Complete Guide to Fire Retardants: Facts and Applications

Complete Guide to Fire Retardants: Facts and Applications

Fire has been a part of human existence from the dawn of time. On one side, fire symbolizes the beginning of civilization, light, and warmth. On the other side, fire is one of the most feared elements due to its destructive and spreading force, which is capable of causing severe damage, injury, and death.

The first time humans used a tool to minimize fire spread was during the Great Fire of London in 1666. Since then, fire protection and fire retardant technologies have been continuously improved. After thorough investigation and experiments, firefighting and fire prevention have scaled to a new level, making fire retardants one of the most effective ways to protect material goods and human lives.

For the past years, the United States fire code has been continually updated to ensure the fire safety of residential and commercial structures and products. The fire protection industry has been adapting to those fire codes through fire retardant products that can be applied to fabrics, furniture, fireproofing wood, and other materials.

In this article, we will share the essential facts and forms of applications for users to include fire retardants in domestic and commercial fire prevention plans.

About the Chemical Composition of Fire Retardants

What Is Fire Retardant Made Of?

Fire retardants are fire protection products that contain chemicals that slow down fire development and reduce fire intensity. The chemical composition of fire retardants consists of additives, fire inhibitors, and fire suppressants which can be found as liquids, solids, foams, or gases.

The chemicals used for fire retardants vary depending on the intended application, but most of them combine halogenated chemicals and flame-inhibiting fillers like

  • Aluminum hydroxide
  • Calcium carbonate
  • Magnesium oxide

Types of Fire Retardants

Fire safety experts have classified fire retardants into three categories:

Class A fire retardants, also known as fireproofing fire retardants. They are used for fireproofing materials, ceilings, walls, wood, and fire-resistant insulation.

Class B fire retardants are used for fire-resistant fabrics and fireproofing electronics. These fire retardants are also used for fire protection of other combustible materials.

Class C fire retardants are fire suppressants used for fire protection of electrical systems and fireproofing flammable liquids.

Is Fire Retardant Toxic?

Most fire retardants are considered safe and non-toxic. However, fire retardants can be toxic for humans and animals when inhaled, ingested, or exposed to the skin for extended periods.

Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) are compounds commonly found in fire retardants to protect materials from fire and make them more resistant. However, recent studies have linked them to health issues.

Some of the health risks associated with fire retardants include

  • Thyroid disruption
  • Endocrine dysfunction
  • Consequences for the immune system
  • Reproductive toxicity
  • Cancers
  • Detrimental effects on the development of the fetus and child
  • Neurologic function

Some flame retardants pose a serious threat because they bioaccumulate in human bodies, triggering a cascade of adverse effects as the chemicals reach increasingly high concentrations in the bloodstream and other organs. In this regard, firefighters face a greater danger of experiencing these negative outcomes.

Fire retardants are still useful if chosen with the necessary fire safety protocols. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and other governmental organizations are responsible for reviewing fire retardant regulations and substance standards to ensure adequate safety compliance.

What Is Fire Retardant Spray?

Among the fire retardant products available in the market, sprays are one of the most commonly used in fire protection systems. Fire retardant sprays combine chemical suppressants such as sodium borate and ammonium phosphate, dispersed in materials and fabrics as a spray, foam, liquid, or aerosol solution to inhibit fire hazards.

Upon contact with fire triggers and heat, a coat of fire retardant spray acts by reducing oxygen levels in the area or object where it was previously applied, reducing fire intensity, spread, and reignition risks.

The most often used flame retardants contain bromine, while numerous other varieties can relate to several chemical compounds.

Fire suppression sprays come in a wide range of formulas, each with its recommended use and storage period in an emergency. Some sprays are designed for long-term use in the great outdoors, and others are intended to be used in the split second before a fire threatens your home.

Is Spray Foam Insulation Fire Retardant?

Apart from the name, fire retardant and fire-resistant spray foam do not have the same qualities.

Spray Polyurethane Foam (SPF), often known as spray foam insulation, is created by combining isocyanate and polyol. When applied to a surface or cavity, SPF expands up to 120 times its original size and can withstand temperatures of up to 1,500°F (816°c).

This spray is mostly used to insulate the walls, ceilings, and roofs of construction projects and is usually available in two densities, open-cell or closed-cell. Unfortunately, all types of insulation are flammable, which means that fire retardants are not part of their composition.

However, fire-resistant products can be applied to the spray foam insulation to reduce fire hazards and spread. In fact, when treated spray foam is applied to a surface, fire tests have shown that the fire resistance rating of the material can be increased to over 40-45 minutes.

Essentially, fire retardant sprays are a particular chemical incorporated into the spray insulation foam mix to inhibit fire hazards.

How to Apply Fire Retardant Spray?

Tools for Fire Retardant Spray Application

The application process for fire retardant sprays is simple; in fact, it is similar to regular spray painting.

A standard spray sprayer with an extension wand or a fire-spray machine should be enough to obtain a thin and even layer over a surface. For hard-to-reach areas, a rotating tip will allow you to reach them easily. And for those small and touch-up parts, a regular brush helps by giving a polished result.

Tips on How to Apply Fire Retardant Spray Correctly

  • Make sure to use fire-retardant approved for the application. Different fire retardants are used for other fire-resistant applications.
  • Test fire retardant before application on a small area to ensure compatibility with the surface.
  • Follow safety guidelines during fire retardant application, including wearing a protective face mask and gloves.
  • Ensure it does not exceed the fire retardant manufacturer's recommended fire-resistance rating for the fire protection system.

Fire vs. Materials: Wood

Is Fire Retardant Wood Considered Non Combustible?

If we think about it for a moment, we find wood is part of almost every home or business piece of furniture. Property owners prefer wood because it provides a cozy atmosphere that brings comfort and beauty.

Wood is naturally highly flammable due to its high cellulose and lignin content. Most fire hazard scenarios start with a fire source, such as an open fire or electrical problem, and then quickly spread to the nearby combustible materials made of wood.

Fortunately, fire retardant wood can help reduce fire risks and damage. However, it is not considered non-combustible since fire-retardant wood burns slower than untreated wood but still needs some fire damage.

How to Make Wood Fire Retardant?

Using a flame-resistant substance is the key to creating fire-resistant wood. Fortunately, fire retardants are available in the market and come in various formulations.

In order to become fire retardant, wood is treated with the chemicals stated before, such as fire retardant foam, fire-resistant paint, or fire retardant wood coating. And depending on the fire retardant wood product chosen, fire protection can last up to 30 years.

The process of fire retardation in wood is relatively simple and takes only a few necessary steps.

  1. First, the fire-retardant wood coating or fire-retardant paint has to be applied evenly to the wood, making sure not to leave any spots uncovered.
  2. Once the fire-retardant product is applied, it needs time to dry and cure properly. After it’s used, fire retardants form a char layer that prevents fire from burning outward. This process is known as fire retardant impregnation.
  3. Finally, fire retardant wood should be evaluated to ensure it has flame-resistant qualities. This testing uses fire-resistance tests that meet the fire code standards for building and structure fire protection.

It should be noted that these fire-retardant treatments do not make wood fireproof (since nothing can be fireproof) but fire resistant, meaning they can help slow down fire spread and reduce fire damage.

For structures of hotels or houses completely made of wood, for example, fire retardants not only represent an essential of a fire emergency plan on assets, but it also provides time for fire departments to arrive, take control of the fire, and save as many lives as possible.

Are Christmas Trees Sprayed With Fire Retardant?

Almost everywhere in the world, Christmas trees are a sure bet during the winter holidays. It’s a very popular tradition to decorate Christmas trees with ornaments and gifts for people to enjoy on the night of December 24th.

Christmas tree fire safety has been an area of concern in recent years, especially after the fire hazard disasters that certain trees have caused. If a fire were to start near a Christmas tree, the tree could easily become engulfed in flames and spread the fire to other parts of the room or house.

To protect fire safety during the holiday season, some Christmas tree growers and suppliers use fire retardants to reduce fire risks. The most suitable product for this case is fire retardant sprays or fire retardant foams.

Most fire retardant sprays are applied by spraying the tree from top to bottom, covering all branches and needles. After using the fire-retardant product, it needs time to dry and cure properly.

Note: It is important to let the tree dry before adding any lights or decorations.

What Is in Fire Retardant Dropped From Planes

Various aerial and ground-based methods are used to combat fires in the USA. One of these tactics is aerial firefighting, which consists of using planes to dump water and fire retardants on a wildfire to contain its growth.

Fire retardant dropped from planes is a fire suppressant that helps firefighters extinguish wildfires and protect properties in jeopardy. The fire retardant chemicals used by firefighting planes vary depending on the fire agency and emergency.

Phos-Chek, an aqueous film-forming foam (AFFF), is one of the most commonly used fire retardants dropped from planes. It is a direct firefighting agent that contains polymers, surfactants, water, and other additives.

The polymers in fire retardants from planes create a protective barrier that prevents fire from spreading, thus allowing fire suppression teams to control and extinguish the fire quickly.

How Long Does Fire Retardant Last?

One common question regarding fire retardants is how long they can last before losing their fire-retardant properties. While fire retardants are meant to be a permanent solution, they can still lose properties over time due to weathering and other factors.

