Fabric Glossary

This glossary will help you determine the fiber content of any fabric in question and give you an idea of how clothing can burn. By burning an unfinished edge of fabric, you will see how it burns, smells and what debris is left. If you are more interested in how long it takes for a fabric to burn when worn, try folding it in half and burning the center. The weight of a fabric will determine how quickly it will ignite, the fiber content will tell you what happens when it does ignite. Fuel transfer is an important factor to the rate that accidents accelerate. The best way to safeguard against fuel transfer accidents is proper spin off techniques and wearing fabrics that are tightly woven and dense.

How to burn test for fiber content: Before doing a burn test you should take some safety precautions. Always work in a well ventilated area—especially important if testing synthetics. Use metal tongs to hold the fabric you are burning and make sure you have fire extinguishing materials handy, just in case.

Flame Retardant and Resistant Fabrics- Very safe for spinning

These fabrics will not ignite when exposed to flame, nor do they continue to burn once the ignition source is removed. There are 2 types of Flame Retardant fabrics;

Inherently Flame Resistant vs Flame Retardant

  • Inherently Flame resistant fabrics are made from materials that are inherently nonflammable – the materials have flame resistance built into their chemical structures. Fabrics made with these types of materials are designed to prevent the spread of fire and will not melt or drip when in close proximity to a flame. Because flame resistant fabrics are not usually made from 100% flame resistant materials, they will burn, but will do so very, very slowly and are often self-extinguishing.
  • Flame retardant fabrics are chemically treated to be slow burning or self-extinguishing when exposed to an open flame. These fabrics can be made from any material, but they must be treated with special chemicals to qualify as flame retardant.

IFR = Inherently Flame Resistant; Such as Aramid, Kevlar, Nomex, CarbonX and Fiberglass A fabric is categorized as IFR if woven with threads that yield a product that meets fire code standards, without being subject to any special processing or addition of chemicals. IFR fabrics are expected to remain flame resistant for their lifetime, even after repeated washings.

Aramid is the polymer used to make the most popular flame retardant high performance fabrics such as Kevlar, Nomex, Twaron, New Star and Teijinconex.

DuPont™ Kevlar® is a para-aramid and is used to make a variety of clothing, accessories, and equipment safe and cut resistant. It’s lightweight and extraordinarily strong, with five times the strength of steel on an equal-weight basis. Best known for its use in ballistic and stab-resistant body armor, Kevlar® brand aramid fiber has shown its own  heroism in helping to save the lives of thousands of people around the world.

DuPont™ Nomex® is a meta-aramid and is related to nylon, but has aromatic backbones, and hence are more rigid and more durable. Unlike Kevlar, Nomex cannot align during filament formation and has poorer strength. However, it has excellent thermal, chemical, and radiation resistance for a polymer material.

CarbonX®  will not burn when exposed to intense heat or flame because the actual fibers will carbonize and then expand, eliminating any oxygen content within the fabric. it provides an extraordinary level of protection against direct flame and extreme heat. Inherently flame resistant, it will not burn, melt, or ignite. Even after intense exposure, they maintain their strength and integrity and continue to protect. Unlike Kevlar®, it will not fade when exposed to flame, it is always black.

FR = Flame Retardant; Such as Duvetyn, commando cloth, pyrosafe, InduraFR fabrics are woven from threads that do not meet fire codes, but are topically treated with a flame retarding chemical so that the end product meets fire safety codes.

Duvetyn fabric (7-10 oz) and commando cloth (12-16 oz.)  are made from 100% Cotton with a brushed finish and topical Flame retardant (F/R) chemical. These fabrics meet Fire Retardant standards NFPA-701 which pertains to materials used in interior furnishing for public occupancy buildings. Washing or ongoing exposure to moisture will remove its fire-resistant qualities, and must be treated with a fire-retardant to regain them.

Westex’s Indura® line of flame resistant 100% cotton fabrics are guaranteed flame resistant for the life of the garment in either high temperature industrial or home washing procedures. In fact, the Indura® brand name was derived from “industrial (wash) durability,” due to the fact that Indura® was the first flame resistant cotton fabric that was engineered to provide guaranteed flame resistance. Today, Indura® is still popular for use in denim jeans, jackets and pants in the metals industry and in coveralls for budget conscious contractors.

PyroSafe by antex® utilizes a special application process that provides flame resistance for the life of the garment. Ammonia cure finishing technology allows the fabrics to withstand the aggressive laundering process used on flame resistant materials and ensures lifetime protection. Even after 100 industrial launderings, our fabrics maintain their flame resistant properties and their original appearance.

Natural fibers (Leather, wool, cotton, linen, Rayon, Jute, flax and silk) -Safe to spin in-

These fabrics  are made from naturally occurring organic materials like plants and animals. If a fabric is labeled organic, it was grown without the use of chemical pesticides and does not have any chemical surface treatments (like preservatives). A garment made of natural fibers can catch on fire but it will not melt into your skin. The weight of fabrics determine how quickly it will ignite, heavier fabrics take longer to ignite than light fabrics. You can test a piece of fabric by burning the center (not the edge), if it takes 6 or more seconds to ignite on its own, then its safe to spin in. There are two types of natural fibers;

– Cellulose (plant based) fabrics are Cotton, Linen, Hemp, Rayon, Bamboo, ramie and Jute. They ignite, burn quickly and may flare, leaving a glowing ember after flame is extinguished. Smoke is white or light colored and smells like burnt paper or leaves. Ash is light gray or white and very soft.

