Wool doesn’t melt or drip when burnt. This makes it safe and ideal for bedding and mattress material. So how is it naturally fire resistant? Is it better than just using materials that have been treated with flame-retardant chemicals? Why is wool preferred for bedding and mattresses? Let’s dive in and see what makes the properties of wool superior.
No. It doesn’t melt, drip, or stick to your skin when it’s burnt. Instead of melting, it shrinks away from the flame. If wool is exposed to an extremely high temperature, it could ignite, but it will most likely just burn and smolder. This is part of what makes it so preferable for your bedroom. The flame-resistant properties keep it from melting and sticking to your skin when it’s burning.
Wool can catch fire but because it naturally has high water content, plus its hydrophilic cell structure, it will likely extinguish any flame that does manage to ignite. In order for a material to melt, the molecules need to heat at such a rapid pace that they speed up and move past each other forming a liquid. Wool doesn’t melt because it is not made of the elements and materials that undergo that process.
Fire-retardant chemicals cause synthetic fibers to melt when they burn. But wool has such a high-temperature resistance before it catches fire that it’s difficult to ignite. It also doesn’t melt under any circumstances because of its molecular makeup. It simply burns with a self-extinguishing flame and smolders into ash.
We just discussed what doesn’t happen – it doesn’t melt. It does, however, smolder and burn with an orange sputtery color and a pungent odor of burning hair or feathers. It’s self-extinguishing, so it does eventually burn itself out.
You’ll then be left with a residue that is a black, hollow, bead-like shape that can be easily ground into a gritty black powder. It’s naturally flame-resistant because of its naturally high nitrogen and water content and requires a very high ignition temperature to actually burn.
It has a high ignition point, unlike other materials that your bedding and mattress could be made of. This high ignition point is what makes wool fire-resistant. Wool will not catch fire until it reaches temperatures of 1,060 Fahrenheit or 570 Celsius. But as we’ve discussed, wool can self-extinguish the flame so quickly that it doesn’t burn for long before smoldering.
If we consider another natural fiber such as cotton, we can compare its fire resistance to that of wool. The ignition point of wool lies between 570 and 600 degrees Celsius, while cotton’s ignition point lies at 255 degrees. This means wool is much more flame-resistant. Thankfully, neither material will melt if burnt.
If we compare wool with other synthetic materials such as nylon, rayon, or polyester, we’ll see that it still ranks superior in its high ignition point despite the chemical treatment the other fabrics receive for fire resistance. The ignition point for rayon is 420, while nylon and polyester will burn anywhere between 485 and 575.
The most important point to know when comparing these fabrics though is that wool is flame-resistant, not just difficult to ignite. The protein fibers will resist even an aggressive flame, whereas synthetic fibers will allow your bedding and mattress to ignite and burn quickly and often melt, causing greater risk.
Another area of comparison for wool vs. other flame-resistant fabrics is the water content. Wool can hold up to 30% of its weight in moisture compared to just 8% for cotton and 5% for synthetic fabrics. This moisture content, the keratin in wool, and the carded, woven structure give wool its incredible natural flame resistance.
Other fibers have a much less compacted cell structure allowing more oxygen to each strand, thus causing it to be more flammable. But wool has a more compacted, tangled structure, especially when it’s been carded and woven. This means far less oxygen can flow between the molecules and it’s much more difficult to ignite a flame in such an environment.
When wool does manage to ignite and catch on fire, it swells and thanks to that, it can self-extinguish. This also prevents excessive smoking. But, yes, it does produce some smoke and gas when it burns, however, it doesn’t release a large amount of smoke and harmful chemical gasses that synthetic fabrics give off when they burn.
Yes, a mattress made with wool batting can be declared naturally flame-resistant and pass flame test requirements to prove a mattress’ fire safety. Many factors affect a mattress’s ability to pass this test, including the zipper, the cotton elements and other materials in the mattress, and the manufacturing of the wool itself.
How tightly carded the wool is and whether or not it’s a long or short-staple can affect the pass rate. The properties of wool that make it flame-resistant allow it to pass the tests without synthetic, harmful flame-retardants. It’s a naturally non-flammable material making it an ideal mattress for anyone who desires to keep their bedroom free from harmful chemicals.
Like with the argument for why mattresses made of wool are so safe, you can use many of the same points in proving that wool is the best fire-retardant bedding material. Wool is ideal for safe, chemical-free bedding material with its natural flame resistance, high ignition point, high water and keratin content, and oxygen-starved cross-linked cell membrane structure.
You can also be assured that natural wool will not melt, causing incredible pain and skin damage, unlike other synthetic materials when they burn.
Yes, without a doubt. You are exposed to them in small quantities but these add up as you consider just how many products today can be produced with flame retardant chemicals. Potentially you could be surrounded by the chemicals in your bedroom if you don’t make the choice to avoid the toxins and buy a naturally flame-resistant option instead.
Not only are the flame retardant chemicals toxic, they are also not as effective or necessary as companies claim. There are hundreds of different types of flame retardants, but they are generally broken down into a few large categories.
These are usually grouped based on whether or not they contain bromine, chlorine, phosphorous, nitrogen, metals, or boron. These are obviously harmful and full of risks if they were to catch on fire.
Because of the toxins, they would release in gasses through burning they might end up causing more harm to you and your health. One alternative is fiberglass. Fiberglass is used as a flame retardant because it is essentially chemical-free as it’s usually just glass fibers. It doesn’t burn easily, but it does melt, so that is one potential danger.
As an alternative to chemical flame retardants, it is definitely preferable. Fiberglass is a common, easily accessible, and affordable option. Plus, many new companies are bringing out formaldehyde-free varieties of fiberglass and alternative fiberglass that are guaranteed to be toxin-free.
Wool is by far one of the best fire-resistant materials out there if you’re looking for a mattress without fire-retardant chemicals. This fire-resistant natural material is widely used in organic mattresses that also contain latex, cotton and, depending on the mattress type you choose, steel coils.
There are also all-wool mattresses and organic futons that you should consider if you suffer from latex allergy. Wool is also used in wool pillows, wool blankets and comforters to make them naturally fire-resistant.
There are many benefits to using wool as your primary fire-retardant bedding material. Wool is a natural and sustainable product, it’s healthy and safe for you and your family, it doesn’t contain harmful chemicals, and it’s affordable. I highly recommend using wool to avoid any exposure to toxic flame retardants.
My name is Kamila, and I'm passionate about researching non-toxic, organic products for the home. I believe it's so important to create a safe and healthy environment for our families, and I enjoy helping others do the same.