Skip to main content

Resource Library: Burn Tests


IDENTIFYING FIBER CONTENT - BURN TEST

No special equipment is needed to do a burn test. Use caution and have water available when doing the test. Do the test on a non-flammable surface like the sink or a metal covered table away from any flammable objects (curtains, paper, etc.) Do not do the test near an air conditioner, fan, or open windows; keep your hair and face away from the flame. Use tweezers.

But before starting your burn test remember natural fibers, those harvested from plants or animals leave a breakable remain, either ash or a bead that turns to powder when crushed.

Man-made fibers are formed by combining monomer compounds into polymer molecules. Many of the polymers that constitute man-made fibers are the same as or similar to compounds that make up plastics, rubbers, etc. For this reason a majority of them will leave a hard bead when burned.

Animal Fibers - Proteins:
All kind of wool (including alpaca, angora, camelhair, cashmere, mohair, etc)

Plant Fibers - Cellulose:
Cotton, Linen, Flax, Ramie, Mabu (100% wood fiber), Bamboo, etc.

Most common man-made fibers in textile industry are:
Polyester, Acetate, Nylon, Acrylic, Rayon, Modal
Rayon and Modal are polymers of regenerated cellulose, which burn similar to natural fibers because of its cellulose content. Rayon is manufactured regenerated cellulose fiber, Modal is cellulose fiber, made of 100% beech wood cellulose.

To review: Natural Fibers will leave ash or a crushable bead, while most of the man-made fibers will leave a hard melted non-crushable bead.


THE TESTING PROCESS:
To conduct a test, cut a small swatch of fabric. Holding it with the tweezers use a match or  a lighter with a small flame. Light the swatch with the flame and observe. Be very attentive since the fabric might catch the flame fast and you will have a short amount of time to observe the following:

1. How fast it burns?
2. What is the smell like?
3. How does the residue look?
4. How does it burn?
5. How does the flame look?


NATURAL FIBERS - CELLULOSE:
Cotton:  Depending on where the cotton was harvested and the process used to manufacture the fabric, its thickness and weave will burn fast or slow, but always steady once it catches the flame. When burning, observe the core of the flame. The residue is black and shows almost all of the ash that is going to leave after you get to blow the flame. Once the flame is gone, an orange amber might keep on burning, leaving ash. It smells like burning paper or leaves. The residue will be gray or black powdery ash.

Linen: Linen burns similar to cotton, but burns at a steady speed leaving gray ash. 


ANIMAL FIBERS - PROTEINS:
Wools: Burns slowly and will extinguish if flame is removed. It smells like burning hair or feathers. Leaves a brittle black ash. Crushes into grainy powder when touching the residue.

Silk: Burns slowly and will self-extinguish if flame is removed. Smells like burning hair. Leaves a breakable grayish bead that turns into soft grainy powder when crushing it.


MAN-MADE FIBERS - POLYMERS:
Polyester: Produces an orange flame with black smoke. When burned it has a sweet smell and melts leaving a hard black bead. Sometimes polyester is blended with other polymers that will leave a whitish bead. In case of this, observe the flame. If it produces black smoke and the bead is hard, polyester is present.

Nylon: Burns and melts with a sizzly noise. The flame has a blue core. Leaves a hard grayish or brownish bead, smells like burning celery and will self-extinguish after flame source is removed. There is no smoke present in burning nylon.

Acrylic: Burns and melts with an acid smell. Leaves a hard black crust. Will continue to burn after flame source is removed. There is no smoke when burning acrylic.

Acetate: Burns and melts with a sizzly noise. Has an acidic or vinegary smell, and will leave a hard black bead. Will continue to burn after flame source is removed.

Rayon: Burns moderately and rapidly. As it burns you will see the residue curl. When blowing away the flame, an orange amber keeps on burning almost all of the ash. There is almost no ash left when the amber is finished burning.

Spandex: Melts and burns, smells like burning rubber, leaves a black ash. Finding spandex content is best figured out by stretching the fabric with the weave. Do not stretch it on bias, because all fabrics stretch on bias. 


MY NOTES:
Burn testing at home helps you find out the main fiber content of an unknown fabric. Blend fabrics are difficult to test at home but not impossible. Sometimes looking at the "sheen" can help identify the fabric content. 

