Fire Retardant and Flame Resistant: What’s the Difference?

What is the Difference Between Flame Retardant and Flame Resistant?

This is the second post in a five part “FR Clothing Materials” series. Check back to read additional posts in the series, including is cotton FR, what is Nomex clothing, and what is aramid yarn. And, be sure to read our previous post which answers the question, what is FR fabric.

Workers who face arc flash or flash fire hazards wear flame resistant clothing (“FR clothing” for short) as protection, though it is sometimes mistakenly called fire retardant, flame retardant, or fire resistant.

Scott Margolin, Vice President of Technical and recognized Subject Matter Expert, describes the distinction between these terms:

As Scott explains, flame retardants are compounds that can be added to materials that would otherwise burn to stop them from supporting combustion in air — making them flame resistant.

Therefore, by definition, fabrics themselves are not flame retardant. However, flame retardant compounds are engineered to undergo a permanent chemical change (polymerization) inside the hollow core of a cotton fiber, resulting in an all-new fabric that has flame resistant properties that are durable for the life of the garment. Alert – this is true of treated FR fabrics made by reputable North American manufacturers, but not true of all treated FR fabrics in the international marketplace.

Garments made from reputable FR fabrics will not ignite and continue to burn in the event of an arc flash or flash fire, which eliminates the major source of potential injury – clothes burning against the skin.

FR clothing purchased from reputable suppliers such as Tyndale is made from quality FR fabrics and warrantied to maintain its flame resistance throughout the garment’s useful life. In fact, whether manufactured or distributed by Tyndale, all products we sell are thoroughly vetted to ensure they will perform as expected in the event of an incident. Note, however, that chlorine bleach should not be used in the laundering process as this can reduce efficacy and void the fabric warranty.

But not all FR is created equal. It’s critical to do your homework or partner with a reliable supplier to ensure you are buying garments made from quality FR fabrics with FR properties that cannot be laundered out.

Check out these blog posts to learn more about arc-rated FR clothing—including fundamentals of arc flash and the answers to other frequently asked questions:

And be sure to follow along with the other posts in our “FR Clothing Materials” series. Next, we answer the question, “is cotton FR?

Have questions or need assistance? Use the bar on the right-hand side to request a complimentary consultation with Scott Margolin, or contact us today at 800-356-3433. You can also browse FR clothing brands and options at


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