The Fire Rating and Standards of Pillows and Mattresses

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Mattress on Fire

Table of Content

CountryStandard
United States16 CFR 1632
CanadaCAN/ULC-S137
United KingdomBS EN 597:1995
GermanyNT FIRE 037
ISOISO 12952-2:1998

Background

One of the leading causes of deaths and injuries in households worldwide is fires, and the presence of mattress and bed clothing puts us at significant risk due to their high combustibility. This blog discusses measures that different authorities in different countries have taken to reduce the spread of fire through mattresses and pillows. Although mattress and bed-related deaths as a result of fires have seen a continuous fall in numbers over the years, concerns amongst authorities to maintain the safety of mattress users still remain.

Authorities have done more and more research over the years, and as a result, various standards have been set for the protection of the consumers.

Why The Need for These Standards?

Mattresses and other bedding such as pillows are the primary fuel load in a burning room. For a standard room to be engulfed in flames, there needs to be a release of 1000kW of energy. Tests conducted for twin-size mattresses revealed a release of a staggering 2000 kW of energy within the first five minutes of ignition. That too, without the presence of bedclothes, which can act as a secondary ignition source. 

When a room reaches the flashover point, i.e., the space becomes completely engulfed in flames, and exit from the room becomes impossible, temperatures soar up to 600-800 degrees celsius. At this time, the room quickly fills up with poisonous carbon monoxide as oxygen rapidly depletes.

During a typical fire, bedclothes are the first item to ignite, followed by the mattress. The bedclothes themselves can cause a release of up to 800kW of energy (flashover point is 1000kW) alone. 

Under these findings, it becomes increasingly important to regulate fire standards of both mattress and bed clothing, including pillows, to make them safer and increase the odds of survival of its consumers during a fire.

The Standards

Over the years, there has been a steady decrease in mattress related fires in households, as discussed earlier. This decrease can be attributed to factors such as smoke alarms or regulations such as the 16 CFR. Below, I have highlighted fire standards such as these in several different countries.

Fire Standard 1
Fire Standard 2
Fire Standard 3
Fire Standard 4
Fire Standard 5
Fire Standard 6
Fire Standard 7
Figure 1: Mattress fire standards in various countries

Factors Determining The Fire Rating of Mattresses

Three factors determine the fire rating of a mattress:

● The tendency of materials to catch fire

● Intensity of burning

● Rate of spread of flames

Tick is a mattress component with the greatest propensity to catch fire when in contact with a potential ignition source. It often is the primary ignition source and can cause smoldering, leading to a sharp rise in temperatures. When the materials inside the mattress, such as fibers, catch fire, it can result in an open flame. An open flame substantially enhances the risk of secondary ignition sources such as pillows catching fire. In addition to this, the accumulation of hot layers of gases and smoke under the ceiling exponentially increases the risk of flashover.

Components parts of a mattress - tick
Figure 2: Component parts of a mattress – Tick

Testing

Before a mattress is deemed acceptable for use, it has to go through a series of testing procedures, where it is exposed to various ignition sources. As shown in the table above, there are various tests used to determine whether they meet inflammatory requirements or not.

In the United States currently, there are two tests to determine the suitability of a mattress for use, the smoldering and open flame ignition test. THE 16 CFR 332 was introduced by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) in 1973, and it tests the fire resistance abilities of a mattress against a smoldering source such as a cigarette. 16 CFR 333, on the other hand, tests the resistance against open flame ignition sources.

All mattresses to be sold in the United States have to go through rigorous testing under 16 CFR 332 and 333 before they can be put for sale. To make the testing process simplified, only a sample of the mattresses are tested, and if they are deemed acceptable, they are then used as prototypes or models for future production. Both these tests, however, are not to be considered as design standards. 16 CFR 332 and 333 serve as an insight on the rigorous testing mechanism and guide the manufacturers on how to pass these tests with flying colors.

The Process

The frame, foundation, and mattress are the three main components of a typical mattress. To make mattresses safer and in compliance with the 16 CFR, fire resistant materials are incorporated during the manufacturing stage.

Fire retardants in mattresses work in a couple of ways. Firstly, they delay the fire, and this is called active fire blocking. It is achieved by using fire-resistant materials to form a coating on the surface. Secondly, the materials used help combat chemical reactions. This is called the passive method. By using fire-resistant fibers, it serves as a blockade between fuel and potential ignition sources.

flame retardants
Some flame retardant materials and their basic information

Kevlar is one of the many alternatives used by companies today as an alternative to fire-retardant materials. Some of its most striking features include its ability to withstand high pressure and extinguish as soon as the heat source is taken away. Cotton, latex, and wool are some other alternatives to fire retardants used commonly.

The Upside

Introducing regulations like the 16 CFR have led to a steady decline in loss of life and property due to fire damages over the years. As a result of fire retardants in mattresses, the average time for a potential flashover has increased, allowing residents more time to escape and save their lives. Furthermore, it increases the likelihood of the fire rescue team arriving before it is too late.

Some key pointers:

● The annual decline in risk of death ranges from 1.33 to 1.42 per million mattresses sold

● Reduction in potential injuries ranges from 7.12 to 7.64 injuries per million mattresses sold

The Downside

To comply with the new regulations and produce mattresses that can withstand high temperatures and contain fire-resistant materials will cause an increase in production costs. Incorporating fire-resistant materials or alternatives such as kevlar in the manufacturing stage will increase material costs, leading to overall price inflation. Another possible negative side to using fire-resistant materials in mattresses is that most of these retardants are linked to medical complications such as cancer and fertility issues. 

Final Thoughts

Disaster can strike anyone at any time. We must always be prepared and do our utmost to protect ourselves from potential hazards such as fires. The work done by authorities such as CPSC (consumer product safety commission) to make the products we buy, such as mattresses and bed clothing, including pillows, safer for us must be appreciated. Their efforts into research and the resulting regulations are a step to make our homes safer for us, and the numbers certainly back them up. 

References

Nazaré, Shonali, et al. “Assessment of Factors Affecting Fire Performance of Mattresses: A Review.” Fire Science Reviews, Springer Berlin Heidelberg, 21 Aug. 2012, link.springer.com/article/10.1186/2193-0414-1-2/tables/1. 

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