Fire is a two-edged sword. It can bring positive things like heat, light and allows one to cook their food. But there is another, darker side to fire that also destroys everything in its path. Needless to say, one has to be careful around a fire, especially if they are wearing the wrong fabric.
Does wool burn? Yes, wool will burn. There are similarities between each fabric group but natural fibers don't burn like synthetic ones. It is the latter group that should not be near open flames while wool can resist flames up to a certain point.
To learn more about which fabrics burn and how they burn, just continue to read our article. Not only does it have important information on fire and fabrics, but it also includes a simple to follow fabric burn chart. It is an easy to read chart that provides you with clear information on this topic.
Here is a burn test chart that you can copy, make larger and print out if you need a reminder of what happens when sparks or fire get to your clothing. It may help you pick a different fabric for those hiking and camping expeditions you go on.
|Flame / Residue
|Can glow when finished burning, it can also flare but it leaves no beads behind and burns quickly
|Like burning paper, leaves and wood
|Grey or white
|Its fine and soft as well as crumbles easily
|Burns quickly, leaves no beads and has a bright flame
|Like cotton does
|This fabric takes time to ignite, can easily be put out, leaves no beads but glow for awhile afterwards
|Like cotton does
|Grey or white
|Fine and soft
|Soft grey ash
|Curls away from flame, leaves a dark bead that is easily crushed, and burns without flame but does not melt
|Like cotton does
|Can be hazardous to your health
|Burns slowly, leaves a dark bead behind, curls away from the flame
|Little to no smoke
|Dark gritty ash
|Much like silk
|Burned hair or feathers
|Dark gritty ash
|Flares quickly, melts or drips instead of burning, leaves a hard bead behind
|Black hazardous smoke
|Black hazardous smoke
|Burns and melts, shrinks from flame, leaves a hard dark brown bead behind
|Chemical odor that may not be healthy to breathe in
|Black hazardous smoke
|Flares up, shrinks away from flame, can burn quickly and leaves an irregular bead behind
|Acrid type odor
|Like polyester & nylon
As you can see from the chart, not all fabric burns. The natural fiber fabrics will burn when a flame is put to it. Usually, synthetic fibers will melt first then burn for some time afterward. The key to knowing which is which is to do a simple burn test on a small piece of fabric and match your results to the chart above.
The good news about wool is that it has certain natural properties that make it resistant to flames until the flame gets too hot for even wool to handle. The good news about synthetic fibers is that they have high melting points so a spark by fire should not set your clothing aflame.
Then you can get flame protected clothing for yourself and your family. Check the labels to see if the items you are interested in have been given that protective coating.
Why does paper burn? It is just the nature of things. There is no special reason why a fabric will burn. It is just the properties in the natural and synthetic fibers that react negatively when flames are close by. For polyester and other synthetic fibers, it would be the petroleum products used to make each one that are flammable.
Like the plastic they are made from, they will melt first then burn. But there is some good news. If your fabrics are made with a tight weave then your clothing shouldn't burn as fast as those made from a loosely woven fabric. Also, the heavier the weight the harder it is for the fire to burn the material.
It is said that most fabrics will burn once the temperature of the fire reaches 250 degrees C or 482 degrees F. Cotton is said to start burning at a lower temperature, 210 degrees C or 410 degrees F. Silk, is at an even lower temperature burning at 148 degrees C or 298 degrees F.
Polyester and other synthetic fibers may burn at about the same level as silk or just a bit higher. Roughly 150 degrees C or 330 degrees F. The good news here is that you can buy clothing, no matter their fiber, with a fire retardant coating.
That coating will help retard the flames and make the fabric burn at an even higher temperature level. Check the labels to see if the clothing you want has such a coating. It is not on every clothing item.
This will depend on the weight and the weave of the fabric. Loose weaves and lightweight, flowing material burn very quickly. There is little in the clothing item’s construction that hinders the flame’s progress. Also, if you have a loose fluffy pile on your fabric, those loose fibers will burn quickly as well.
The clothing made from a heavyweight tightly woven fabric will burn much slower. As well as those materials that have a smooth pile with no loose fibers over the surface of the garment. The big issue with synthetic fibers is that they do not burn right away.
