Flame Resistant vs Flame Retardant Fabrics for Trade Shows and Portable Displays
If you plan to use fabric display products at trade shows or in retail and public spaces, it’s important to know that many venues require the use of fabric that meets particular fire safety standards. You’re likely to be required to ensure that the fabric used in your display materials resists the spread of fire. How do you do this? Make sure you purchase display graphics using fabrics that meet fire certification guidelines. The industry standard for display materials is the National Fire Protection Agency “NFPA 701: Standard Methods of Fire Tests for Flame Propagation of Textiles and Films”. So by ensuring that your graphic products meet NFPA701 requirements and your supplier provides you a certificate to prove it, you can be comfortable that you will be able to use the materials at shows and event venues. NFPA701 certification can be achieved using either inherently flame resistant fabrics or coated flame retardant fabrics.
(Inherently) Flame Resistant (IFR) Fabrics
These are special polyester fabrics are inherently non-flammable. The molecular structure and tighter weave of their fibers are flame resistant, and prevent the spread of fire by not dripping or melting when they are in close proximity of an open flame. They may burn, but it will be slowly and can self-extinguish. These fabrics remain inflammable permanently – even after washing or dry cleaning.
(Coated) Flame Retardant Fabrics
These can be made from almost any material, but they become flame retardant because they are chemically treated. The treatment is a coating that makes the fabric slow burning or self-extinguishing when exposed to flame. The coating is usually certified for one year, but the length of time the flame retardant treatment remains effective varies based on environmental conditions and also if it’s washed or dry cleaned.
What’s Better – Flame Resistant or Flame Retardant Fabric?
Both coated “flame retardant” or inherently “flame resistant” (IFR) fabric can be NFPA701 approved if they pass the set of tests which are conducted by independent testing laboratories. Overall “inherently flame resistant” fabrics are considered superior because they retain their capabilities permanently - for the life of the fabric. However, we live in a price-sensitive world and when you are shopping for display products, many suppliers don't even offer flame retardant fabrics at all. Other vendors only supply lower level coated “flame retardant” fabrics because they are easier and cheaper to produce than inherently “flame resistant” textiles. With many suppliers you have to dig deep in the details to make sure you get what you expect.
Our premium table covering products all use Inherently Flame Resistant (IFR) fabric for the highest quality and are all certified to meet NFPA701 along with other requirements. You can browse these products here:
Our basic economy imported table throws and basic spandex table covers all use coated Flame Retardant fabric for a lower cost and are all certified to meet NFPA701. You can browse these products here:
A final word …
Some (even well known) display graphics vendors sell products that don’t have any fire or flame certifications at all! While those products are obviously the cheapest since any fabric will do, they are virtually useless at trade shows and display venues because they won’t be allowed to be used! Our best advice is to: