Tencel fabric is often considered the most environmentally friendly choice for clothing and upholstery. This is because it’s made from cellulose sourced from eucalyptus trees.
Unfortunately, cellulose fibres like cotton, linen and lyocell easily catch fire. Thin fabrics made from cellulose fibres can actually be compared to paper, which is also cellulose-based.
Let’s take a deep dive:
- Is Tencel fire resistant?
- Does lyocell burn or melt?
- Flame resistant vs. non-flammable
- What is flame-resistant treated fabric?
- What is flame-resistant treated fibers?
- How to know if a garment is flammable
- What to do if your clothes catch fire
- How to put out a clothing fire
- How the various textiles burn
Is Tencel fire resistant?
There is no definitive answer to this question as the level of fire resistance of Tencel varies depending on the manufacturing process used and whether the fabric was treated. We will talk about this later.
In general, Tencel has a high ignition point. However, it is important to note that tencel does burn if it is exposed to an open flame.
You can treat your Tencel garments at home using a flame-retardant chemical:
Does lyocell burn or melt?
Lyocell is made from wood pulp, which is combustible. So it definitely burns unless it has been treated with a flame retardant chemical.
However, unless lyocell fibers have been blended with synthetic fibers like polyester and nylon, it doesn’t melt at high temperatures.
100% lyocell bedsheets will burn but won’t melt:
Flame resistant vs. non-flammable
Flame resistant materials are hard to ignite, burn slowly when set on fire, or go out when the heat source is removed.
Flame retardant materials only protect you from relatively low-temperature burning and not the kind of temperatures associated with a burning building.
Garments made from these materials may require special laundering to maintain effectiveness. Product labels should tell you what detergent and cleaning methods to use.
Non-flammable fabrics are those that will not ignite, burn, or support combustion. They are made from materials that do not easily ignite and produce little heat when burned.
Non-flammable fabrics are used in a variety of applications, including clothing, upholstery, curtains, and bedding. However, even these materials eventually fail when exposed to enough heat for a long time.
What is flame-resistant treated fabric?
Treated fabric is a fabric that has been treated with a flame retardant chemical. The flame retardant will help to prevent the fabric from igniting and burning in the event of a fire.
Fibers used in these fabrics aren’t usually thought of as protective. They become flame resistant because of the chemical treatment. With wearing and laundering, the flame-resistant chemical wears off the surface, rendering the garment flammable.
What is flame-resistant treated fibers?
Treated fibers are those that have a flame retardant chemical that’s applied during the fiber forming process.
As a result, treated fibers are flame resistant for the life of the garment. The flame retardant chemical can’t be removed by normal wear or laundering.
Treated fibers are ideal in environments that put you at higher risk of fire. It’s used in industrial protective clothing, utilities and fire fighter work uniforms.
This is a fire-resistant cotton t-shirt by Carhatt:
How to know if a garment is flammable
Read the label
The fabric will burn readily if the labels state “flammable”, or “combustible”.
Fireproof, non-combustible, or non-flammable notations on a label mean the fabric will not burn unless the temperature rises beyond a certain level.
If the labels say “fire resistant”, “fire retardant”, or flame resistant,” it will be slow to ignite, may burn more slowly, or may be self-extinguishing when the heat source is removed.
Look at the product
Lighter weight fabrics with looser waves are more likely to catch on fire.
Surface textures like fluffy, loose, furry, and plush materials tend to ignite easily and flames may race across them.
Wide-fitting clothes are more likely to catch on fire than tight-fitting clothes.
Quick removal of garments is essential to prevent serious burns.
Wide sleeves, floaty dresses, and lightweight trailing scarves are particularly at risk for fire injuries.
Garment design includes things such as length, fullness, and flow which can increase the chances of a fire.
This is not the kind of dress you want to be wearing in a fire:
What to do if your clothes catch fire
If your clothes catch fire, you should:
- Stop, drop, and roll.
- Get out of the clothes.
- Run it under water.
- Seek medical attention.
If your clothes catch fire, drop to the ground and roll to smother the fire.
If you see someone else with their clothes on fire, make sure they lay on the ground and roll.
Most garments today are made of one or more synthetic materials that will melt and leave serious burns, so it is likely you will need to go to an emergency room for treatment.
If clothing catches on fire, douse the area with a household water spray or put out the fire using a bucket of water.
If the clothing is heavy, use a extinguisher or rug to smother the fire.
If you can’t put out the fire, call emergency services.
How to put out a clothing fire
In order to put out a clothing fire, you need to smother the fire with a blanket or other non-flammable object. Never use water to put out a clothing fire, as this will only spread the fire and make it worse.
Clothes may contain harmful chemicals that are dangerous to both humans and the environment.
How the various textiles burn
Different textiles burn in different ways. Natural fibers such as cotton and wool will burn slowly and will create a lot of smoke. Nylon will also burn slowly but will create less smoke. Rayon will burn quickly and create a lot of sparks.
Cellulose fibres easily catch fire. Thin fabrics made from cellulose fibres can actually be compared to paper, which is also cellulose-based
Polyester and nylon melt rather than catch fire, and pull away from the flame. If these materials catch fire, it melts and burns at the same time when exposed to high heat then retreats from the flame.
Acrylic is the most flammable of all synthetic fibres. It can be difficult to ignite, but once acrylic catches fire, it burns vigorously.
Acrylic fibres melt and drip, which means that if acrylic clothing catches fire, it may cause deep burns. Acrylonitrile is a carcinogen and a mutagen that targets the central nervous system.
To wrap up
Tencel is a cellulose-based fabric, and therefore, like paper, burns easily. However, this risk can be reduced by treating the fiber or fabric with flame retardant chemicals.