The chart below is organized into three main groups.  All fabrics either burn and must be put out or burn until there is nothing to burn, or they burn and go out on their own after a few seconds leaving remaining unburned fiber and are therefore self-extinguishing, or the fabric does not burn even with a flame held directly to it.

To identify the fibers in an unknown piece of fabric, cut off a snippet -- it's best if it's about 1" long and a triangle at most 1/4" wide (try to cut from one of the already cut ends or if testing fabric made into a garment cut from an inconspicuous seam allowance).  Hold the snippet of fabric in a pair of tweezers over something that won't burn or melt (an old tuna tin or glass ashtray is ideal) and with either a match or cigarette lighter put the snippet directly into the flame long enough for it to catch on fire.

Watch the snippet as it burns -- does it go out on its own?  Then it's self-extinguishing -- go to the lavender area of the chart.  Do you have to put it out or does it burn to nothing?  Then it's not self-extinguishing -- go to the aqua area of the chart.  Does it defy all attempts to burn it?  Then it does not burn and the small yellow section of the chart is where you look.

The further breakdown of the chart helps identify the fibers by the smell of the smoke it gives off in burning, and the ash or melted bead that remains after it has burned.

Remember that some fabrics are blends, and the blend of fibers may make the burn test an unreliable test for fiber content.  Also, some fabrics have chemical finishes and sizings applied to them that will alter the way that they burn, making them unidentifiable by this chart.

The chart itself is a gif and you can right click and save it to your own computer.  Once you do this, open it to print a hard copy (I keep one in the sewing room and one in my purse with collapsable scissors and a lighter in an old candy tin -- portable burn test kit!)  This chart will print on one 8.5" x 11" sheet of paper in the "landscape" position (sideways). 



If you are having trouble getting the file above to open (it's a GIF), click on the link below for a jpeg (file size about 55kb):




This page last updated May 23, 2012

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