Do you have a burning desire to know more about your fabric? Well, then it’s time to try the burning test on your precious piece of material and find out what type of fabric it really is. The burning test is a good way to check on a piece of fabric you have rummaged out of the bargain bin. Is it really 100% cotton, wool or silk? Knowing how to test your fabric will put your mind at rest.
The fabric burning test:
Get some simple equipment ready: A container to hold the piece of fabric you intend to burn, tweezers to hold the fabric and matches to ignite the fabric.
Have some water close by in case of excessive burning or something to put out an over-zealous flame! And if you are not yet an adult, go and grab one to do it for you!
Make sure the container is fireproof, and don’t use plastic as it will melt and produce horrible fumes. An old tin or glass ashtray will do the trick.
Cut the fabric into small 2 inch (5cm) squares and hold them on the corners with the tweezers while you hold the fabric over the tin and then light the match. Hold the flame directly under the corner of the fabric and then observe the reaction of the fabric to the flame. It is important to notice the smell of the burning fabric and the ash left after the burning.
Three points to note in your burning test are:
- Reaction to flame
- The smell of the burn
- And finally the look of the ash.
Natural organic fibers burn rapidly with a yellow flame. They smell of burning paper or hair and the ash left behind is soft and gray.
Synthetic fibers shrink away from the flame and burn with an acid chemical smell. The ash left behind is like a plastic bead and not soft.
In specific terms these are the reactions to expect:
Look at the reaction to the flame, the smell of the burn and the resulting ash.
- COTTON: Burns quickly with a yellow flame and an afterglow. It smells like paper burning and the ash is light and gray.
- LINEN: Burns quickly (but not as quickly as cotton) with a yellow flame. It also smells like paper burning and has light gray ash.
- RAYON: Burns quickly (quicker than cotton) with a yellow flame but has no after-glow. It smells like paper burning and has a light gray ash.
- WOOL: Smolders and curls away from the flame. Wool ignites slowly. Not wanting to burn, it flickers and stops burning when it is away from the flame. It smells like burning hair and has a crisp dark ash.
- SILK: Also smolders and curls away from the flame. It burns slowly and splutters as it burns with difficulty. Silk stops burning when it is taken away from the flame and smells like burning hair. The ash from the burn is like a small dark bead.
- NYLON: Melts and shrinks away from the flame. It stops burning when removed from the flame and smells like celery. The ash forms a round, dark bead that won’t crush.
- POLYESTER AND POLYFLEECE: It shrinks from the flame and melts burning slowly. It burns with difficulty and has a chemical odor. The ash is like round black beads that won’t crush.
- ACETATE: It blazes and burns quickly and continues to melt and burn. The smell from the burn is like vinegar and the ash like hard beads that will not crush.
- ACRYLIC: Catches alight quickly and burns rapidly with splutters as it melts. It smells like a chemical as it burns and the ash is made up of irregular beads that do not crush.
- SPANDEX: It melts as it burns and continues to burn with a sharp, bitter odor. The ash or residue is sticky to touch.
When you are dealing with a naked flame, your safety is of utmost importance.
Make sure you are prepared in advance and keep the pieces of fabric small so there will be no huge flames as a result of your burning test. The kitchen sink is probably a good spot to choose as you can drop the fabric or container into the sink and water is at hand. You could also use a wet kitchen towel to snuff out the flame.
Use the tweezers to prevent your fingers getting too close to the flame and long matches would also help to ensure you have time and space between you and the flame.
Don’t light up in a draughty spot and if you have long hair keep it tied up out of the way.
Finally see this as a chemical, science experiment and take it seriously.
Remember that ‘if you play with fire you’re gonna get burnt!’