While the term flame retardants may seem fairly self-explanatory, it’s actually a diverse intersection of chemistry and safety.
Brominated flame retardants are the most commonly used, but there are many different types, and each may refer to any of a number of different chemical compounds. Their primary functions are the same: Preventing fires and slowing the spread of fires.
They are found in products from building materials to textiles and electronics and are incredibly important in keeping our loved ones and investments safe. Since they are all around us, it’s good to know a few facts about fire retardants.
What are flame retardants used for?
Flame retardants are used in countless products on the market today. Some products may pose fire risks themselves due to engines or heat from batteries, while others are either very flammable or combustible.
Different types of flame retardants may be used for each different product, and some are even combined to achieve the desired level of protection. Most of the products that contain them fall into four main categories.
Electronics and electrical devices
Electronics are a marvel of modern technology. We’ve learned to harness the power of electricity, and used it to do some pretty crazy things. However, these products can get overloaded and wires can get crossed, and sometimes they start fires. This area of consumer goods relies on flame retardants to prevent products from starting fires.
Building and construction materials
Construction materials have come a long way, and some of the most important advancements relate to safety. A hundred years ago, a house fire may have meant that the entire block or city went up in flames. Today, building materials are treated with flame retardants, meaning fires start and spread much more slowly in modern construction.
Home and office furnishings
Anything that is comfortable is typically flammable. From the wood frame, to the filling, to the upholstery, furniture is a tinderbox that speeds fires through homes. The flame retardant materials used in modern furniture give people much needed time to escape should a fire start indoors
Most modern transportation still relies on internal combustion, so heat and fire come with the territory. They are also fitted with highly combustible fuel tanks. In the event that fire spreads through the conveyance, the flame retardants used in its construction may save your life.
Why is fire retardant important?
Whenever something is dangerous to our lives and livelihoods, markets naturally spring up to protect us from the dangerous element. Fire is the classic human danger. It may be the least fun thing that can happen in your day, whether you’re on a plane, in a car, or at your office.
While they are important elements in modern products and spaces, in no place are they more important than your home.
Since most fire deaths occur at night, while we are sleeping, we’ve come up with all kinds of innovations to ensure we have the time to get out safely and stop fires from consuming entire communities. While we all see smoke detectors as the stars of the show, fire retardants are crucial in slowing the spread.
Where untreated cloth materials like couches and drapes can multiply the size of a fire many times in a matter of seconds, flame retardant materials ensure that the fire hasn’t spread to inescapable heights before the smoke triggers the alarm.
Do flame retardants actually stop the spread of fires?
You may wonder whether or not a material requires flame retardants. A hot enough fire will burn through almost anything, right? Well, fires start somewhere. Treated materials may not stop the spread of fires in their tracks, but they have been shown to significantly slow the spread of fires, and also reduce the chance that the surface will ignite in the first place.
If you live in an area prone to wildfires, you may already know that a big part of a fire’s spread occurs through hot ashes blowing onto adjacent properties. When people treat their properties with flame retardants, those hot ashes are far less likely to ignite whatever they landed on.
Many people credit flame retardants for saving their homes from wildfires, while their neighbors may not have been so lucky.
How long does fire retardant spray last?
There are many types of retardant sprays on the market. They may be used for very different applications, and the different types have different shelf lives. Some are made to spray onto your property immediately before a wildfire advances on your home, while others are intended for long term use outside the home.
The ones intended for protecting your property from impending flames don’t last as long as the ones you would use for regular treatments. Make sure you know what type of retardant spray you are purchasing, and make sure to read all information and instructions on the label.
Can fire retardant be washed off?
Fire retardant is designed to stick around in the products that contain them, so they can maintain their effectiveness. They may last through 50 washings in clothing, but they will eventually lose effectiveness with repeated washings. If you get a fire retardant on your skin, you can wash it off with gentle soap and water.
Repeated washings will clear more and more of it from your skin. As always, if you come into contact with any chemical you are unsure about, it’s best to contact your local poison control center to determine the best course of action.
Are flame retardants safe?
Like any chemical used to protect people, flame retardants are subject to intense scrutiny. They may be reviewed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), along with other governmental agencies, and all-new flame retardant chemicals must be reviewed by EPA, so the data is constantly being updated.
During its review of data on flame retardant chemicals, EPA identified around 50 flame retardant examples that are unlikely to pose a risk to the health of humans. That said, flame retardant health risks vary with the chemical and application. To ensure your safety, always make sure you follow the instructions for use and all necessary steps and precautions when dealing with any chemicals.
Consult the flame retardants chemicals list or the EPA flame retardants page to see what you’re dealing with, if you have any concerns.