Made up of cellulose fibres, cotton is the most flammable of all natural and synthetic fibres. It ignites easily and burns with a hot flame, which is why it can be dangerous in situations in which the wearer comes into contact with a flame or heat source. Because cotton is soft, washable and comfortable, it is widely used for many types of clothing, including uniforms, work clothes and babies' and young children's clothes.
Lightweight woven cotton is more likely to burst into flames than heavier cotton fabric that has a denser weave. And loosefitting clothing catches fire more than fitted garments. Plus, when cotton is blended with synthetic fibres, it can actually be more dangerous than pure cotton because of the way it burns and adheres to the skin.
Making fabric fire-resistant
Nowadays cotton fabric is coated with a chemical retardant. Uniforms and other work clothes and loosefitting children's clothing and sleepwear have fire-resistant finishes. Fire-resistant fabric is hard to ignite and will burn more slowly than untreated fabric. But it will still burn.
A new variety of cotton
According to the National Cotton Council of America, kids' snug-fitting sleepwear is now manufactured with fabric made from molecularly altered cotton fibres. This new variety of cotton is fire-resistant without adding chemicals.
Regulations require that clothing with fire-retardant properties be clearly labelled so consumers know what they're purchasing.