Can I use regular detergent to clean FR clothing?

Q:

Can I use regular detergent to clean FR clothing?

A:

Though there might be a debate over how often to wash FR clothing, it is impossible to avoid entirely. Like any other garment, FR clothing will get soiled and need to be laundered.

While washing your regular clothes improperly might cause them to shrink or become discolored, using the wrong detergent with your FR garments can neutralize its flame-resistant properties, which can put your life and bodily integrity at risk (learn more in 3 Ways Moisture-Wicking, Flame-Resistant Fabrics Can Improve Workplace Safety).

Whether you can wash your FR garments using regular detergent really depends on what ingredients are found in your detergent.

Green Detergent

One rule of thumb is to look for products that boast about being environmentally friendly. These are less likely to contain the kinds of aggressive chemicals that can compromise the FR properties of your protective clothing.

There are, however, exceptions to this rule, and just because something has "Eco" in the name or claims that it's green doesn't mean it will be suitable for FR clothing. Always read the label before using.

FR Garments Vary

Generally, FR garments that have inherent FR properties will fare better than treated FR materials when exposed to certain chemicals.

Some manufacturers also indicate that chlorine is safe for their inherently FR garments, while others do not. Double check the manufacturer's guidelines to find out whether it can withstand chlorine.

Detergent Ingredients to Avoid

The short answer, then, is yes, you can use some regular detergents to wash your FR garments. But to be on the safe side, there are a few ingredients I recommend avoiding:

  • Chlorine bleach (sodium hypochlorite)
  • Oxygen peroxide: the active oxygen in this ingredient can initiate an oxidizing reaction that can damage the FR material or the fabric's FR treatment
  • Animal fats: can coat the FR fibers, masking their FR properties, or leave a flammable residue
  • Fabric softener: like animal fats, fabric softeners can also coat the garment and mask its FR properties or leave a flammable residue, thereby introducing a new risk to the user

Heavily Soiled Garments

If you wear FR garments while working outdoors or with greases, oils, and other substances that can heavily soil your clothing, you might need a detergent that can handle some heavy duty cleaning. If the clothing label does not explicit permit the use of chlorine bleach, you can use a detergent with sodium perborate instead.

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Written by Karoly Ban Matei
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Karoly has worked at a senior level (both as an employee and a contractor) for organizations in the construction and manufacturing industries. He has a passion for developing and improving health and safety programs.

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