What Is FR Clothing? Your Guide to Flame-Resistant Clothing
There are a lot of nuances and requirements when it comes to FR clothing. Do you need flame-resistant or flame-retardant clothing? Maybe you’ve been told you’ll need to wear flame-resistant clothing at a new job you’re starting. Whatever the case, you suddenly have reason to be curious and ask — what exactly is flame-resistant clothing?
Today, we’re going to walk you through the basics. We’ll talk about what flame-resistant clothing is, what it’s made out of, how long it lasts, how to clean it and much more. By the time we’re finished here, you’ll be an expert on all things regarding flame-resistant clothing.
What Is Flame-Resistant Clothing?
Let’s start at the beginning with a flame-resistant clothing definition. Based on the name alone, it might be easy to assume flame-resistant clothing is entirely or even mostly fireproof. Is that true?
As it turns out, not really. Flame-resistant clothing — often abbreviated as FR clothing — refers to any clothing items that are designed and specifically manufactured to protect wearers from potential intermittent flames and thermal exposure.
To break this definition down further, we can look at the specific ways in which FR clothing is engineered to protect the wearer from injury due to flames. These clothing items will not easily catch fire, and even when they do, they are designed to self-extinguish. If you get exposed to a brief, intermittent flame while wearing this clothing and your clothing catches fire, it will naturally extinguish itself. This ability causes the wearer’s risk of burn injury to plummet and can often provide the wearer with valuable time to escape the unsafe environment.
These attributes work together to provide a far greater chance of escape and survival if the wearer finds themselves suddenly in the middle of a flash fire, an electric arc or some other unexpected thermal problem that has the potential to cause injury. In situations like these, fire-resistant clothing can be the difference between being severely injured or escaping unscathed.
OSHA, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, delineates specific guidelines. Any flame-resistant clothing required by a workplace will need to fall within these guidelines. OSHA stipulates any employee working in conditions where they may be exposed to flames, electric arcs or similar hazards must not wear clothing that “could increase the extent of injury.”
OSHA’s FR clothing requirements then go on to prohibit clothing made of rayon, nylon, polyester or acetate, unless the employer can prove they have been appropriately treated to withstand the conditions the employee may encounter during their work.
Who Needs to Wear Flame-Resistant Clothing?
If an employee works in environments where heat, fire or electrical injuries are a real possibility, the odds are good they should be wearing flame-resistant clothing. OSHA’s guidelines dictate more specifically who should be wearing flame-resistant clothing.
There are three broad categories of workers who should wear flame-resistant clothing for protection, based on the type of hazard the worker will be exposed to while completing their work. Here are the three primary hazards.
- Electric arc: People who are exposed to this hazard include electricians, as well as certain utility workers and others.
- Flash fire: This category includes pharmaceutical and chemical workers, as well as those who work in refineries and more.
- Combustible dust: The category covers workers in food processing plants, the paper and pulp industry, etc.
Is There a Difference Between Primary and Secondary Protection?
When reading or hearing about flame-resistant clothing, you may frequently hear the terms “primary protection” and “secondary protection.” What exactly do these terms mean? Does secondary protection offer less safety than primary protection?
The real difference between these two designations lies in the clothing’s intended usage and the level of protection it offers as a result of this intended usage. The following is a brief breakdown of the two levels of protection.
1. Primary Protection
Primary protection refers to flame-resistant clothing that is designed to be worn during activities where the wearer will constantly be exposed to flames, radiant heat and potential molten substance splash. One easy example to point to is a firefighter’s gear. When out answering a call, the firefighter will be exposed to extreme conditions and will need the additional measures offered by primary protection gear.
2. Secondary Protection
Secondary protection is designed for situations where the wearer may encounter exposure to intermittent hazards. This may still include radiant heat, molten substance splash and flames, but the odds are that these will not be constant hazards. Rather, they may appear briefly before disappearing again. In other words, the wearer of secondary protection is not likely to be in as much constant danger as the wearer of primary protection.
What Should I Wear Under My Flame-Resistant Clothing?
If flame-resistant clothing is designed to protect you from flames, heat and other similar environmental concerns, are there any additional measures you can take to make the clothing more effective? Additionally, are there any practices you should avoid that might make this clothing less effective?