They melt and cause severe burns on your skin. Once melted then it will burn until the fuel is gone. Blended synthetic and natural fabrics are even worse when it comes to fires. You get melting and burning at the same time.
Except for wool, natural fabrics are usually the fastest burners. That speed will depend on how those natural fibers were woven. If you have a loose weave that breathes easily then expect it to go up in flames rather quickly when it catches fire.
A tighter weave will burn a lot slower and give you more time to stop, drop and roll, to put the flame out. Wool has a natural ingredient that makes it more flame resistant than other natural fibers. It takes a while for wool to catch fire but once it does, those loose fibers may speed up the burn.
Then if you are wearing full, long, loose clothing, you can expect the material to burn rather quickly. As you can see, it is not so much the fabric as it is how the fabric was made. If every material was given a flame protective coating then that retardent would have almost all fabrics burning at the same rate approx. Without that protection, you may find that silk burns the fastest.
Generally, the answer would be no. It is not the flame or the fire that puts two fabrics together, it is the type of fiber that melts together and combines the fibers into one mess. You may think that fusible interfacing is putting fabrics together using heat but those fusible materials are given a special coating to make the adhesion work.
If you are burning fabric, however, natural fibers do not melt together and leave no bead behind for those materials to burn together. But synthetic materials are a different story altogether. Because they melt rather than burn then the heat will fuse the materials into one pile of hot plastic-like material.
After they have melted together then you should see the flame continue to burn for quite some time.
Natural fibers have some similarities top them. They generally burn with white or grey smoke and leave white or grey ash behind that is often soft and disappears when you try to handle it. The different characteristics come in when those natural fibers are taken from an animal or the silkworm.
Since those fibers are protein-based, they burn differently than cotton, hemp, linen, or even bamboo. Instead of smelling like burnt paper, leaves or wood, wool and silk produce a burnt hair odor and leave dark gritty ash behind.
Synthetic materials usually melt and leave a pool of plastic or other man-made chemicals behind and their odor or smoke can be hazardous to your health. Do not breathe any of the fumes in if you can avoid it.
The burn test for yarn is similar to the one used for fabrics. All you need is a match, a little piece of yarn that is long enough to prevent burnt fingers, and a short period of time. Put the match to the yarn and then watch what happens. The results will tell you what fiber the yarn is made from. Here is a smaller chart to guide you when you get your results:
|Burns fast and has a yellowish flame
|Smells like paper, leaves or wood
|Soft ash that maintains its shape
|Burns slower than cotton does
|Smells like rope
|Same as cotton
|Smells like rope
|Same as cotton
|Smells like burnt rags
|No residue but a fine ash
|Wool & silk
|Burns slowly, can be self-extinguishing
|Smells like hair
|Most synthetic fibers
|Melt and fuse together
|Dark bead or dark mass
Yes, cotton does burn and it has the same smell as a wood fire or when you burn paper or leaves. It is a natural odor as cotton is a cellulose-based fabric. In fact, all cellulose-based fabrics have just about the same type of odor.
Depending on the weave, cotton will burn fast or slow. The tighter the weave and heavier the fabric the slower the flame will go. That is because the fire has less oxygen to consume than lighter, looser weaves or flowing fabrics will have.
When cotton catches fire, it will not melt and cause severe burns on your body. You should be able to stop, drop, and roll to put the fire out quickly. Cutting off the oxygen supply is the quickest way to stop any fire.
It will eventually but because it is a heavyweight and a tight weave there is little oxygen in the fabric that encourages the fire to continue burning. The material may even put the flame out before it really gets started because of those factors.
A good comparison would be a canvas and a nylon tent. If sparks or embers hit the latter tent, then you will see little holes where the sparks landed. On the canvas tent, you shouldn’t see any damage at all. The material does not melt and does not encourage flames to ignite.
Because of its weave and heavyweight, you could say that canvas is slightly flame resistant. Eventually, the flames will get hot enough to burn canvas but it may take a long time to do.
