Fire resistance testing of textiles and furnishings

Published August 26, 2022

Ville Roininen

Ville Roininen – MSc (tech.), material sciences

Polymers & plastics, Measurlabs

ville.roininen@measurlabs.com

Interiors usually play a significant role in the ignition phase of a fire. The fire safety of the textiles and furnishings used in public spaces like libraries, restaurants, hotels, and hospitals thus need to be assessed to ensure sufficient fire safety. Textile products that need to be tested are for example curtains, upholstered furniture, pillows, mattresses, and blankets.

Each European country has its own regulations or recommendations for the testing of interior textile products, and it can be quite a jungle to navigate among the different standards and classifications. The testing itself on the other hand is not complicated, as long as the material information, product variations, and the intended use are known before the testing. 

Experts like the ones working at Measurlabs are happy to assist you in making a proper testing plan for all your products. You can contact us by email at info@measurlabs.com, and we will start working on your case already the same day!

Commonly used fire testing standards

Commonly used fire testing standards are for example the following international and national ones:

  • ISO 12952: Assessment of the ignitability of bedding items with smoldering cigarette or match flame equivalent

  • EN 1102: Burning behavior test for curtains and drapes

  • DIN 4102: Fire behavior of building materials and elements 

  • EN 13501: Fire classification of construction products and building elements

Even if the last standard in the list above does not directly apply to interiors, the line of what is a building element and what is not can sometimes be a bit blurry. For example in the case of large acoustic panels, it can be unclear whether the material is the interior or the interior surface, and which standard it should be tested by.

For textiles intended to be used in certain contexts, there are also some special requirements. For example on ships, where the number of people is large and the exit is limited, the requirements are a little tougher. The most common standards are as follows:

  • IMO 2010 FTP: Fire test procedure for materials intended to be used on ships

  • EN 45545: Requirements for fire behavior of materials used in rail transport

  • R118: Requirements for the fire behavior of materials used on buses

What characteristics are tested?

The testing is mainly focused on sensitivity to ignition and the speed of fire spread. Usually, a small flame is used as the ignition source, the size of which can be compared to the flame of a match or candle. A burning cigarette is also commonly used as an ignition source. In the test with a cigarette, the smoldering of the material is examined, i.e. flameless, usually slowly progressing combustion.

In addition to the ignition sensitivity and speed of fire spread, the formation of harmful gases and smoke, the release of heat, and the fire behavior such as dripping, melting, or sparking of the material are measured.

How are the testing conditions determined?

The key to defining the test conditions is the intended use of the material. For example, curtains are tested vertically because that is how they are used in the interior, while mattresses or other bedding components are tested in a horizontal position. The intended use also affects what parameters are observed: for hanging curtains burning drops need to be observed, while this is not necessary for example when testing carpets.

The testing plan should be made so that it takes into account different variations of the material. For example, the different thicknesses of the same multi-layered product, like a mattress, should be tested, because the proportions of the materials can significantly affect the fire properties. A testing expert such as the ones working at Measurlabs, should always be consulted to ensure a sufficient (but not overly extensive) number of variations to test. If the material can be used in several ways, like a bed cover that both lies in a horizontal position on top of the bed, but also hangs off the sides of the bed, might be necessary to test in all intended uses.

How does the use of fire-retardant agents affect the testing?

If textiles are fireproofed afterward with chemicals, it is necessary to find out whether the product in question works for that specific material. The fire protector agent does not always have the desired effect, and in the worst case it can even weaken the properties of the material.

The wear of the fire protection agent must also be taken into account, as well as possible cleaning and how the use of the material affects the coating. Generally, fire-retardant-treated textiles or interiors are tested after washing or in some cases before and after washing to examine how the process affects the functioning of the agent.

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