We Are Going to Wash That Retardant Out of the Tent

A few years ago Clairol created a jingle about washing that gray out of your hair. A similar question came up at a Fire Code Action Committee meeting: “Can washing a tent affect flame retardancy?” I was reluctant to answer because my response would have come from the infamous “They” that the flame retardancy stays with the life of the fabric. However, “they” are the industry folks and what we need are facts.

We began our Google search with “Inherently Flame Retardant.” The top ten responses included a page from DuPont titled “ Inherent versus Treated Flame Resistant Fabric.” Dupont stated that when assessing flame-resistant technologies, inherent flame resistant properties cannot be washed out or damaged by exposure to chemicals in the workplace or laundering practices. Read more. Follow this DuPont Link.

Dupont is a good start, but Dupont is not a major player in producing tent fabric. The next logical step was the NFPA 701 Standard and the specific chapters for Flame Propagation Criteria for Test 1 and Test 2. We began by asking NFPA Certified testing labs “where we would find the test results as to whether or not that the flame retardant stays with the life of the fabric? Their answer was Chapter 16 “Cleaning and Water leaching.” We asked, “Isn’t Chapter 16 Included with Test 2?” The surprising answer from all three testing labs was that Chapter 16 is optional and not a requirement. Chapter 17, the reporting criteria, confirms the results of Test 2 and Chapter 16 if the manufacturer requested cleaning and water leaching or declined the test.

Now the plot begins to thicken, we reached out to fabric manufacturers and asked: “When submitting a sample for NFPA 701 testing do you follow the criteria for Chapter 16?” The results came back a bit vague because the question was not a simple yes or no, but each manufacturer said their fabric pasted CA Title 19 testing for flame propagation, accelerated weathering, and water extraction. Also, that CA Title 19 is more restrictive than NFPA 701.

So how does this research help the Special Event Industry and the Code Enforcement Official? The answer lies in an old Beach Boy song “Wouldn’t it Be Nice” if the label said, “Inherently Flame Retardant or (IFR). If you see the IFR logo this fabric has met the requirements for NFPA 701 Test 2 and Chapter 16. We could add to our sample label if the fabric is CA Title 19 certified include the CA Title 19 logo giving us a clear path to Inherently Flame Retardant and move on with the rest of the inspection.

If the fabric is not IFR, the label reads Treated Flame Retardant with the appropriate information for the next scheduled treatment posted on the label.”

Now I need to move on and get these jingles right out of my head!

Until next time this is Jim Erickson reminding you that our number one priority is Life Safety.

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