The garments you choose to wear underneath your flame-resistant clothing have a significant impact on your safety and the effectiveness of your FR clothing. Whenever you wear these clothes, you should always take care to wear only non-melting garments underneath them.
There are two primary reasons for this caution. The first is that by doing this, you’re essentially adding a second layer of FR protection. Even if your first layer of outerwear gets damaged or burned, you will still have a second layer to protect you. The layer of air insulation between the two layers also helps keep you safe.
Another reason to dress in non-melting underclothes is the intense environment you may be working in. Even though your outer layer provides protection, it’s still possible your underlayer will be affected by the heat and begin to melt or become overheated. If temperatures and conditions are extreme enough, these bottom layers of clothing may even ignite and cause serious injury.
Flame-Resistant? Fire-Resistant? Fire-Retardant? What’s the Difference?
If you aren’t extremely familiar with this information and these terms, you might assume these three terms are synonyms. The confusion is understandable, given the similarities of the terms. Two of the terms are, in fact interchangeable, but another one of them is quite a bit different.
Here are the major differences between them.
- Flame-resistant: Flame-resistant clothing is made from inherently nonflammable fabrics and materials. The materials have a chemical structure that is naturally resistant to flames. These types of fabrics may catch fire, but they will either self-extinguish or burn extremely slowly. The most important function of these materials and fabrics is to prevent the further spread of fire.
- Fire-resistant: This term is a synonym for flame-resistant. If you hear this term used in place of flame-resistant, don’t be confused. They mean exactly the same thing, and it is correct to use them interchangeably.
- Fire-retardant: Fire-retardant fabrics are those that have undergone chemical treatment to acquire some of the same properties flame-resistant fabrics inherently have. As a result of these chemical procedures, flame-retardant fabrics become self-extinguishing and slow-burning. Any type of fabric may be used, but it must undergo this treatment before it can be considered flame retardant.
What Is FR Clothing Made Of?
Not all fire-resistant clothing is made from the same fabrics. There are multiple different choices available, and no choice is perfect. Each comes with different benefits and hazards. Each company is best served by choosing the fabric that will be most suited to their needs and working environment. What keeps an employee safe in one location may not be exactly what keeps an employee safe in another location.
Most flame-resistant clothing is made from fabrics that are a blend of several different materials. These materials are almost always synthetic. They have been carefully engineered and designed to be self-extinguishing and slow to ignite.
Here are a few of the common fibers with inherent flame-resistant qualities commonly used to create FR clothing.
- Modacrylic: These are the most popular and common option available today. These fibers are often used as part of a blend to create several different flame-resistant fabrics. These various combinations of fibers work together to create fabrics that can easily stand up to several types of standards and regulations.
- Nomex: This is another type of fiber that has inherent flame-resistant qualities. Unlike modacrylic fibers, Nomex can create FR garments on its own. It doesn’t have to be a standalone, however. It can also be combined with other materials such as Kevlar.
- Kevlar: These fibers are certainly flame-resistant, but have many other additional properties such as high strength. Kevlar can create flame-resistant clothing, as well as many other different items. When used to make FR clothing, Kevlar is often combined with Nomex.
Each type of flame-resistant fabric will come with its own pros and cons. Kevlar, for instance, is extremely heavy-duty, but comes with a high price tag because of it. There are no specific flame-resistant clothing dangers, however, and all are designed to protect the wearer from hazardous heat-based conditions.
Is Cotton Flame-Resistant?
One commonly held idea is that if you wear clothing made from 100 percent cotton, it will protect you from heat, electric arcs and flames. However, this is a misconception, because 100 percent cotton clothing is still flammable. When exposed to an ignition source, it will catch fire and will not extinguish itself the way flame-resistant clothing will.
While cotton will not have the same risk of melting and burning fabrics like nylon and polyester will, it is perhaps even more likely to catch fire. Based on this information, we can definitively say 100 percent cotton clothing is not a suitable substitute in situations where flame-resistant clothing is recommended or required.
What Are the Benefits of Flame-Resistant Clothing?
The benefits of flame-resistant and flame-retardant clothing alike are obvious. They allow workers to conduct work in potentially hazardous locations with a greatly reduced risk of injury. While no flame-resistant clothing is guaranteed to prevent every injury, every time, the risk while wearing these specialized garments is significantly lower than it would be if the worker was wearing everyday clothing.
With fire-resistant clothing, the promise is not that the garments will never catch fire. They are designed to resist igniting, and will generally fulfill this purpose in all but the most extreme situations. The great strength of flame-resistant clothing, however, is that it prevents fires from spreading. Even if the clothing does catch fire, it will almost always extinguish itself quickly.
These self-extinguishing properties mean the wearer is less likely to suffer from burns and will have time to retreat from the hazardous environment without the added danger of spreading the fire via their clothing. The fire will be more likely to remain contained, and the worker will be more likely to escape unharmed.
Flame-resistant clothing allows workers to do their jobs in environments and situations that would otherwise be too hazardous, all with a very low risk of injury.
How to Shop for Flame-Resistant Clothing
If you have never shopped for flame-resistant clothing, there are a few points that might initially need a little clarification. How are the garments supposed to fit? Are there any special considerations you need to be aware of? Is FR clothing different for men and women?
To help you address some of these specific concerns, we’re going to break them down into easy sections.
1. How Should Flame-Resistant Clothing Fit?
When it comes to FR clothing, the rule of thumb is that a looser fit offers more protection. When a garment is looser, there is an added layer of air between you and the garment, providing extra insulation against the heat or flames that you may encounter while wearing the clothing. If you wear skintight flame-resistant garments, the flames will be almost directly up against your skin. Even with the clothing as a protective layer, it’s safer to allow this air cushion between your skin and the fabric.
However, you should not take this as an invitation to buy the baggiest and loosest-fitting clothing you can find. While this might initially seem like a good idea, it could very likely lead to disaster. It’s important to remember baggy clothing can easily snag on surrounding objects and hazards, trapping you and leaving you immobile, or ripping and leaving you vulnerable to environmental hazards.
The best solution is to find an in-between fit. Your clothing should be neither form-fitting nor baggy. It should have a slightly loose fit, but shouldn’t hang off your body so much that it is at risk for catching on nearby objects.
When buying flame-resistant clothing, keep in mind that, like most clothing, it will shrink a little bit during the first few washings. With this concern in mind, you may want to buy a slightly bigger size than you ordinarily would so the garment has room to shrink down to the correct size.
2. Are There Specific Designs for Women?
Some FR manufacturers make specific designs targeted at women, while others do not.
If you are a woman, you are certainly welcome to buy designs that are specifically targeted at women, but there is no special need to. The purpose of flame-resistant garments is to provide protection, and this function works in exactly the same way whether the clothing is designed for a man or a woman. Because of this and because of the slightly loose-fitting nature of these garments, many FR clothing designs are gender-neutral.
3. What Should I Look For?
In most cases, your company will provide specific instructions about what you need to purchase. For example, they will tell you if you need primary or secondary protection. They will also tell you which specific garments you need to buy and wear.
Another important thing to look for is a good fit, which we discussed earlier. Remember to buy articles of clothing that are loose-fitting without being excessively baggy, and to leave room for the clothes to shrink slightly.
One additional thing to be aware of is the manufacturer you choose to buy from. Every manufacturer will likely have a different selection of fabrics and styles. The clothing quality may vary from manufacturer to manufacturer, as well as factors like price, various guarantees and the quality-control process. Take all these aspects into account when you decide which company to purchase from.
Which Flame-Resistant Standards Apply to My Business and Me?
There are extensive rules and regulations in place to keep workers safe as they complete their tasks in hazardous locations and environmental conditions. Each company will require their employees to work in different kinds of conditions performing a variety of tasks. This means that virtually every situation will be different.
Because of this, different standards will apply to nearly every situation. You will likely not be subject to the same standards another worker at a different company will be subject to.
For more specific information, you’ll need to do more research into your industry and working conditions. Remember, it’s your and your company’s responsibility to learn what rules and standards apply to you, and then to follow these rules.
Do We Really Need Flame-Resistant Clothing?
As with any rules, regulations or guidelines, there is a certain extent to which it will always be tempting to ask, “Do we need that? Is that rule really necessary? After all, no one at my company has gotten hurt in so long. Aren’t these rules a little too extreme?”
While this is understandable, it’s still important to realize the rules and regulations are there for an important reason: your safety, the safety of your coworkers and the safety of the entire building or location.
OSHA mandates FR clothing and its usage, and the organization that will not hesitate to hand out fines to any companies it finds to be outside of compliance with the regulations.
In addition to providing protection to employees, FR clothing also serves as a handy insurance policy for your company in the event an accident does occur. While it’s certainly expensive for your company to outfit its workers in appropriate gear, it can easily be even more expensive for them if an employee is severely burned. The cost of things like workers’ compensation, training temporary replacement workers and other related expenses will usually far outweigh the cost of protecting the employees in the first place.
All this goes to prove even if it weren’t for OSHA regulations, most companies would much rather outfit their employees correctly than be forced to deal with accidents or injuries onsite.
The rules may seem overbearing or unnecessary, but they’re there for a good reason. If it seems like there’s no need for the rules, that’s for the best. It means the rules are doing their job, since no one is getting hurt. Things are working as they should.
What Happens If My Company and I Don’t Comply With FR Standards?
As mentioned in the previous section, you and your company may feel OSHA’s rules and regulations are excessive, hinder productivity in your workplace, are inconvenient or any other number of grievances.
Based on these feelings, let’s say you and your company refuse to comply with the safety standards regulating the use of fire-resistant clothing. What would the consequences be?
OSHA will take note of your company’s inaction when it comes to providing a safe working environment for its employees. If your company refuses to comply with their standards, they may fine your company, or even pursue further legal action. You may also be at risk for litigation from other sources as well.
In almost every possible scenario, it is safer and more cost-effective just to abide by OSHA’s guidelines regarding the use of flame-resistant clothing.
How Long Does FR Clothing Last?
It’s impossible to make a blanket statement concerning the longevity of every single piece of flame-resistant clothing. FR clothing’s lifespan may be affected by multiple different factors, such as the manufacturer, the quality of the garment and the type of fabric used, as well as how often you wear the garment and how much wear and tear it experiences.
Some varieties of flame-resistant clothing can last as long as five years, while others will wear out and need to be replaced after as little as nine months. You will know you need to replace your flame-resistant clothing when it’s damaged beyond repair, has been contaminated or is no longer functional. You can also replace it when it suffers aesthetic damage, but that is more of a personal decision.
If you’re concerned your flame-resistant clothes won’t last as long as you would like, you can take care which manufacturer you purchase from. Some companies will use more durable fabrics or different construction techniques that help the garments last longer.
There are many benefits to clothing that has a longer lifespan. Firstly, a longer lifespan is beneficial because it means you will have to replace the clothing less frequently, which translates into lower costs in the long run. Even though the clothing with the longer lifespan may cost more up front, you will save money in the end because you will have to replace it less frequently.
Another benefit of longer-lasting clothing is that it will be of a higher quality. The fabric will be more durable, the garment will be better constructed and will be better equipped to protect the wearer from the potentially hazardous working environment.
Caring for My Flame-Resistant Clothing
While everyone’s job is slightly different, it’s highly likely you’re going to put your FR clothing through some demanding conditions while working. As a result, you’re going to have to clean your flame-resistant clothing on a fairly regular basis. Let’s break that into smaller sections as we talk about the specific ways you can clean and care for your fire-resistant clothing.
1. How to Wash and Dry FR Clothing
The good news is that for most FR articles of clothing, the cleaning process is fairly simple. You can feel free to clean these garments at home in your ordinary washer and dryer, using your choice of laundry soap. You should hardly have to change anything from your normal washing and drying procedure to clean your FR clothing.
It is important to note, however, that it’s inadvisable to use chlorine bleach with your FR clothing. It’s also a good rule of thumb to avoid using fabric softeners. Finally, for the best results, launder these clothing items separately from the rest of your clothes. If your FR clothes are extremely soiled and need a deeper cleaning than usual, wash them on the hottest setting allowed on the clothing tag.
Most FR clothing includes at least a small percentage of cotton, meaning they are susceptible to shrinkage during the first several cleanings. If you’re concerned about your garments shrinking, you can help prevent this by hanging the items to dry on a drying rack instead of running them through the dryer.
If you have additional concerns about your specific FR clothes, we recommend looking at the tags of your clothing. While every manufacturer is different, you should be able to find more individualized washing instructions there. In general, however, the guidelines listed above should provide plenty of information to get you started.
2. Can You Dry-Clean FR Clothing?
Yes. You can dry-clean your flame-resistant clothing with no adverse effects. Since you can wash them at home using your normal clothes washer, there is no particular need to have them dry-cleaned. However, if you prefer to take them to the dry cleaner, there is no reason you cannot safely do so.
3. How Many Times Can You Wash FR Clothing?
Most flame-resistant clothing is built to be tough and to withstand a lot of wear and tear. Therefore, a few trips through the washing machine are not likely to damage it. You should feel confident in washing your FR garments as often as they need it. Unless you are using any of the items we discussed above that are not recommended — such as fabric softener or bleach — you can wash your FR clothes as often as you like.
4. How Can FR Clothing Be Repaired?
When flame-resistant clothing becomes damaged, you may immediately wonder if there’s a quick and easy fix you can apply so you can get your clothes back on the job again. It’s true that you can repair damaged FR clothing, but it’s a little bit more complicated than getting out your sewing kit and patching a hole.
Correctly repairing FR clothing requires flame-resistant materials. These materials will need to be consistent with the original materials used to create the garment so the entire piece retains its flame-resistant attributes. Repairing FR clothing with non-flame-resistant materials can result in the entire garment being compromised and failing to protect the wearer on the job.
If you aren’t equipped to handle this level of repairs, it’s best to contact the manufacturer directly. They will be able to complete the repairs with the proper material so that garment remains ready and able to protect you while you work.
When Does My Flame-Resistant Clothing Need to Be Replaced?
While there are certainly some cases in which your FR clothing is damaged, but easy to repair, there are also cases where the garments are damaged beyond repair. When this happens, there’s nothing to do but to throw the items out and buy replacements.
Here are a few of the key warning signs it might be time to retire your flame-resistant clothing and buy replacements:
- The clothing has tears or holes that are too large to be repaired safely and correctly.
- The fabric itself is too worn and threadbare to provide adequate protection against the environmental hazards you will encounter.
- The clothing has been stained with a flammable substance that can’t be removed through cleaning.
- The garment has come into contact with bleach.
- The collar, cuffs or seams are torn or otherwise frayed or open in some way.
If your flame-resistant clothing begins to exhibit any of these signs, it’s important not to delay. Buy a replacement item right away.
You might think to yourself, “This garment is still fine. I probably should buy a replacement, but I’ll wait another week, or another month.” This type of thinking is understandable, but it can also be extremely dangerous. You have no way of knowing when an accident will strike. What if, on the one day you need to be able to rely on your FR clothing to protect you, it is too damaged to do its job correctly?
Don’t wait. If your clothing gets damaged beyond repair, it’s time to buy a replacement.
However, keep in mind that you will not have to replace your FR clothing because the flame-resistant qualities have worn out. Since flame-resistant fabrics have an inherent chemical structure that makes them self-extinguishing, this property will not wear out over time. And even though flame-retardant clothing has been treated to achieve these same properties, most manufacturers provide a lifetime guarantee, meaning the qualities will not wear off in this case, either.
Shop for Your Flame-Resistant Clothing Today
Are you in need of a new set of flame-resistant clothing? Whether this is your first experience buying FR clothing, or if you have years of experience and are just looking for some replacement items, D.E. Gemmill Inc. is the place to shop.
As a contracting company, we understand the importance of supplying yourself and your employees with the very best in safety equipment. That includes flame-resistant clothing. And as retailers, we make it our business to provide you with these items. We pride ourselves on taking your safety and the safety of your employees seriously. That’s why we provide high-quality safety gear, including, but not limited to, flame-resistant clothing.
Our selection of flame-resistant clothing includes shirts, pants, overalls and outerwear such as coats and jackets. All these clothing items come in numerous styles to suit your various needs. In addition to these more traditional items, we also offer an assortment of hats, hoods, protective arm sleeves and more.
For all your flame-resistant clothing needs, browse our full selection today. And if you have any questions at all about safety apparel — how it works, how to buy it, whether or not you need it or any other related question — don’t hesitate to contact us. We’re happy to answer any and all of your questions and provide you with any additional information you may need.