We’re selective about the FR clothing that we carry and that’s why we carry the best brands: DRIFIRE, Carhartt FR, Ariat FR and more. These trusted manufacturers build their garments from fabrics that maintain their flame resistant properties throughout the useful wear life of a garment when properly cared for. Does your shirt have holes? Do your jeans have rips? It may be fashionable but those FR jeans are no longer living a useful flame resistant wear life. In addition to keeping your clothes free of wear and tear, proper care of your FR clothing includes proper laundering. There are some key basics of laundering and we’ve put together the top tips and a few interesting tidbits to know.
Read the Label
First and foremost, read the label in the garment. There are tried and true things that apply to all FRC, but there are a few nuances with certain fabrics – think denim in jeans, fleece sweatshirts, knit shirts versus work shirts, etc. The most accurate care information will be found on the label in your FR clothing.
An interesting note on those labels: some manufacturers use flame resistant labels in their FR garments. There is no requirement to do so, but this attention to detail is to leave no stone unturned in your protection in the event of an arc flash or flash fire event.
Beware the Bleach
Avoid the use of bleach on FR clothing. The same properties in bleach that break down stains can potentially impact the FR properties. A 2017 study on the impact of bleach and fabric softener on flame resistant fabrics by ArcWear, a firm of leading experts in arc flash testing services, certification and investigations, showed that things as simple as the type of water and number of washes could increase the impact of bleach on a garment:
Hard water could make the results worse but with soft water, the chlorine bleach reacted and disabled the FR treatment between 50 and 100 washes.1
Regardless of your water, avoid bleach when laundering your FRC.
Skip the Starch and Fabric Softener
Crisp starched jeans are a wardrobe staple for some for appearance, and others appreciate the way the dirt slides off because of the starch – often resulting in the need to wash jeans less. Alternatively, others are looking to soften their fabrics for a more pliable garment. Regardless of starch or softener, skip them both. Both additives have the potential to leave residue that could decrease flame resistance.
Something to note – especially on button front shirts: some fabrics might feel stiff when you first get your new shirt. It’s always recommended that you wash your FRC before wearing, and you’ll like the results of doing so. Not only will your shirt be clean, but some shirt fabrics which will soften up significantly in the first few washes. The fabric in the TECGEN lightweight FR work shirt continues to soften through the first several washes and you’ll find the same in others.
Another side note: in addition to ensuring the continued AR/FR protection in your FRC, proper laundering can increase the moisture wicking performance of your clothes. Measured by a test that looks at how quickly a fabric wicks one inch after 25 washings, a washed fabric’s performance can increase significantly from unwashed to the 25th wash. Improved moisture wicking means you are dryer and more comfortable.
Random acts of Dry Cleaning
Dry cleaning varies by garment. While avoiding bleach, fabric softener and starch in FR clothing are consistent across most FRC, some garments may be able to be dry cleaned. The key here is to read the label. Because different manufacturers use different fabrics, and of course, a winter coat will use a different fabric than a knit shirt, dry cleaning may be an option for some items.
If we’ve said it once, we’ll say it again: the manufacturer’s instructions on the label are the most important directions to follow when laundering your FR clothing. Avoid additives like starch, bleach and fabric softener as a general practice. In addition to proper laundering, be sure to stop wearing your FRC should it have rips or tears.
If you want to dive deeper on the technical side, here are some interesting studies:
Cited, 1: Do Bleach and Fabric Softener Really Harm FR and AR fabrics? https://www.arcwear.com/blog/do-bleach-and-fabric-softener-really-harm-fr-and-ar-fabrics/
Burning Softly: A Study of the Effectiveness of Fabric Softener on the Flame Resistant of Clothes https://aaas.confex.com/aaas/2015/webprogram/Paper15691.html
While this particular test data is on the military side and not the work wear side, see test data that supports moisture wicking performance improvements with an increased number of washes: https://www.drifire.com/fortrexv2