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Flame Retardant Fabrics: What’s the Difference between FR, IFR, DFR and NFR Fabrics?

Fire safety is serious business and Rose Brand offers years of experience and dedicated support

An NFPA 705 match test being performed on a piece of fabric

Fire safety is serious business and Rose Brand offers years of experience, dedicated support, and practical solutions to keep you and your audiences safe. While local fire codes may vary and local enforcement is open to interpretation and discretion, almost everyone has the same question in mind: Does the fabric self-extinguish if exposed to a small flame?

The goal is to keep accidents involving flame, heat and fabric from spreading rapidly. In the U.S., the most widely followed standard to determine fire resistance in curtain fabric is the National Fire Protection Association’s (NFPA) 701 standard. This standard specifies a lab test and the limits of allowable burning of curtain fabric. Since the lab test is impractical for spot checking fabrics outside of a formal lab, the NFPA has also established a field (match) test, NFPA 705.

As shown in the photo above, a vertical flame test is used to determine if a drapery fabric resists burning and is self-extinguishing. If a fabric is not sufficiently flame resistant to meet a standard, the fabric is labeled Non Flame Retardant (NFR). Fabrics that meet a self-extinguishing standard are categorized as Flame Retardant (FR), Inherently Flame Retardant (IFR), or Durably Flame Retardant (DFR). The method by which the fabric got to be sufficiently flame resistant determines the specific label.

FR = Flame Retardant; NFR = Non Flame Retardant

FR fabrics are woven from threads that do not meet fire codes, but are topically treated with a flame retarding chemical so that the end product meets fire safety codes. Before the fabric is treated, it is defined as “NFR” or “non flame retardant.” Once the fabric has been correctly treated, it can be labeled “FR.”

The FR chemicals are dissolved in water and then introduced to the fabric by spraying or dipping. Once the fabric dries from this application process, the FR chemical remains adhered to the fibers of the fabric, making the fabric flame retardant, but possibly on a temporary basis. Any future wetting of the fabric will dissolve the chemical and likely remove all or portions of the chemical from the fabric. This renders all or portions of the fabric NFR. When this happens, the fabric should be thoroughly washed (with water) and then re-treated to restore the flame resistance.

IFR = Inherently Flame Retardant

A fabric is categorized as IFR if woven with threads that yield a product that meets fire code standards, without being subject to any special processing or addition of chemicals. IFR fabrics are expected to remain flame retardant for their lifetime, even after repeated washings. The “inherently flame retardant” phrase has been used in this manner for nearly a century now.

DFR = Durably Flame Retardant

In earlier days, the only fabrics that were flame resistant for a lifetime were IFR fabrics sewn with fibers derived from asbestos and fiberglass. Over time, manufacturers and chemists developed textiles from polymer extruded filament fibers (nylon and polyester), along with additives that chemically bind to the fibers that provide flame resistance and do not react to water. It essentially renders these fabrics flame resistant for a lifetime.

While there are chemical solvents that can alter the flame resistant properties of these fabrics, such chemicals are not usually encountered when fabrics are used as draperies or decorations. Since these treated fabrics will remain fire resistant for a lifetime under normal circumstances, the industry labels them “durably flame retardant.”

All IFR Fabrics and properly treated FR fabrics should meet or exceed local standards for fire safety. However, regardless of your fabric choice, remember fire safety compliance “Rule #1,” as described in our article ”How to be Hassle-free on Soft Goods Flame Retardancy Issues” -- discover and contact the authority that will have judgment over the acceptance of your scenery before your event! A small amount of preparation can save you from a ton of headaches in the long run!

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