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What is Fire Resistant Clothing?

By Erin J. Hill
Updated May 17, 2024
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Fire resistant clothing refers to clothing items that are treated with fire retardant chemicals in order to prevent them from burning in case of a fire. Some other varieties are made from fabric that is naturally fire retardant or from a combination of both methods. They are commonly used for workers in certain high risk areas as well as in the production of children's clothing. Most clothes and bedding, especially those intended for high risk individuals like infants and military workers, must meet governmental standards for fire safety.

Most fire resistant clothing is coated with chemicals such as borax, chlorine, or boric acid. These resist flames and will not burn under normal conditions. Those who wear clothing treated with these materials are generally protected against fire for much longer periods of time than those who are not wearing fire resistant clothing. Some provide more protection than others, as there are items of heavy duty flame retardant clothing which are intended for those who work under very high risk situations. This commonly include those in the military, some factory workers, and rescue workers with both the fire departments and emergency medical teams.

Fire retardant clothing items work by preventing the flame from reaching clothing and the person wearing them. The chemicals used to make clothing fire resistant release either bromine or chlorine, which combine with atoms in the flame. This breaks the burning cycle by slowing down the reactions necessary for flames to occur. These chemicals generally act to remove certain compounds or elements that are needed to sustain the fire.

Infant garment manufacturers are often required to distribute fire resistant clothing for young children. This is because kids are not able to remove themselves from house fires as adults normally can, and it adds an extra layer of protection for them until help can arrive. Bedding is also normally required to be fire safe.

There have been some concerns over the use of fire retardants in bedding materials, as some studies show that there is a period of off gassing. This means that fumes from the chemicals used in making the items fire resistant waft into the air. Whether or not this is a health concern is up for debate. Washing clothes and bedding prior to use may help to offset any potential gas inhalation and potential skin irritation. This is an especially good idea in regards to infant items.

Some fire resistant clothing is made from materials that are naturally slow burning. These can include organic cotton and wool, which are naturally less prone to burning because the fire can be smothered in the thick fibers. Some manmade fabrics, like aramid fabrics used in the creation of body armor, are also flame resistant. These can also be treated with chemical methods to increase their effectiveness.

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Discussion Comments

By Drentel — On Nov 01, 2014

@Laotionne - I think it is safe to assume that the average fire resistant clothing sold at the retail stores is nowhere near the quality of what firemen wear. If it were, most of us would not be able to afford to buy it. The flame resistant clothing the average person buys is not made to withstand the extreme temperatures that a fireman's suit will stand up to.

By the way, the clothing of firemen is also water resistant. I guess this should be obvious, but this is an aspect we sometimes overlook because we automatically think of the roaring flames and not all of the water the firemen come in contact with.

By Sporkasia — On Nov 01, 2014

@Laotionne - I have taken my children to several of the open houses the fire department in our city has from time to time. The firemen always give a special tour and question and answer session for the children who go to the event.

Barring the questions about the big red fire engines and the dog who serves as the fire house mascot, the most often asked questions from the kids are about the clothes the firemen wear. The children are always particularly interested in why the clothes don't burn and just how hot is it inside the clothing.

What I have learned from these sessions is that the firefighters safety clothing is basically made up of three layers, with the middle layer being made of a material called nomex. The nomex is what protects the firemen from heat and flames. This middle layer is also called the thermal layer.

By Laotionne — On Oct 31, 2014

Okay, so is this why firemen are able to go into fires and not get burned? Is there safety clothing treated with borax and chlorine and/or some other kind of these flame resistant chemicals?

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