Flame resistant (FR) garments have come a long way in terms of comfort. While FR items for some job operations remain, out of necessity, fairly heavy, innovations by textile manufacturers have produced FR apparel suitable for many industries so lightweight and comfortable that it is indistinguishable from everyday clothing.

This development is generally a positive one – both for the workers who must wear the FR items and for their employers, who recognize that compliance increases with comfort. But there is a potential downside to jeans that seem like ordinary street wear, and shirts so soft they can be worn off the job. Workers who launder this clothing at home may be inclined to combine it with ordinary laundry.

Unintended consequences

Doing so can have unintended consequences to the durability of the garments, potentially affecting both the safety of the worker and the costs to the company of maintaining an effective FR program.

This doesn’t mean that FR clothing should not be laundered at home. In fact, doing so can help avoid some of the problems that occur with industrial laundering, such as rips, tears and holes and excessive fading (which makes workers wonder if the garment’s FR properties have diminished).

Laundering FR clothing correctly at home will maximize the life of the garments, allowing them to maintain their protective properties longer and yielding a better return on the employer’s FR investment, according to FR manufacturers.

The manufacturer’s instructions should be consulted for specific laundering tips for individual garments. FR apparel should always be: 1) washed before it’s worn; 2) laundered using mild washing and drying conditions; and 3) laundered separately from standard clothing, because certain products and practices that are perfectly acceptable when laundering everyday items can diminish the protective level of FR apparel.

For example: chlorine bleach and detergents that contain bleach should not be used because they can damage the luminescent effect of FR clothing. Detergents that contain animal fats are also on the “don’t use with FR” list, as are natural anionic or tallow soaps and fabric softeners or dryer sheets, which can coat the fibers and affect the FR performance, according to FR manufacturers.

Laundering considerations

Water type and temperature is also a factor, according to FR subject matter experts. FR experts say soft water (less than 4.0 grains) is ideal, because the calcium or magnesium salts found in hard water can leave deposits on the surface of fabrics which can act as fuel in case of combustion. The water temperature should be 120° or less in 6 lb. load machine, which should be filled 2/3 full. FR clothing can be washed in a Normal or Cotton cycle.

Removing contaminants during laundering is important and can be accomplished by presoaking garments prior to washing and through the use of commercially available stain removers like Shout® and Spray ‘n Wash®.

FR items should not spend too long in the dryer – and must be dried at a heat setting not exceeding 280 degrees Fahrenheit. When determining the size and fit of the FR clothing you’re selecting, remember that it can shrink by up to five percent that first time in the dryer, according to workingperson.me.

ASTM International’s Standard F 2757 Guide for Home Laundering Care and Maintenance of Flame, Thermal and Arc Resistant Clothing provides information for home care and maintenance of flame resistant protective garments.