The fire retardant life expectancy varies depending on the fire retardant material used, environmental conditions, and fire code requirements. Generally, fire retardants can offer protection for up to a year or more, depending on the product used, environment conditions, and application method.

As a recommendation, fire retardants should be re-applied every six months to a year, depending on fire code requirements in the area and fire safety standards.

Ultimately, the best way to ensure that your fire retardant lasts as long as possible is to follow the manufacturer's instructions carefully and to inspect and maintain your fire retardant system regularly.

Fire vs. Materials: Fabrics

What Fabrics Are Flame Retardant?

Fabrics are used in various applications, including clothes and furniture upholstery. Fire retardant fabrics, also known as FR fabrics, are designed to resist fire and self-extinguish.

FR fabrics can be found as synthetic, natural, and blended materials, and we can classify them as inherently flame-retardant fabrics and treated flame-retardant.

Inherent fire-retardant fabrics are made of fire-resistant fibers. Usually, chemical treatments or fireproof coatings are not needed to make these fabrics fire-resistant.

Examples of fire-resistant fire-retardant fabrics include

  • Wool
  • Hemp
  • Silk
  • Natural Latex
  • Cotton
  • Linen
  • Acrylic
  • Polyester.

Treated fire-retardant fabrics are fireproofed with fire-retardant chemicals such as fireproof sprays, fire-resistant lacquers, and fireproofing paints. These products are applied to the surface of materials to make them fire-resistant.

The following is a list of fabrics that require flame retardant treatment.

  • Polyester
  • Nylon
  • Acrylic
  • Modacrylic
  • Vinyl
  • Rayon
  • Treated Cotton

Is Leather Fire Retardant

Leather is one of the most fireproof materials in nature, as it’s made up of tightly interlocking protein fibers that make it difficult for fire to penetrate. However, leather can still ignite and burn in certain conditions.

The proteins contained in leather provide a fire-resistant barrier that slows fire from spreading, thus giving fire-retardant leather an advantage over fabrics in fire safety and protection.

If fire-retardant chemicals are applied to leather, the fire-retardant properties increase and provide better fire safety protection.

To ensure you are getting the most fire-resistant leather, look for the label certifying it as fire-retardant, or request this information directly from your provider before making a purchase.

Is Polyester Flame Retardant?

Polyethylene terephthalate (PET) or polyester is a fire-resistant synthetic material with excellent fire-retardant properties.

Polyester is an inherently fire-resistant material that will self-extinguish when the fire is removed. This fire-retardant property makes polyester a popular choice for fire safety applications, including fireproof clothing and fire-resistant furniture.

In fire safety tests, polyester scored an impressive 90 fire-resilience index points out of 100. This fire resistance was attributed to the properties of polyester as well as to its low burning temperature.

How Can Fabric Be Treated With a Fire Retardant?

Fabric fire retardants reduce the flammability of fabrics, particularly those made from synthetic materials.

There are two common methods for treating and making fire-resistant fabrics:

  • Chemical Dipping: The material submerges in a chemical solution that serves as a flame-resistant barrier when absorbed into the fibers. These compounds undergo a chemical reaction when exposed to great heat.
  • Coating Technique: Textile makers add a fire-retardant back coating to the cloth rather than soaking it. Nonetheless, this procedure renders the fabric rigid and stiff, resulting in less natural-looking drapery.

Where Can You Buy Fire Retardant

There are many options for where you can buy fire retardants. However, buyers must handle basic information about this product to make an informed investment.

Before advancing too far in the buying process, ensure that you thoroughly understand these products. Thus, you are more likely to find a fire retardant for sale that meets your particular requirements.

The first and primary point for making the right choice is ensuring that fire retardant products contain a label with their chemical information and warnings. To identify legit products, provide the CA approves them with the “Standard Method of Test for Surface Burning Characteristics of Building Materials " ASTM E84, equivalent to UL 723.

Make sure to test fire retardants before purchase. This is especially important for fire-retardant paint, as fireproofing sprays or fireproof lacquers can absorb fire-retardant particles differently.

If you want to make a safe investment, at RDR Technologies, we offer fire-retardant products for fabrics, such as fireproof spray, fire-resistant lacquers, and fireproofing paints.

The market knows us as the only national distributor for multiple manufacturers of fire retardants and related chemicals. We recommend the best product for the job rather than just recommending what we sell.

Our fire retardant products have been tested and certified to meet international fire protection standards.

For more information, contact us today and let our fire safety experts help you find the right fire retardant product.

Bottom Line

After reading this guide, you should better understand fire-retardant products, how they work, and where to buy them. Now it's time to put into practice the fire safety tips you have learned from RDR Technologies.

Jan 24th 2023 Doug Stafford

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