Flame Retardants: What They Are and How They Work to Keep You Safe

by Joost Nusselder | Updated on:  June 20, 2022
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Have you ever wondered what those weird chemicals are that are added to furniture and other products to make them flame retardant?

Flame retardant is a material added to another material to reduce its flammability. It’s used in a wide variety of products including furniture, electronics, building materials, and textiles. 

In this article, I’ll explain what flame retardant is, how it works, and why it’s added to products.

What is flame retardant

Flame Retardants: What You Need to Know

Flame retardants are chemicals that are added to materials to slow down or prevent the spread of fire. They are commonly found in products such as furniture, electronics, and building materials. Flame retardants work by physically affecting the combustion process, which can help protect people and property from fire damage.

Why are Flame Retardants Important?

The presence of flame retardants in materials and products is essential for safety, especially in buildings and construction. Flame retardants can help control the spread of fire, providing more time for people to evacuate and for firefighters to take action. They are also needed to meet certain safety standards and regulations.

How are Flame Retardants Applied?

Flame retardants can be added to materials during the manufacturing phase or applied directly as finishes or coatings. There are different types of flame retardants that can be used depending on the specific needs of the material or product. For example, some flame retardants are commonly used in polymer manufacture, while others are added to steel to make it more fire-resistant.

What Materials Contain Flame Retardants?

Flame retardants can be found in a wide variety of materials and products, including:

  • Furniture
  • Electronics
  • Building materials (such as insulation, wiring, and roofing)
  • Textiles (such as curtains and carpets)
  • Water and food packaging
  • Children’s toys

What are the Different Types of Flame Retardants?

There are a number of different types of flame retardants, each with their own specific uses and effects. Some of the most commonly used flame retardants include:

  • Halogenated flame retardants (such as brominated and chlorinated compounds)
  • Phosphorus-based flame retardants
  • Nitrogen-based flame retardants
  • Mineral-based flame retardants (such as aluminum hydroxide and magnesium hydroxide)

How Do Flame Retardants Work?

Flame retardants work by physically affecting the combustion process. They can do this in a number of ways, such as:

  • Releasing water or other chemicals to cool the material and prevent it from reaching its ignition temperature
  • Creating a barrier between the material and the flame to prevent the fire from spreading
  • Producing gases that can dilute the oxygen in the air and slow down the combustion process

How Can You Find Products with Flame Retardants?

If you’re looking for products that contain flame retardants, there are a number of ways to find them. For example, you can:

  • Read product labels and look for information about flame retardants
  • Shop at stores that specialize in products with flame retardants, such as those that sell furniture or electronics
  • Look for products that meet specific safety standards, which often require the use of flame retardants

Are Flame Retardants Always Necessary?

While flame retardants are important for safety in many situations, they are not always necessary. For example, some materials may not need flame retardants if they are not highly flammable or if they are not used in situations where fire is a risk. Additionally, some flame retardants may have negative effects that outweigh their benefits, so it’s important to carefully consider the use of flame retardants in any given situation.

Classes of Flame Retardants: Exploring the Different Types and Forms

Flame retardants are compounds or materials that are added to other materials to make them less flammable. These additives come in different forms and types, and they are used in various industries to protect against fire hazards. In this section, we will explore the different classes of flame retardants and their effectiveness against fire exposure.

Class A Flame Retardants

  • Class A fire retardants have a flame spread rating of between zero and 25.
  • These materials are effective against severe fire exposure.
  • Some of the common Class A flame retardants include:

– Aluminium hydroxide
– Magnesium hydroxide (huntite)
– Boron minerals
– Phosphate esters

  • These flame retardants work by releasing water vapor when exposed to fire, which cools down the material and prevents it from igniting.

Halogenated Flame Retardants

  • Halogenated flame retardants are a distinct class of flame retardants that include organohalogen compounds such as organochlorines and organobromines.
  • These flame retardants work by releasing halogen radicals when exposed to fire, which react with the flame and enhance the flame retardant properties of the material.
  • Some of the common halogenated flame retardants include:

– Chlorendic acid derivatives
– Tetrabromophthalic anhydride
– Tetrabromobisphenol A
– Tris(2,3-dibromopropyl) phosphate
– Polymeric brominated epoxy resins (here are the best ones for wood)

Understanding the Science Behind Flame Retardant: The Role of Retardation Mechanisms

Flame retardants are compounds that are added to materials to reduce their flammability. The retardation mechanism of flame retardants is a complex process that involves several stages. The basic idea behind retardation mechanisms is that the flame retardant’s decomposition will absorb heat as the material is heated, thus reducing the temperature of the material. This results in a lower potential for the material to ignite and spread flames.

The Different Types of Retardation Mechanisms

There are several types of retardation mechanisms that are commonly associated with flame retardants. These include:

  • Interference with the combustion process: Certain flame retardants can interfere with the combustion process by interrupting the flow of oxygen or fuel to the fire.
  • Formation of a protective layer: Some flame retardants can create a protective layer on the surface of the material, which can prevent the spread of flames.
  • Dilution of flammable gases: Certain flame retardants can dilute the flammable gases that are produced during combustion, making it more difficult for the fire to spread.

The Role of Retardation Mechanisms in Specific Products

The presence of retardation mechanisms is required in certain products to ensure their safety. For example, wire and cable products must be equipped with flame retardants to prevent the spread of fire. In addition, certain materials used in the production of cars and airplanes must also be flame retardant to ensure passenger safety.

The Importance of Choosing the Right Type of Flame Retardant

The type of flame retardant used in a product depends on several factors, including the content of the material, the potential cause and effects of a fire, and the required performance of the final product. Some factors to consider when choosing a flame retardant include:

  • The content of the material: Certain flame retardants are more suitable for certain types of materials than others.
  • The potential cause and effects of a fire: The type of flame retardant used should be able to handle the specific cause and effects of a fire.
  • The required performance of the final product: The flame retardant used should allow the product to perform at its best while still providing adequate safety measures.

The Importance of Good Manufacturing Practices

To ensure that flame retardants are used correctly, it is important to follow good manufacturing practices. This includes:

  • Correct use of flame retardant ingredients: The correct ingredients must be used in the correct amounts to ensure the desired level of flame retardancy.
  • Proper handling of flame retardant products: Flame retardant products must be handled with care to avoid any potential hazards.
  • Increasing the flame retardant property of the product: Certain techniques can be used to increase the flame retardant property of a product, such as adding special coatings or using specific production techniques.

The Versatile Ability of Retardation Mechanisms

Retardation mechanisms are an extremely versatile property that can be combined with other properties to create a fully equipped package of safety measures. The ability to control the spread of fire is a key part of ensuring the overall performance and safety of a product. When used correctly, retardation mechanisms can save lives and prevent damage to property.

Materials that Make a Difference in Flame Retardancy

Flame retardant materials have been utilized for a long time in the world. The ability to test and function key materials that are resistant to fire has been a top priority in construction, industrial, medical, sports, and firefighting industries. In the past, natural materials like wool and silk were inherently flame retardant, but with time, new materials like nylon and other synthetic fibres have been introduced.

Materials Utilized Today

Today, a variety of materials are hard to pass the highest number of fire safety regulations. Some of the most common materials utilized in flame retardant textiles and coatings include:

  • Geotextile treated with chemical treatment
  • Flame retardant coatings
  • Fire-resistant fabrics and mesh
  • Smart textiles
  • Manufactured fireproof fibers

Market Potential

The market potential for flame retardant materials is vast, with the potential to save lives and protect property in the event of a fire. Flame retardant materials are used in a variety of industries, including:

  • Firefighting and wildfire suppression equipment and personnel
  • Aircraft and apparatus construction
  • Wildland firefighting clothing and equipment
  • Industrial and construction equipment
  • Medical and sports equipment
  • Police and rescue personnel clothing and equipment

Regulations and Standards

The International Association of Fire Chiefs and other regulatory bodies have set standards for flame retardant materials in various industries. These regulations ensure that materials used in firefighting and other industries meet the highest safety standards.

The Key Function of Flame Retardant Materials

The key function of flame retardant materials is to prevent or slow down the spread of fire. Flame retardant materials can carry out this function in a variety of ways, including:

  • Releasing chemicals that extinguish the fire
  • Forming a protective layer that prevents the fire from spreading
  • Reducing the amount of oxygen available to the fire
  • Absorbing heat and preventing the material from igniting

Flame Retardant Materials in Action

Flame retardant materials are used in a variety of ways in firefighting and other industries. Some examples include:

  • Firefighters wearing flame retardant clothing and equipment, including suits, helmets, and boots
  • Wildland firefighting crews using retardant chemicals dropped from aircraft and carried by handcrews
  • Firefighters using retardant-coated buckets to suppress fires
  • Firefighters using thermal imaging detectors to locate hot spots and potential sources of ignition
  • Firefighters using retardant-treated fabrics to protect structures and equipment from fire damage

Flame retardant materials play a crucial role in protecting lives and property from fire. As technology advances, the potential for new and innovative flame retardant materials continues to grow.

Flame Retardant Coatings: The Ultimate Firefighters

There are several benefits to using flame retardant coatings, including:

  • Increased safety: Flame retardant coatings can help to prevent fires from starting or spreading, which can help to keep people and property safe.
  • Reduced damage: If a fire does occur, flame retardant coatings can help to reduce the amount of damage that is caused by the fire.
  • Compliance: Many industries are required by law to use flame retardant coatings in certain applications, so using these coatings can help to ensure compliance with regulations.

Where are Flame Retardant Coatings Used?

Flame retardant coatings are used in a wide range of applications, including:

  • Buildings: Flame retardant coatings are often used on walls, ceilings, and other surfaces in buildings to help prevent fires from spreading.
  • Transportation: Flame retardant coatings are used on airplanes, trains, and other forms of transportation to help prevent fires from starting or spreading.
  • Marine: As mentioned earlier, flame retardant coatings are used in marine applications to prevent the buildup of paint layers that can increase the risk of fire.

Flame Retardants: More Than Just Fire Protection

Flame retardants play a critical role in protecting civilian and electronic equipment from the hazards of fires. They are typically added to a range of products, including furnishings, construction materials, and electronic devices, to help limit the risks associated with larger combustible hazards. Some of the uses and benefits of flame retardants in construction and electronics include:

  • Providing an important layer of fire protection by helping to prevent or slow the spread of fire.
  • Improving the fire safety of buildings and electronic devices by reducing the amount of heat released from a fire and the potential for a fire to spread.
  • Increasing the fire resistance of electrical equipment and devices, which can help save lives and prevent injuries.
  • Coupled with scientific research, flame retardants can help change the properties of materials to make them less flammable.
  • Flame retardant coatings can improve the fire resistance of a room, limiting the spread of fire and smoke.

Environmental and Health Benefits

While flame retardants have been associated with some environmental and health concerns, they also provide a range of benefits that cannot be ignored. Some of the environmental and health benefits of flame retardants include:

  • Reducing the volume of fires and associated events, which can help save lives and prevent injuries.
  • The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) sponsors a program of scientific research, including webcasts, podcasts, videos, and newsletters, exploring the toxicology of flame retardants and their impact on human health and the environment.
  • Flame retardants can help limit the release of toxic smoke and gases during a fire, which can help protect the health of those exposed to the fire.
  • The American Chemistry Council (ACC) and other industry associations have listed a series of flame retardants that have been reported to have no adverse effects on human health or the environment.
  • The ACC also sponsors a calendar of open meetings, webcasts, and live events, featuring expert interviews, releases, photos, and biographies, to support the science of flame retardants and their benefits.

In conclusion, flame retardants are vital in reducing the risks associated with major combustible hazards. While there are some concerns associated with their use, the benefits of flame retardants cannot be ignored. By inhibiting or suppressing the combustion process, flame retardants provide an important layer of fire protection that can help save lives and prevent injuries.


So, flame retardants are chemicals added to materials to slow down the spread of fire and protect people and property. They’re an important part of safety, especially in buildings, and meet certain safety standards regulations. You should look for them when buying furniture, electronics, and building materials. Plus, they have negative effects that outweigh the benefits, so you should consider carefully whether you need them or not.

I'm Joost Nusselder, the founder of Tools Doctor, content marketer, and dad. I love trying out new equipment, and together with my team I've been creating in-depth blog articles since 2016 to help loyal readers with tools & crafting tips.