If you’re working in an industry where flame resistant (FR) workwear is standard attire, you should know how important it is. FR clothing reacts differently to fire and heat than the clothing you would wear on the street—it’s thermally insulated and designed to resist igniting, melting, tearing, or breaking. If it ignites it will extinguish much faster than other clothing. However, improper care or laundering can affect those properties and make you less safe at work.
The garment manufacturer’s guidelines are the best place to look when it comes to the care and keeping of your FR clothing. Your industry will likely also have its own rules for compliance that you should follow. There are some best practices that apply to most garments and brands, which we’ve compiled for you here.
Storage and Use
When you’re not using your FR clothing, it should be stored in a secure location that’s room temperature and protected from UV rays, pests, chemicals, heat sources, and moisture. Be sure that nothing is piled on top of your FR clothing that could alter its shape and compromise its protective qualities.
All FR clothing, like PPE in general, should be inspected before each use to check for defects and damage. Users should be cautious around sharp objects or other potentially hazardous tools or equipment. Disposable FR clothing, like FR hazmat suits, can also be added to existing gear for additional protection.
When users and employers are inspecting FR garments, here are some signs that indicate the gear should be removed from service permanently:
- Thin or torn fabric, holes (even small ones), or everyday wear and abrasion, especially in the joints
- Any elements that no longer function, like zippers or buttons
- Significant alterations that weren’t in the original garment design
- Garments that are uncomfortable or otherwise don’t fit properly
- Stains or spots that can’t be removed through cleaning
- Embedded objects
Dirt, oil, chemicals, and other contaminants can wear down the FR properties of your garments, so washing them as soon as possible after getting soiled is best practice. Clothing should never be worn again prior to proper laundering because dirty PPE is less protective than clean garments.
FR clothing shouldn’t be laundered with regular clothing, but some garments can be washed in your laundry machine at home. Heavy grime or tough buildup may require an industrial machine. FR clothing shouldn’t be exposed to workplace chemicals, insect repellent (especially DEET), anti-static or wrinkle-free dryer sheets, fabric softeners, starch, or chlorine bleach. Most importantly, before making any assumptions on how to wash your FR clothing, please check the manufacturer’s directions and guidelines for washing.
Repairing and Replacing
The lifespan of your FR workwear will differ based on how it is made, the materials it is made of, and how often you wear it. Again, manufacturer guidelines are the best place to get an idea of your garment’s lifespan. So it’s a good idea to track how old each item is. Any gear that’s too old should be discarded in case it might be worn out. Garments that have already been involved in a flash fire or other thermal exposure should also be discarded because the FR qualities may be compromised.
However, some types of damage can be repaired, which could be more cost-effective than replacements in some cases. The manufacturer will have more information on whether repairs are possible and which ones are appropriate. Some manufacturers will perform repairs, but if you’re doing them in-house, use FR thread, fabric, and other elements consistent with the original garment.
All PPE, including FR PPE, will need to be replaced eventually. Ensure that you’re choosing high-quality FR clothing made or sold by trusted brands and taking proper care of it in between jobs. It’s the only way to ensure that workers stay as safe as possible while performing dangerous and important work.