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What Is FR Clothing? Your Guide to Flame-Resistant Clothing

Many nuances and requirements surround FR clothing. Do you need flame-resistant or flame-retardant clothing? Maybe your supervisor has told you that 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 is flame-resistant clothing?

Today, we’re going to walk you through the basics. We’ll talk about what flame-resistant clothing is, the materials used to make it, how long it lasts, how to clean it and much more. By the time you finish reading this guide, you’ll be an expert on all things regarding flame-resistant clothing.

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What Is Flame-Resistant Clothing?

Let’s begin 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 protects the wearer from injury due to flames. These clothing items will not easily catch fire, and even when they do, their design causes them to self-extinguish. If you get exposed to a brief, intermittent flame while wearing this clothing and your clothes catch on fire, the material will naturally put out the fire. This ability significantly lowers the wearer’s risk of burn injury and can often provide 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 might 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 that might expose them 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 these fabrics have the appropriate treating to withstand the conditions the employee may encounter during their work.

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What is the Purpose of Flame-Resistant Clothing?

FR clothing’s purpose is to protect the wearer from an emergency in which their clothing could catch fire. Many people go to work daily in industries that involve the risk of fire, such as manufacturing or metalworking. While the rate of fires occurring in these fields may be low, it is imperative to prepare for the worst-case scenario. In a disaster, wearing FR clothing could save someone from severe injuries.

Specifically, FR clothing manufacturers use non-conductive fabrics and components that will not melt onto the skin, keeping the extent of a burn injury to the minimum. FR jackets, shirts and pants can provide the thermal insulation needed to protect the wearer from extreme heat. Quality FR clothing also resists breaking open, which prevents the wearer’s skin from becoming exposed to hazards.

Who Needs to Wear Flame-Resistant Clothing?

If an employee works in environments where injury due to fire, heat or electrical mishaps 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.

Three broad categories of workers should wear flame-resistant clothing for protection, based on the type of hazard the worker will encounter while completing their work. Here are the three primary hazards.

  • Electric arc: People exposed to this hazard include electricians and utility workers, among others.
  • Flash fire: This category includes pharmaceutical, chemical and refinery workers.
  • 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 learning about flame-resistant clothing, you may frequently hear the terms “primary protection” and “secondary protection.” What 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 protection it offers as a result of this intended usage. The following is a brief breakdown of the two protection levels.

1. Primary Protection

Primary protection refers to flame-resistant clothing designed for use during activities that will frequently expose the wearer to flames, radiant heat and potential molten substance splash. One familiar example to point to is a firefighter’s gear. When out answering a call, the firefighter will encounter extreme conditions and will need the additional measures offered by primary protection gear.

2. Secondary Protection

Secondary protection is for situations where the wearer may encounter exposure to intermittent hazards. These 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 protects you from flames, heat and other similar environmental concerns, can you take any additional measures to make the clothing more effective? On the other hand, should you avoid any gear that might make this clothing less effective?

The clothes you decide to wear under your flame-resistant clothing have a significant impact on your safety and the effectiveness of your FR clothing. Whenever you wear FR clothes, remember to only wear 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 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?

Anyone who is not extremely familiar with this information and these terms might assume these three terms are synonyms. The confusion is understandable, given the similarities. Two of the terms are interchangeable, but the other is quite a bit different.

Here are the major differences between them.

  • Flame-resistant: Flame-resistant clothing consists of inherently nonflammable fabrics and materials. The materials have a chemical structure that naturally resists flames. These types of fibers can catch fire, but they will either self-extinguish or burn exceedingly slowly. These materials’ essential function is to prevent the further spread of fire.
  • Fire-resistant: This term is a synonym for flame-resistant. If you hear someone say “fire-resistant” instead of “flame-resistant,” don’t get confused. They mean the same thing, and it is correct to use them interchangeably.
  • Fire-retardant: Fire-retardant fabrics have undergone chemical treatment to acquire some of the same qualities that flame-resistant fabrics inherently possess. As a result of these chemical procedures, flame-retardant fabrics become self-extinguishing and slow-burning. Any type of fabric can qualify, but it must undergo this treatment before it falls under the classification of fire-retardant.

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What Is FR Clothing Made Of?

Not all fire-resistant clothing consists of the same fabrics. There are multiple choices available, and each comes with different benefits and hazards. Choose the fabric that best suits your employees’ needs and working environment. What keeps an employee safe in one location may not be ideal for another location.

Most flame-resistant clothing consists of a blend of several different materials, which are almost always synthetic. Their careful engineering and design make them 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: Among the most popular and common options available today, these fibers are often 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: Nomex is another fiber with inherent flame-resistant qualities. As opposed to modacrylic fibers, Nomex can create FR garments on its own. It doesn’t have to be a stand-alone, however. It’s also possible to combine it with other materials such as Kevlar.
  • Kevlar: These fibers are flame-resistant, but have many other additional properties such as high strength. Kevlar can create flame-resistant clothing and many other different items. 

Each type of flame-resistant fabric will come with unique pros and cons. For instance, Kevlar is extremely heavy-duty, but has a higher price tag. However, there are no specific flame-resistant clothing dangers, and all can 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% cotton, it will protect you from heat, electric arcs and flames. However, this is a misconception, because 100% 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 confidently say 100% cotton clothing is not a suitable alternative for situations requiring flame-resistant clothing.

What Are the Benefits of Flame-Resistant Clothing?

