire retardant clothing is the fabric used to manufacture the garments and other types of PPE. This affects the price and the type of protection they offer.
Fire retardant clothing is generally cheaper. While the fabric may burn, the fibers are treated with chemicals that help extinguish flames before they can spread and prevent smoldering objects from combusting.
Fire resistant clothing won’t ignite when exposed to an explosion, flame, or arc. This means that the material will not burn or smolder when exposed to excessive heat, flames or a spark.
Both types of FR clothing will protect you from injury, but they are not entirely fireproof. Fire resistant fabric can only withstand fire within a certain temperature range. Similarly, fire retardant fabric may burn or smolder when exposed to flames or excessive heat for a prolonged period. In this regard, some FR fabrics are better than others.
With this basic understanding of the difference between fire retardant and fire resistant clothing, I’m going to move on to a more detailed explanation of how FR fabrics work and what benefits they provide. This will include the pros and cons of flame resistant vs flame retardant clothing.
This should help you make an informed decision when deciding on the best FR PPE for your requirements.
Flame Resistant Clothing
Flame resistant clothing is made from fabrics that don’t ignite easily. This means that when the wearer is exposed to an explosion, flames, or an arc, their clothing will not burn. This type FR PPE generally has good thermal protection properties that help protect you from heat.
Some fire resistant materials can be abrasive or less flexible, making them uncomfortable to be used for certain types of PPE, especially garments that are worn close to the skin.
Depending on the application, fire resistant clothing can consist of several layers, offering different types of protection or comfort. A robust material, offering the best flame resistance can be used for the outer layer, with layers of thermal protection under this layer. Where the garment makes contact with the skin or sensitive areas, softer, more comfortable FR fabric can be used.
A lot of research has been conducted to develop extremely durable and effective fire resistant materials. These are used for critical professions, like fire fighters, military pilots, and astronauts. A lot of this technology has been applied to PPE for more conventional jobs, like workers in oil and gas industries, electricians, and workers in chemical plants.
As a result, there are a lot of high-quality FR materials used, differing in price and physical attributes, these include:
In many instances, a variety of these and other FR materials will be used to ensure maximum protection, durability, and comfort. Some fire resistant fabrics are also resistant to chemicals and solvents, making them more suitable in environments where workers are exposed to these hazardous substances.
Flame resistant clothing is generally considered superior to flame retardant clothing. Fire resistant fabrics are usually more durable and offer better protection from fire and heat. This type of clothing is generally more expensive and is, therefore, less common.
Flame Retardant Clothing
Generally, flame retardant clothing is manufactured using conventional fabrics, like cotton or nylon. While these fabrics are not naturally flame resistant, they are coated with chemicals that prevent them from igniting.
When a flame retardant fabric is exposed to a flame, arc, or explosion, the fabric may smolder for a few seconds before extinguishing. This means that the garment may be damaged, but you are assured that it won’t catch fire.
Flame retardant fabric is made by coating the fibers with chemicals that form a carbon char when burnt. This prevents combustion, ultimately extinguishing any flames.
For certain parts of some clothing, like cuffs, zipper openings, or stitching, more expensive flame resistant materials, like Kevlar or Nomex may be used to offer higher protection and durability for these areas.
There are two primary reasons why some people prefer fame retardant clothing vs flame resistant clothing.
Firstly, flame retardant clothing is usually more affordable. If the extreme protection and durability of fire resistant materials are not required, it isn’t always worth paying more for this.
Flame retardant material is usually more comfortable. FR Cotton, one of the most popular fire retardant fabrics, is reasonably strong, lightweight, and breathable. It is preferable in a hot environment and allows you to move more comfortably and naturally.
Fire retardant fabrics are not always the most durable, and the FR coating can be damaged when exposed to certain chemicals and solvents. Most FR garments will deteriorate more rapidly when washed in harsh detergents. Care needs to be taken when washing fire retardant clothing, using synthetic or biological detergents.