- Silk can have a shiny nature to it. This is especially helpful if you have a silk/cotton or silk/wool blend. After you burn it and it gives you possible silk and cotton characteristics, it can be confirmed by looking at the sheen.

- Rayon also has a natural sheen, but not as shiny as silk. Rayon/ linen and rayon/ wool are common blends. When burning a rayon/ linen, it may burn more like linen but you may still be unsure. If it has a sheen to it, it could have some rayon it is as well. (Rayon also allows the linen to wrinkle less. So ball up a piece of linen and a piece of rayon/linen. You will see the difference in the crinkle. 

- Wool and acrylic have non-shiny, curly fibers. 

- Cotton fibers are longer than linen fibers, therefore creating a more slubbed look. 

Blended fabrics will result in mixed residue and mixed smells. Spandex is used in small percentages to produce stretch in fabrics. Burning spandex does not dramatically change the characteristics listed above when present in the fiber content.



Be careful when doing your test. Never panic if the fabric catches fire quickly. Just let it fall on the non-flammable surface and observe. Have water ready, extinguish the fire and try again.

Good luck in your testing and if you have questions, do not hesitate to contact us.

~ Gabby ~

Comments

  1. I am an eighthee and I was asked which synthetic fibre burns with the smell of burning hair. This blog does not seem to show any such results.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Fibers that smell like burning hair are going to be natural fibers not synthetic, unless there is a natural fiber mixed with the synthetic as a blend.

      Delete

Post a Comment

Thanks for leaving a comment! All comments are reviewed before posting to help us eliminate spam. Your comment will be posted within 24 hours.

Popular Posts You Might Like

Made by a Fabricista: Summer DIY Print Mixing

Hello Gems! It's still summer and it's a hot one! I'm not a shorts and t-shirts type of gal, as you all may know by now. That is, unless the occasion calls for it of course! I'm more of a casual chic, flirty two piece, with a little bohemian vibe on top type of gal! So you can find me beating the heat in these last days of summer in this cool and comfy backless tiered flounce sundress. Oh, and let's not forget the puff sleeves!  This whole vibe sums up the summer! And nothing says it better than zebra and tribal print! I coordinated the rayon rugged Tribal print crinkle challis with this rayon zebra print challis. These two prints look absolutely amazing together. They are both very drapey fluid fabrics that fair well as summer garments. They are breathable and feel so light and cool against the skin. Challis fabrics make great flounce and it's not too light weight that you have to line it. I absolutely adore both of these prints. Zebra print is one of those pr

Made by a Fabricista: Fast Sews and Cool Summer Fabrics

Happy Friday everyone! Today I'm sharing a few things made with my favorite summer fabrics - cotton, linen and rayon - and as an added bonus these are all super quick sews. Each of these projects took me no more than 2-3 hours to sew. My house gets too hot to sew some summer days, so projects I can whip up quickly are great for that limited amount of time that I have.  The first two items I made up as a set, but of course they can also be worn as separates. The top is the I Am Patterns Gaia tank made with a stunningly gorgeous cotton challis. Call me naive but I had no idea cotton challis was even an option! I'd only ever seen challis in rayon. This cotton though is simply a dream to work with, and if you run across it I highly suggest snagging some. The top is a simple V-neck with a facing but what makes it special are the gathers at the shoulder, made by simply adding a bit of ribbon or fabric in a tube. The combination of this pattern with this light cotton fabric is the per

Made by a Fabricista: Summer Ain’t Over Yet

All of my fellow Fabricistas have been looking toward starting their fall wardrobes. But this year, I’m riding my summer vibes right until their official end in mid-September, because I’m doing something a little different: going on a beach vacation after Labor Day! Now is as good a time as any to tackle my first swimsuit, and I have to say, it was a great experience. And of course, I’d need a cover-up too. Fabric Mart had everything I needed to try my hand at a swim suit. I knew I wanted a bright, colorful patterned suit that was more likely to hide any construction flaws, so I picked this really fun nylon/lycra and it just screamed summer fun. Since I wasn’t sure which lining would work best, I ended up picking up the plain black swimsuit fabric to line with, since I read that you can line with swim fabric. It ended up being thicker than I imagined, but for me, I felt like this worked great because the recovery of the two fabrics together is excellent. The fabric is great quality. I