Polyester burns and melts. It will shrink away from the flame first, much like nylon and other synthetic fabrics will but eventually, it will catch fire and melt all over the place. If you have ever watched plastic when it is on fire, then you know how polyester will react when it catches fire or gets too close to an open flame.
It is not so much the burning that is the problem with polyester. It is the melting as the material is very hot and when it melts it does not stray far from where it originally sat. That means your body can get severe burns just having the material melt all over you.
You have to be careful when burning this material. It may be one way to get it to degrade a lot faster than throwing the fabric in the landfill. But, polyester is made from petroleum products and very toxic chemicals. That makes burning polyester a health and environmental hazard.
If you get too close and breathe in those fumes, you can be exposing your internal organs to harmful elements, much worse than second-hand smoke. This would be first hand and you would get the full effect of all the ingredients in polyester.
Then stay away from open flames as if the material is not coated with a fire retardant chemical, it will ignite fairly easily and quickly. Polyester may be cheaper than other fabrics but it is not safer to wear.
When you burn silk scraps to see what material they are made of, make sure to take every safety precaution to protect yourself and your home. Accidents do happen even if you are the most careful person in the world.
When you conduct this test make sure you use a glass or metal container. These are not flammable and should contain the flame easily. Use a match and place its flame against about a 1 by 1-inch silk piece and then watch it burn.
Once the little piece has burned up check the smoke, the odor, and the residue against the elements listed in our chart above. When it matches the silk elements then you know you are working with that material and not wool or some synthetic fiber that looks like silk.
Most wool materials contain a natural ingredient that helps protect the fabric from burning. You are probably wearing the safest fabric you can unless other fabrics have been treated with a flame-resistant chemical.
But not all wool fabrics are the same and depending on the animal it comes from, the fabrics it is blended in, that natural fire resistance may be overwhelmed by the more flammable elements of those other materials.
Then if wool is very hairy and loose in its weave you may see the fabric burn easier than a smooth, tightly woven wool sweater. A lot depends on the mitigating factors that make up the fabric and if it is 100% wool or not.
Normally, Christmas lights will not burn fabric. Christmas lights usually do not produce a lot of heat when turned on so they do not get hot enough to burn fabric which ignites at high temperatures. If they do produce more heat than you expected, then keep them away from flammable materials.
That is for those Christmas lights that are in top shape and have no problems associated with them. If the lights short out and create sparks then they can burn the fabric they are closest to. Or if one breaks and the element inside comes in contact with the fabric then it is possible.
If you are unsure or want to make sure your home is safe, go with LED lights over incandescent ones.
If enough super glue is applied to cotton or wool, and other natural fibers, you should see flames appear in a short while. There is a chemical reaction between the ingredients of super glue and the natural fibers so you can either light yourself on fire or cause minor burns.
But this is not as bad of news as it could be. By that, we mean that if you have natural fibers and super glue on your camping or hiking trip, and your matches or other flammable material, wood, gets too wet to start a fire, just take a piece of cotton, etc., and pour super glue on it.
You should see those flames help you stay warm instead of burning you.
Yes, nail glue can burn fabric and like super glue, it is the chemicals inside the nail glue that will cause the fabric to burn or melt if spilled on it. The glue can cause severe burns if too much is spilled on the fabric and that is because of the chemical reaction that is caused by the spill.
The good news is that these types of burns and spills are rare, at least it is hard to find in any scientific literature. Maybe hospitals and parents see more of these accidents than scientists due but in any case, do not expect it to be a common occurrence.
A fabric burn test is not that hard to do. It just takes a little time, a match or two, and a small piece of fabric you want to test. Plus, you should use a fire-safe container and avoid plastic ones as they will melt and create some harmful fumes.
Next, just light the match and hold the piece of fabric in your fingers or use a pair of tweezers. Once the fabric has caught fire, place it in the container, and watch it burn. Note the color of the smoke, the odor it produces, and then check the residue. When you have that information, compare it to the information in our charts above, and you will know what kind of fabric you have in your hands.
Fabrics will burn on you. It is a fact of life. Even when manufacturers spray a fire-resistant chemical on the material, they will burn eventually. Just be careful and watch those sparks when you are out camping or at the beach roasting marshmallows. And don’t wear polyester to those events.