FR stands for “flame-resistant” or “flame-retardant.” It’s a classification of protective fabric that’s designed to self-extinguish combustion.
Inherent FR vs Treated FR
What is FR Fabric?
Treated FR vs Inherent FR
Treated FR fabrics are created via chemical treatment process. The FR “application” involves taking fabric, oftentimes cotton, and applying a chemical FR solution that bonds to the fiber surface. While this process delivers results initially, the protective FR qualities may wash away, become ineffective, or wear out over time – oftentimes without any visible warning.
Inherent FR fabrics are engineered to be flame-resistant at the molecular level, having the FR properties built into the fibers of the fabric. This means the protective FR qualities are inherent to the fabric structure – meaning they won’t wash away or wear out for the life of the garment.
Inherent FR versus Chemically Treated FR
There are many common misconceptions when it comes to FR clothing. Many believe that all FR garments are, essentially, interchangeable. This is certainly not the case. When it comes to FR clothing, there are many aspects that must be examined closely before an appropriate purchase decision can be made.
No. There are many kinds of FR clothing that need to be carefully weighed before you decide which solution is best for your FR needs. The weight, level of protection, and even the design of garments can and will differ greatly. The comfort, feel, and look of any FR garment depend largely upon the kind of FR fabric from which it is made.
What is perceived as being the “cheapest” or most cost-effective solutions can, in fact, turn out to be more costly in the long run. Many people purchase garments that are NFPA 2112 certified and NFPA 70E compliant and think that they have found their FR solution. But just because a garment is NFPA 2112 certified and, even NFPA 70E compliant, as well as cheaper to buy initially, doesn’t guarantee a long wear life. What seemed to be a nominal purchase in the beginning can prove to be a millstone over time.
There are two distinct kinds of FR fabrics from which garments are made: inherent FR and chemically treated FR. Inherently FR fabrics are engineered to be flame resistant for life, having the FR properties literally built in at the molecular level. The protection doesn’t wash or wear out, and the garment will always be FR, no matter how long it is in use.
Chemically treated FR fabrics go through a chemical application process that makes them FR. Over time, the FR properties will begin to degrade and become less and less protective as the wear life of the garment continues. Wear, abrasion, UV exposure, and laundering will shorten the useful wear life of a treated FR fabric. Add to this the fact that the chemical FR treatments applied to fabrics such as cotton often present environmental concerns of such processes, and you can see how the cost of ownership of these garments will not look as good tomorrow as it might today.
There have also been issues with shrinkage when garments have been made with natural fibers such as cotton that have had an FR treatment applied to them. This can have a serious effect on comfort and the wear life of the garment. It may well seem wise to pay less for a garment today but if that same garment only lasts for one season, then your money will have been better spent on a longer-lasting, more durable FR solution.
Nomex® is probably the best-known inherently FR fabric on the market and has long been a favored solution in many applications. But as the years have gone by, the market has seen many options that offer the same inherent protection without the usual stiffness and poor moisture management that make up the bulk of complaints about Nomex® in the field.
Electrical linemen and oil and gas workers are doing just that: working. And their work takes them into some pretty harsh environments. Hours spent laboring under a hot sun in arid conditions can provide a quick and painful education on the importance of moisture management. Workers need a garment that will “wick,” or pull the moisture away from the skin and dissipate it quickly so it can evaporate and keep the wearer cool and dry.
There are truly many avenues of exploration and investigation out there for anyone seeking an FR program solution. The most important aspects to be considered should be based on your own risk assessment. Some basic criteria can be a good starting point:
- Make sure that the FR garment/fabric you choose is compliant and/or certified to all of the appropriate standards and OSHA regulations.
- Choose the style and weight of FR garment that will best suit your environment and the needs of your workers.
- Think about the overall wear life of the garment and what the cost will mean long term.
With so many options available and so many outlets for FR garments and fabrics, choosing the right one for your organization can be a daunting task. Always remember that any FR is better than no FR at all and that your needs are not necessarily the needs of everyone in your industry. FR garments and fabrics are not all the same, so be sure to choose the one that will make you feel the most confident in terms of protection, comfort, and durability. Find the facts and dispel the myths about FR, then weigh the evidence and find the solution that’s right for you.
The latest word in lightweight protection, Tecasafe® One is the direct response to the industry’s demand for high-performance protective fabrics for PPE.
The protective power of inherent FR partnered with extreme breathability all at an entry level price point. Why? Because everyone deserves to be comfortable while they work.