  • Cotton burns and may flare up when lit. No melted bead is left by it. After burning, it continues to glow. It gives out a smell like that of a burning paper. The smoke is gray or white. The ash is fine and soft and can be easily crumbled.
  • Hemp burns quickly with bright flame. It leaves no melted bead and after burning no sign of flame is seen. It smells like burning leaves or wood. The ash is gray and smoke has no fume hazard.
  • Jute doesn’t shrink from flame. Other characteristics are similar to those of hemp fabric.
  • Linen (Flax) takes longer to ignite. It is easily extinguished by blowing on it. Other properties are similar to hemp and jute.
  • Rayon is unlike the above natural fibers, its a manufactured natural fiber, using a synthetic process to extract cellulose from linen. It burns without flame or melting and may flare up. Unless there is a fabric finish, it doesn’t leave any bead. After the flame is removed, it may  glow a bit longer than cotton. It smells like burning paper and leaves soft, gray ash. It’s smoke is a little hazardous.

-Protein (animal/insect based) fabrics are Leather, Silk, Wool etc. They Burn slowly and shrinks or curls away from the flame. Amazingly, they will not stay lit after flame is removed, making these fabrics self extinguishing. Very little smoke is produced but it smells like burnt hair (wool) or feathers (silk). Ash is a gritty powder or a dark brittle, easily crushable bead. You may have noticed the same effect when singing your hair. Generally with light exposure to flame, hair singes down to a bead and extinguishes itself.

  • Silk Is a protein fiber which burns slowly and curls away from the flame. It leaves a dark bead which can be easily crushed. It is self-extinguishing and leaves ash that is a dark, gritty, fine powder. It smells like burned hair or charred meat. It gives out little or no smoke and the fume has no hazard.
  • Wool and other specialty hair fibers such as Alpaca, Camel, Cashmere, Llama, Angora and Vicuna are protein fibers which burn slowly. It sizzles and curls away from flame and may curl back. It leaves beads that are brittle, dark, and easily crushed. It is self-extinguishing and leaves harsh ash from crushed bead. It gives out a strong odor of burning hair or feathers. It gives out dark smoke and moderate fume.
  • Leather is skin not unlike human skin, it will not continue to burn once the ignition source is removed. It will scar and shrivel and if exposed to prolonged heat and flame, it will produce burning embers and get extremely hot. With these extreme cases,  it can produce black ash and the smell of burning flesh.

Synthetic materials- NOT safe for spinning!!!

Such as polyester, Acrylic, nylon and spandex (aka lycra) are made from petroleum products; they are essentially made of fuel! These fabrics are engineered to melt very easily, that’s what makes it cheap to produce and dangerous around high heat and flames. They Ignite, burn quickly and can continue to burn after a flame is removed—exercise caution. Fiber may shrink from the flame, melt, and can drip (DANGER) leaving a hard plastic-like bead. Burning these fabrics will produce black smoke and hazardous fumes.  A burn from a synthetic garment can easily cause second and third degree burns with the synthetic material embedded inside the blisters and scar tissue.

  • Acetate or Triacetate is a synthetic fiber that is produced from plant matter known as cellulose (often times made from wood pulp). It burns quickly and can flare even after flame is removed. The bead is hard, brittle, and can’t be crushed. It melts into a very hot bead and drips very dangerously. No ash is left by it and the smell is like hot vinegar or burning pepper. It gives out black smoke and the fume is hazardous.
  • Nylon is a Polymide made from petroleum. Due to their fabric finish, they quickly burn and shrink to flame. The beads are hard, grayish and uncrushable. After flame, they burn slowly and melt. They are self-extinguishing but drip dangerously. Their odor is like celery and they leave no ash but the fume is very hazardous.
  • Polyester is a polymer produced from coal, air, water, and petroleum products. It burns quickly and shrinks away from flame, may also flare up. It leaves hard, dark, and round beads. After the flame, it burns slowly and is not always self-extinguishing. It has a slightly sweet chemical odor. It leaves no ash but its black smoke and fume are hazardous.
  • Acrylic, Modacrylic, Polyacrylic are made from natural gas and petroleum, they flare up at match-touch, shrink from flame, burn rapidly with hot sputtering flame and drip dangerously. Beads are hard, dark, and with irregular shapes. They continue melting after flame is removed and are self-extinguishing. When burning, they give out a strong acrid, fishy odor. Although no ash is left, their black smoke and fume are hazardous.
  • Spandex or elastane AKA (Lycra®) is known for its exceptional elasticity. It is strong, but less durable than its major non-synthetic competitor, natural latex. Spandex is too brittle to exist as 100% spandex. The name “spandex” is an anagram of the word “expands”, it can grow 600% before breaking. It burns and melts, but does not shrink from the flame. It has a chemical type odor. Its residue is a soft black ash.
  • Spandex blends For clothing, spandex is usually mixed with cotton or polyester, and accounts for a small percentage of the final fabric, which therefore retains most of the look and feel of the other fibers. Spandex used in athletic ware is often 80% Nylon and 20% Spandex, these blends burn just as dangerous (if not more) than Nylon. If blended with a natural fiber such as cotton, a percentage below 10% is considered safe to spin fire in, with 2% being the preferred ratio.

The North American Fire Arts Association