When you hear the word “flammability” in relation to clothing, what does it make you think?

Do you think your jacket would protect you from fire like a fireman’s working outfit? Do you expect your pants to be inflammable? What level of safety from fire do you expect your clothing to provide?

Normally consumers will expect a 100% cotton T-shirt to burn in a fire. In the US market there are regulatory requirements for the flammability of textile clothing. Different markets such as Canada and some European countries have different regulations. The US market has stringent flammability requirements for general wearing apparel, while there are no EU regulations for wearing apparel flammability. However, children’s sleepwear is a high risk category which has more stringent flammability regulatory requirements in several countries including the US, Canada, Australia and the UK.

General Wearing Apparel & Flammability

For this discussion, we will use the US regulation as an example. General wearing apparel needs to be tested for flammability using 16 CFR 1610 (Code of Federal Regulations). Some items, such as gloves and footwear, are exempt from the regulation. An additional group of items, which meet certain weight criteria or are made from specified fiber content, are considered to meet the flammability regulation without testing.

In the US flammability test, a standard flame 5/8 of an inch long is lowered onto the fabric specimen, which is from a garment or production fabric, at a 45 angle for one second. This configuration is used to approximate the position of fabric during wearing. The flammability of the sample is evaluated using the time it takes the flame to travel along the five inch test specimen. Basically, the faster the time, the more likely a fabric will burn rapidly, before the garment could be removed or the fire extinguished. Testing is performed at two stages: the original fabric and the fabric after dry-cleaning and washing. The final classification is the lowest time of the two stages of testing.

The requirements are different for plain surface and raised surface fabrics. Fabrics are classified into Class 1 Normal Flammability, Class 2 Intermediate Flammability and Class 3 Rapid and Intense Burning, according to the time of the burn and the characteristics of the burn. Class 1 is the best class and Class 3 the worst. Fabrics or garments made from fabrics with a Class 3 testing result are not allowed to be sold on the US market.

Plain surface fabrics with a burn time of 3.5 seconds or more are classified as Class 1. Fabrics with burn time less than 3.5 seconds are classified as Class 3 and fail the flammability test. Class 2 Intermediate Flammability does not apply to plain surface fabrics.

For raised surface fabrics, Class 1 fabrics have a burn time of more than 7 seconds. A combination of burn times between 4 and 7 seconds, and burning characteristics that indicate the base of the fabric has been burned through, would result in a fabric being rated as a Class 2 fabric. Class 2 fabrics, or garments made with class 2 fabrics, are considered to have intermediate flammability, but they are still legal to sell in the US market. A combination of burn times less than 4 seconds and burning characteristics that indicate the base of the fabric has been burned through would result in a fabric being rated as a Class 3 fabric. Class 3 fabrics are not legal to sell in the US.

What actions would a person take if his/her coat was on fire? Most people will quickly remove the coat, or extinguish the flame to avoid injury. This is the principle behind the evaluation of flammability for general wearing apparel. The flammability classification does not mean that the fabric will not burn, but that it will not burn so rapidly that grave injury or death might occur. Raised surface fabrics are more risky than plain surface fabrics. The pile on the fabric surface traps more air or oxygen which is essential to support burning.

Children’s Sleepwear & Flammability

In order to reduce the risk of burn injuries and loss of life from fires associated with children’s sleepwear, the US has two regulations for the flammability of children’s wearing apparel intended to be worn primarily for sleeping or activities related to sleeping, 16 CFR 1615 and 16 CFR 1616. All children’s sleepwear, sizes 0 to 14, are required to comply with one of these two standards. Items that do not comply with the appropriate standard are not allowed to be sold in the US.

Most burn incidents occur when children are awake and unsupervised, and wearing sleepwear. Contact with hot surfaces, small open flames like stoves and matches are the primary hazards. Children’s sleepwear will comply with the flammability requirements if:

  • It meets size specifications for sleepwear sizes 0 – 9 months and passes testing against 16 CFR 1610
  • It meets all tight fitting criteria in the regulations and passes testing against 16 CFR 1610.
  • The average char length of specimens tested is seven inches or less 
  • No individual specimen burns the entire length of the specimen (10 inches)

The children’s sleepwear flammability tests are more severe than the general wearing apparel flammability tests. The test is a vertical burning test in which a 1.5 inch flame is applied underneath the bottom edge of the fabric for 3 seconds. The evaluation is based on the length of material burned away or severely charred, which is called the “char length”. Passing testing results must be obtained for each fabric production unit (5,000 linear yards) both before and after 50 washes (depending on results, 50 washes may not always be needed), for prototyes of each type of seam and trim to be used on the final garment, and each garment production unit (500 dozen).

Due to the severity of the test, most children’s sleepwear made of cotton or other cellulosic materials will not comply with the standard. Fabrics made from 100% polyester or other synthetic fibers are usually self-extinguishing and therefore will pass the testing.

Sleepwear made in children’s sizes 0 -9 months are exempt from this testing, but they must meet the requirements of the wearing apparel flammability regulation, 16 CFR 1610. These sizes of garments are exempt because most children wearing these sizes would not be unsupervised near open flames. Sleepwear that is tight fitting would not easily be exposed to an open flame due to its design. Tight fitting sleepwear must meet the specific sizing measurements given in 16 CFR 1615 and 1616. In addition to meeting the sizing specifications, the garments must be labeled according to the regulations.

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For more information contact your local SGS representative, or our global team and visit our website.

S K Lor
Global Harmonization Manager
SGS Hong Kong Limited
t: +852 2774 7424

Karen E. Kyllo, Ph.D.
Deputy Vice President, Global Softlines
SGS North America Inc.
t: +1 973 461 7934