Flame retardants and Fabrics

The ups and downs of flame retardants Vega sofa

I was recently asked by a customer how she could find out if the materials in her sofa were safe for her children. As I looked into this in more depth it quickly became clear that not only is this a really complicated issue, but answers were hard to find. It feels like it felt back in 2006 when we tried to find information about the raw materials that made up most of our timber furniture. That exploration led to our campaign for more sustainable and transparent buying information and ultimately our Environmental Rating system for which we won some awards. Ten years later we still use our rating system for our timber furniture and since we now sell as many sofas as we do timber products it makes sense to provide this same information for our upholstery. So in the first layer of this new exploration we look at the fabric & the role that flame retardants play.

Most sofas these days are made from a combination of natural and man-made (synthetic) materials: timber, plywood, webbing, springs, foam, wool, fibre filling, feathers, and upholstery fabric. These synthetic materials may contain chemicals which trigger the safety concern. In addition to the synthetic materials that make up components of our sofas, the laws regarding fire safety require that fillings, composites and covers meet strict fire regulations. This often means that additional chemical treatments are used as fire retardants. All upholstered products in the UK have to meet the British standard fire regulations to ensure they comply with the law.

 

Hammett sofa Hammett sofa

What are the fire regulations in the UK?

The 1988 Furniture and furnishing regulations (amended 1989 and 1993) have 6 main provisions (see the FIRA website for details) to ensure that fabrics and foams used in the UK are safe in terms of meeting  ‘specified ignition resistance levels’. These regulations apply to all upholstered furniture for private use in homes. These stringent safety benchmarks were created to protect us in the event of a fire. However (and because) the fire retardants used to meet these criteria can contain chemicals, many end users want assurance as to the safety of the chemicals. Indeed they question if one benefit is to the detriment of another. I don’t have the information to determine that yet but here is what I have learned so far.

 

Source: Fire safety of furniture & furnishings in the home, a guide to the UK Regulations (FIRA & the BFC) Source: Fire safety of furniture & furnishings in the home, a guide to the UK Regulations (FIRA & the BFC)

Labels

Once the upholstery products are tested to determine that they meet the British regulations they are then labelled. The three display labels pictured here identify:

  • fillings meet requirements and are both match and cigarette resistant
  • fillings meet requirements and is cigarette resistant (the cover fabric is not match resistant but it has an interliner which is)
  • fillings meet requirements and are cigarette resistant

Permanent labels are also required on certain products and these are attached to the products but not necessarily externally. The labels shown above are for display purposes and they can be removed once you have your furniture at home. There are also permanent labels affixed to the furniture that should remain there. Many recycling or charitable organisations can re-use furniture as long as it has this permanent label on it.

 

Photo of a double woven process on a double warp loom Photo of a double woven process on a double warp loom

Fabrics – how to meet these ignition resistance levels required by UK law

There are different ways to achieve the correct ignition resistance levels required by law. These include:

FR backing. Many fabrics have an FR (flame or fire resistant) back coating applied to the back of the fabric.

Interlining. If the fabrics are made from more than 75% natural fibres (cotton, flax/linen, viscose/rayon, modal, silk and wool) and is not coated with polyurethane they can be offered in a non-match resistant form as long as it has an FR interliner. The interliner is a separate FR fabric that is underneath the external cover.

FR weave. An FR weave is a new technology where FR yarns are ‘double woven’ into the fabric, as shown above. This process has less intensive FR treatments that still meet the British standard. The benefits of this process are:

  • OEKOTEX certified yarn
  • Compliant to REACH
  • ISO 14001 certified
  • Free of heavy metals and halogens
  • Resource efficient manufacturing

Our fabric options

If you are encouraged to have a sofa or armchair in either the FR weave or a natural fabric that has an interliner rather than a FR backing we have many fabrics to offer.

 

Fabrics with FR weave process Fabrics with FR weave process

FR weave fabrics

Made in Barcelona, these flame retardant fabrics are made using a special double-weave technique featuring a resistant surface fabric and a woven base that incorporates FR-yarn and provides maximum stability and durability. This seems to be the cutting edge of new technology in this area and this mill is moving away from FR backed fabrics in favour of FR woven fabrics. Our DAS, DIVINE, ORIGIN, RITUAL and MASALA fabrics are in this category. In addition to being certified by Oeko-tex these fabrics are compliant with REACH (a European Union regulation concerning the Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation & restriction of Chemicals). They have the added benefit of being free of heavy metals and halogens. In terms of the environment and sustainability, they are ISO 14001 certified and are created using resource efficient manufacturing processes.

 

Natural fabrics with interliners Natural fabrics with interliners

Natural fabrics with an interliner instead of FR backing

Many people just want to have the qualities of natural fabrics and so we can offer these with an interliner to meet the fire regulations. The law states that fabrics with over 75% natural components like cotton, flax/linen, viscose/rayon, modal, silk & wool can be offered with an FR interliner instead of the FR backing. The fabrics we can offer in this category are: CALEIDO, LUIS, MOGANI, BREST, ELMAS, KISS, PANNO, ZEN, ACKER,  LINEN 007, LINEN L007; LINEN L616; LINEN Q425 LANDERED

Our advice?

There are many areas to consider when it comes to the chemical contents of a sofa and they are not all answered here but in terms of the fabrics if you are concerned about chemicals we would suggest the FR woven fabrics and the natural fabrics with an interliner.

 

 

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