Protective fabrics

Top 10 Tips For Selecting Protective Fabric

  • August 15, 2017

The term “protective fabric” has real meaning in industries where workers are frequently exposed to combustible liquids or gases, molten metals or highly-charged electrical wires. In industries like that protective workwear, or maybe more precisely fire retardant workwear, is an essential component of work life and as such a mandatory requirement.

A fire retardant works as an extinguishing agent in slowing or stopping a fire from spreading and cutting its intensity. That is exactly what flame retardant fabric does in a hazardous work environment and is a requirement by law for adhering to safety standards.

Fabric or fiber is chemically treated to give it fire resistant qualities. However not all flame retardant fabrics are the same. They cannot be used interchangeably when it comes to protection in environments of varied degrees of risky exposure. Essentially, you will need a specific kind of protective fabrics depending on the nature of your work. Here is a list of top tips that you should go through before choosing a suitable protective fabric for your specific use.

Variety of retardants

Different flame retardants have varying flame resistant properties. One variety of chemical may be very different in resistance to another chemical. Flame retardant manufacturers usually use a combination of different chemicals in order to increase the resistance and protective quality of the resultant product. They may also use different combinations and quantities depending on what material is to be made flame retardant or more specifically, in what kind of setting the final fabric is going to be used. Any specific blend of flame retardant chemicals will yield different resistant qualities.

Type of material

Just as different flame retardant chemicals have different properties, they are prone to different reactions to any given quality of fabric. This is so because elements that constitute a flame retardant react differently to different materials because of variation in the physical nature and chemical composition of a fabric. Many materials may be more combustible or resistant than others and may need different levels of treatment to make them suitable for use as protective workwear. Ever since the introduction of industrial workwear, protective fabric manufacturers have developed a number of diverse flame retardant chemistries for different varieties of fabrics to make them fire resistant and suitable for their intended use.

Intended use

One of the first things you need to do is to specify the work conditions in which to use the protective fabric. This is especially significant if you have more than one departments to consider as each may have a different risk level involved in employee’s exposure to flammable substances or other hazardous procedures. In which case you will have to contact a manufacturer or supplier that can cater to your specific protection needs. Comfort level and range of fabric colors will also differ from manufacturer to manufacturer.

Industrial use


As the protective fabric and workwear manufacturing has expanded, the industrial categorization of the flame retardant fabrics and their utilization has become much clearer. Different industrial sectors require varied qualities of robustness and resistance of fabric in particular settings where exposure to heat or inflammable substances may vary greatly. For instance, protective fabric used in an oil and gas industry will have to many times more fire resistant than the one used in welding or electrical industry.

Treated vs Inherent Flame Resistant Fabrics

The difference between the two kinds of fabrics is pretty straight forward. The treated fabrics such as cotton, nylon or cotton-nylon mix are applied with flame retardant chemicals in order to render them flame or heat resistant in varying degrees. These fabrics then acquire the self-extinguishing qualities and are used to minimize the damage caused by an instance of fire. They also provide protection against heat.  Treated fabrics usually retain their protective qualities for life if used and laundered with caution.

On the other hand, inherent flame resistant fabrics are made with treated fiber that has been engineered to possess flame resistance and do not require any additional chemical treatment.

Garment Protection Levels

flame retardant fabrics

Protective fabric or flame retardant fabric or apparel can be further divided into categories given the risk conditions they are used in. There are two categories: primary and secondary. Primary apparel falls under HRC (High Risk Category) three and four which means the apparel has to be heavier and covering entire body of the wearer. This kind of apparel is called “flash suit” and is used in conditions where an arc flash hazard is high.

Secondary apparel consists of flame retardant shirts, pants and coveralls, and is worn by workers in job categories where protection against more common hazards is required. In this instance, workers usually have to wear the apparel as daily workwear. Secondary apparel falls under HRC one and two.

Minimum Arc Rating

If you find the categories confusing, another way to find out about your protection requirement level is to find out the minimum arc rating mandatory for your intended apparel. The arc rating determines the risk level involved in your situation and accordingly specifies what category you should go for, for your apparel. The below chart illustrates the categories and the HRC risks from 1-4 as well as the minimum arc rating the apparel must have:

Hazard Risk Category

Minimum Arc Rating

Proper Apparel Needed


4 cal/cm2

Arc-rated shirt and pants or arc-rated/flame-resistant coveralls


8 cal/cm2

Arc-rated shirt and pants or arc-rated/flame-resistant coveralls


25 cal/cm2

Arc-rated shirt and pants or arc-rated/flame-resistant coveralls and arc flash suit


40 cal/cm2

Arc-rated shirt and pants or arc-rated/flame-resistant coveralls and arc flash suit

Regulatory Authorities

It is extremely important for you to find out and understand the safety requirements and regulatory provisions applicable in your situation. Your local fire or petroleum safety regulatory authority will have proper instructions and requirements laid down for protective apparel required for facility-specific risks, and your fabric selection should meet those requirements. Some of the local associations are given below for different countries.

  • Norway – Norwegian Fire Protection Association; Petroleum Safety Authority Norway
  • USA – National Fire Protection Association (NFPA); Technical Standards and Safety Authority (TSSA)
  • UK – Fire Protection Association (FPA)
  • UAE – Environment, Health and Safety (EHS)

Understanding the differences between various protective fabrics and adhering to safety regulations is obligatory for providing adequate protection for workers and avoiding a potential life-threatening situation.

Fabric care instructions

It is imperative to make sure you know how to care for and launder the flame retardant apparel that you are buying. Treated or inherent FR fabrics cannot be laundered like ordinary clothing. Proper care must be taken while washing them. For instance, washing them with regular chlorine bleach will affect their protective properties and may result in reducing or even removing them. Normally it is recommended to launder them at specialist facilities. Same goes for exposure to substances such as hydrogen peroxide, sulfuric acid and other chlorine-containing chemicals. Similarly, when repairing an FR apparel, special treated thread and fabric patches must be used keeping in mind that the safety requirements and size regulations are not compromised.

Online reviews

If unsure about a provider, the best way to decide is to go through online product reviews. Different protective fabric manufacturers specialize in different kinds of fabrics and apparel. Online reviews and articles about particular providers will give you detailed insight into their specialty, product quality and product specifications.


Remember you are as safe as you are prepared when it comes to risky work conditions. The right choice of fabric can be the difference between an accident under control and an accident turning fatal. You must choose the right ISO certified supplier for your protective fabric that has complete understanding of protective work wear requirements and enjoys an adequately responsible rapport in your industry.