Fire retardant and flame retardant both work to prevent fires, stop the spread of fires when they do occur and help to reduce the amount of damage caused by flames. Both are invaluable to protecting homes and buildings and providing extra time to safely evacuate a building if a fire does occur. We take a look at the difference between fire retardant and flame retardant, and what they each offer.
What is Fire Retardant?
A fire retardant is used to stop or slow the spread of fire, either through physically stopping the fire from spreading or by causing a chemical reaction. Fire retardant isn’t just one specific type of chemical, it can be made from a combination of many different properties, and is available in a number of forms, including powders, paints, foams and sprays. Fire retardants can be used preventatively when applied as a coating on surfaces and furniture, or it can be used to fight fires when they do occur.
How do Fire Retardants Work?
There are many ways in which a fire retardant can put out a fire, which will depend on the type of retardant used. There are both physical and chemical ways of stopping a fire from spreading. A physical action will block the fire from spreading, while a chemical action will cause a reaction that can stop the fire. A good example of a physical action is the use of a fire retardant coating, which acts as a protective layer that prevents the coated material from igniting.
Fire retardants will commonly rely on a chemical reaction to help prevent fires. Several of the chemicals that are commonly found in a fire retardant, such as aluminium hydroxide, huntite and hydromagnesite, will decompose when in contact with heat, releasing water vapour or carbon dioxide. This will then give fire retardant properties to that which has had the fire retardant applied.
Chemical reactions can also be seen in the use of intumescents. An intumescent coating will contain chemicals which swell when heated, providing more insulation which improves protection against fire. Intumescents are available as a paint that can be used to coat timber and steel to protect structures.
Uses For Fire Retardant
There are a number of different ways in which fire retardant can be used. Firstly, fire retardant can be applied as a coating for objects and structures to prevent the spread of fire. Fire retardant is particularly useful for protecting the strength of structural elements in a building and should be applied to columns and load-bearing beams. Then, if a fire does occur, the structural integrity of the building won’t be damaged, making it far safer.
Fire retardant is also used to coat certain objects to make them safer to use. One example is Christmas trees, which are often given a protective coating to stop them catching fire, which may become a risk when they start to dry out and are covered in lights or are too close to the fireplace!
Fire retardant is also used to help stop and control fires, as well as preventing their outbreak. Fire retardant foam is used in fire extinguishers, and fire retardant gels, powders and sprays are also used for aerial firefighting, with planes dropping such products onto forest fires and wildfires as they fly overhead.
What is Flame Retardant?
Flame retardants are a type of substance that can be added to combustible materials to help to prevent or slow fires spreading. Flame retardants are typically applied to textile, plastics and coatings to help protect items from catching fire. To make a flame retardant, a variety of different chemistries can be used or combined to create an effective protection. Flame retardants can react in different ways when met with fire, so a specific type of flame retardant will be carefully paired with each material.
How Do Flame Retardants Work?
The way in which a flame retardant works will depend on the type used, and how the chemicals within it react. Like with fire retardant, some flame retardants will experience an endothermic reaction when heated. When properties like huntite and aluminium hydroxides are heated, this reaction occurs, removing heat from the item it is protecting and cooling it in the process.
Some flame retardants work to reduce the flammability of items or surfaces in buildings by decreasing the presence of oxygen and gas near items that are burning. Oxygen is needed for a fire to start and spread, so reducing the amount of oxygen around an item means that it will be much harder, or impossible, for it to ignite.
Another way in which flame retardant can work to prevent the spread of flames is through thermal shielding. Intumescent coatings applied to items can cause the surface of the polymer to turn into a char, which creates a thermal insulation barrier between the fire and the unburned areas. The char effectively separates the flame from the item and slows down the heat transfer.
Uses of Flame Retardants
While fire retardants are used to prevent damage to buildings, structures and wildlife, flame retardants are typically used on furnishings, textiles and items within the home, such as electronics. While a fire retardant used for timbers will stop the fire from spreading across the building, it may not protect the fixtures and furnishings, which can pose a big risk for spreading fire. In addition, electronics are a common cause of fires, so adding a flame retardant coating to such devices can help to reduce these risks. As such, many items for the home will be sold with flame retardant coatings already in place.
Here at ACS Ltd, our fire retardant liquid and fire retardant paint works best with timber, including wooden structures, chipboard, flooring and wooden furniture. You can see how effectively our FCO fire retardant works to prevent the spread of fire in the video below: