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Inherently flame retardant vs treated fabric - Why does it matter?

cotton velvet curtain material drape fabric flame retardant flame treated material inherently flame retardant treated fabric

All public buildings have certain requirements when it comes to the flammability of materials and fabrics to minimize the risk and spread of fire. This is mostly covered under the Building Code of Australia and other relevant state legislation. However, the means to which a fabric ascertains the required flammability retardation is often overlooked and not completely understood. This is where the difference between an inherently flame retardant fabric and a chemically treated flame retardant fabric is of paramount importance.

Many fabrics such as woven wool and polyester are innately flame retardant meaning the fabric is naturally flame retardant and does not require any chemical treatment. Other fabrics, such as cotton, are quite the opposite and are naturally flammable. Fabrics that are not innately flame retardant require fire treatment via treating the fabric with fire retardant (FR) chemicals. There are a number of different fire treatment chemicals available, however the most popular for curtain material is Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs)

Both innately and treated fabrics offer comparable protection to flame however inherently flame retardant (IFR) fabric flammability is guaranteed for the life of the fabric provided that laundering instructions are followed and that no bleach, fabric softener, or starch is used during the laundering process. This means that the fabric's flammability properties will not wash or wear out for the fabrics useful life.

The flammability properties of treated fabrics is a little more complicated and often overlooked. Treated fabrics do not retain their flammability properties for the life of the fabric and often require re-treating every 2, 3 or 5 years depending on the treatment chemical and the fabrics exposure to dust and other external factors. The fabric also requires re-treatment if it is cleaned or washed. The other disadvantage of treated fabric is once it has been re-treated, usually by spraying chemicals onto the face of the fabric, the only clear indicator that the fabric meets the relevant government flammability regulations post re-treatment is by taking a sample of the fabric and having it lab tested. This cost of testing and re-treatment is often near to the cost, if not more expensive, than replacing replacing the fabric.

Over the last 5 years, IFR fabrics have become common place and are now the staple for nearly all drapery fabrics in public buildings and households. Fabrics such as IFR synthetic polyester velvet have now become the industry standard in lieu of treated cotton velvet. Synthetic velvet maintains the same look and feel of traditional cotton velvet whilst providing the required IFR properties. IFR alternatives are now also matching the price of their treated equivalents in most circumstances.

It is also worth noting that the chemicals used for treating fabric cause disastrous effects to the environment due to wastage, contamination to waterways, flaura and fauna and wildlife.

 

All fabrics provided by Stage Fabrics Direct are IFR meaning no flame treatment chemicals are used in the manufacture of our materials.


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