FR clothing is an important part of your company’s safety program. These garments help to protect your employees. Many industries now use FR clothing as standard PPE. As a result, the number of workplace burn injuries has gone down. But in order for FR clothing to work properly, it has to be well maintained.
What does your FR clothing maintenance program look like? Follow the guidelines below for some best practice tips.
First, let’s review what FR clothing is and does. This specialized PPE protects workers from fire-related hazards. So, how do you define FR? There’s actually two definitions: flame resistant and flame retardant. The concepts of both are generally the same. But, they’re actually two different kinds of FR clothing. It’s important to understand the difference.
Flame resistant clothing is inherently designed to resist flames and embers. The material is tough and durable. It will ignite when exposed to a flame. But, the fabric is self-extinguishing. So, it won’t continue to burn. Flames will not spread throughout the garment. Flame resistant clothing minimizes the extent of burn injuries.
Flame retardant clothing has all of the same features. Except for the fact that it’s not inherently resistant to flames and embers. It’s made from cotton, or cotton-blend materials. The fabrics are chemically treated to obtain their FR qualities. The protection factor comes from a coated chemical, not the garment itself.
Both types of FR clothing will protect your employees. The difference is in the design and construction of the fabrics and materials. We’ll talk more about why that’s important later on.
Another kind of FR clothing is what’s known as arc rated, or AR clothing. Arc rated clothing protects workers from electrical arc flash hazards. The construction of these garments is even better. FR clothing is not fireproof. It will catch fire. But AR clothing is designed to resist ignition in the first place. Electrical workers often need this level of protection. Check out this blog to make sure you know the difference between AR and FR clothing.
Regardless of the garment type, they all need to be properly maintained.
FR clothing needs to be kept in good condition. When it gets worn out, it won’t be able to protect employees from hazards. So, think about ways to extend the life of your FR garments. Of course, regular cleaning must take place. But, what are some other things you can do?
We have some ideas for you. First, let’s discuss how to wash and launder FR clothing.
Some companies hire a cleaning service to wash and maintain FR uniforms. This can be a good option. It takes the responsibility off of the employer and the workers. You can trust professional service providers to do the job right. But, depending on where you are located, this may not be an option for you.
So, you may need to train your employees on how to wash their own FR laundry.
FR fabrics have specific laundering requirements. Check the labels, and always follow manufacturer recommendations.
In general, you should avoid using bleach on FR garments. It can reduce the level of flame resistance in the material.
Fabric softeners should be avoided too. They can leave behind a flammable coating on the FR garments. If the clothing does catch fire, the flames will spread across the entire garment. That also goes for bar soaps, and any other soap with a high fat content. They can have the same effect as fabric softeners.
Also avoid using starches, peroxides, and other similar chemicals.
So, what can you use?
Liquid detergents tend to be the best choice. They’re the most effective option for FR clothing maintenance. Garments can be washed in either warm or hot water. The label will give you specific instructions for washing. Be sure to follow them. And if you have questions, contact the manufacturer.
FR clothing will not last forever. Train your employees to inspect their garments daily. Have them check for any signs of excessive wear. Replace garments immediately if there are holes, stretching, or other visible defects.
Manufacturers may have recommendations for when to replace the clothing.
Remember that flame retardant clothing is chemically treated to be flame resistant. These types of fabrics are only good for a certain number of washes. Over time, the chemical coating will fade away. The garment eventually loses its protective features. So, follow the specified replacement schedules.
When looking through your FR clothing options, don’t forget about maintenance. FR clothing can be expensive. So, you want to get your money’s worth. It might make sense to spend a little more on true FR garments - the ones that will last for more than just a handful of washes.
If you're in the market for new FR gear, here's an easy guide to choosing the best FR coveralls.
So how else can you extend the life of your FR garments?
Make sure clothing is put away when not in use. You don’t want to find these garments lying around collecting dust. Train employees to hang them up in their lockers or at home (if you allow them to take the garments off site).
You may also want to consider using disposable coveralls.
Never heard of them? Disposable coveralls provide workers with an extra layer of protection. They help to maintain the integrity of your regular FR clothing. The disposables keep dirt, grease, and grime from accumulating on daily-use garments. That way, your regular FR garments will require less cleaning and maintenance.
Keep in mind that disposable FR coveralls should NOT replace your regular FR garments.
Disposable coveralls protect against non-hazardous aerosols and particulates. They also protect against inorganic acids, bases, and industrial cleaning chemicals.
To learn more about these unique FR garments, check out our recent post: When Should You Use Disposable FR Coveralls?
Another good tip is to turn the garments inside out before washing. This will help to reduce friction on stiff, new fabrics.
These are just a few more ways to approach FR clothing maintenance.