The benefits of flame-resistant and flame-retardant clothing are obvious. They allow workers to conduct work in potentially hazardous locations with a greatly reduced risk of injury. Though there are no articles of FR clothing guaranteed to prevent every injury in every situation, the risk while wearing these specialized garments is exceptionally 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 will resist igniting, and will generally fulfill this purpose in all but the most extreme situations. However, flame-resistant clothing’s remarkable strength 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.

Is Flame-Resistant Clothing Bad for Your Health?

There are many materials with inherent flame-resistant properties that meet the safety standards set by OSHA. Naturally flame-resistant materials, such as wool and silk, do not easily ignite or melt and do not need chemical treatments. These materials contain FR qualities at the molecular level, which means the protection they offer will not wear out regardless of time and frequency of use.

On the other hand, some engineered flame-retardant fabrics can be hazardous due to the chemicals used to treat them. For example, FR clothing that involves formaldehyde may pose health issues, such as rashes or even some types of cancer. To help you avoid toxic materials, the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences outlined the most dangerous types of flame retardants.

Choosing FR pants, shirts or jackets made from inherently flame-resistant fibers instead of fabrics treated with hazardous chemicals can help you stay protected from burns without sacrificing your overall health.

How to Shop for Flame-Resistant Clothing

If you have never shopped for flame-resistant clothing, a few points 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’ll break them down into easy-to-understand sections.

1. How Should Flame-Resistant Clothing Fit?

With 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 material, 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 crucial to remember baggy clothing can easily snag on surrounding objects and hazards, trapping you and leaving you immobile, or ripping and making you more 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 comfortably loose fit, but should not hang off your body so much that it becomes liable to catch on nearby objects.

When buying flame-resistant clothing, remember 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 design fits and styles specifically for women, while others do not. 

If you identify as female, you are welcome to buy designs targeting women, but there is no special need to. The purpose of flame-resistant garments is to provide protection, and this function works the same way regardless of who’s wearing the clothes. Because of this and 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 essential quality 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 will 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. 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 guidelines that apply to another worker at a different company.

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, “Is that rule strictly 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 essential to realize the rules and regulations are there for a vital reason: safety.

OSHA mandates FR clothing and its usage, and the organization will not hesitate to hand out fines to any companies it finds to be outside of compliance with the regulations.

Besides protecting employees, FR clothing also serves as a handy insurance policy for your company if an accident occurs. While it’s expensive to outfit your workers in the appropriate gear, it can easily become much costlier if an employee experiences severe burns. 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 proves that, even if it weren’t for OSHA regulations, most companies would much rather outfit their employees correctly than have to deal with on-site accidents or injuries.

The rules may seem overbearing or unnecessary, but they’re there for a good reason. If it looks like there’s no need for the rules, that’s for the best. It means the guidelines are doing their job because 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 providing a safe working environment for your employees. If your company refuses to comply with their standards, they may fine you, or even pursue legal action. You may also be at risk for litigation from other sources.

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 piece of flame-resistant clothing. Various factors may affect FR clothing’s lifespan, such as the manufacturer, the quality of the garment and the type of fabric used, 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 replacing after as little as nine months. You will know you need to replace your flame-resistant clothing when it gets damaged beyond repair, has become 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 worried your flame-resistant clothes won’t last as long as you would like, you can be selective about 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 upfront, 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 protect the wearer from the potentially hazardous working environment.

Caring for My Flame-Resistant Clothing

While everyone’s job is slightly different, you’ll likely put your FR clothing through some demanding conditions while working. As a result, you’re going to have to clean your flame-resistant clothing fairly regularly. 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. Can You Wash FR Clothing?

While it is always necessary to consult the care instructions for your specific piece of FR clothing, most FR clothing is safe to wash. You should try to get into the habit of always washing your articles of FR clothing before wearing them. Washing your FR clothing the right way can help extend the garments’ longevity so they can continue keeping you safe on the job.

Most importantly, be sure to always wash your FR shirts, pants and jackets separately from your regular clothes. Washing them together could damage your FR clothes’ flame-resistant qualities. The following section will discuss how to wash loads of FR clothes in more detail.

2. 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.

However, it’s essential to note 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 your clothing tags. 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.

3. 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.

4. How Many Times Can You Wash FR Clothing?

Most flame-resistant clothing is durable enough 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 non-recommended items we discussed above — such as fabric softener or bleach — you can wash your FR clothes as often as you like.

5. How Can You Repair FR Clothing?

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 using flame-resistant materials that are 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 compromise the entire garment, which might mean it fails to protect you on the job.

If you lack the supplies or experience to handle this level of repairs, it’s best to contact the manufacturer directly. They will complete the repairs with the correct material so that garment remains ready and able to protect you while you work.

When Do You Need to Replace Flame-Resistant Clothing?

Sometimes, you can quickly repair FR damage, but there are also cases where the garments become 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 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 repair 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 become stained with a flammable substance that you can’t remove through cleaning.
  • The garment has come into contact with bleach.
  • The collar, cuffs or seams have torn or are otherwise frayed or open in some way.

If your flame-resistant clothing begins to exhibit any of these signs, don’t 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 your FR clothing is too damaged to do its job on the one day you need to be able to rely on it to protect you?

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 undergone treatment 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

Do you need 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 supply high-quality safety gear, including, but not limited to, flame-resistant clothing.

Our wide selection of flame-resistant clothing includes pantsshirtsoveralls 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.

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