Fabric Burn Test Tutorial

Have you ever received a fabric or purchased a fabric and you aren't sure what the fabric content is? Well, you can find out what your fabric contains by doing a simple burn test, this is particularly useful when you receive ex-designer / deadstock fabric

There are some key things you will be looking out for which will help you to identify the fabric content: 

  • Does it ignite quickly? 
  • What is the colour of the flame?
  • What colour is the smoke? 
  • What does the smoke smell like? 
  • What is the residue texture like? 

What you need to perform a burn test: 

  • A well ventilated room or perform the test outside 
  • Safe environment (make sure you don't have anything flammable nearby) 
  • Equipment to extinguish a fire quickly 
  • Small baking tray to perform the test on 
  • Pair of tweezers so you are not holding onto the fabric 
  • Long handled lighter 
  • Pre prepared swatches of fabric (10cm x 10cm) 

Test Results: 

Cotton is a natural fibre that comes from the seedpod of the cotton plant. You will find different types of cotton fabric such as: cotton lawn, cotton voile, cotton gauze and so on. You will also come across organic cotton (GOTS). 

  • Burns quickly and continues to burn when the flame is removed
  • Yellow flame 
  • Grey smoke
  • Smoke smells like burning paper or leaves 
  • Leaves a soft grey ash with no beading 

Linen is made from the fibres of the stem of the flax plant. The fibre does not have any insulative properties allowing the wearer to feel cool. Linen yarn is stronger than a similar weight cotton yarn which means that it can be more loosely woven. Linen can be combined with other fibres such as silk, viscose and cotton which will alter the feel of the fabric.

  • Takes time to ignite but then burns quickly, flame is easily extinguished
  • Yellow flame
  • Grey smoke
  • Smells of burning paper or leaves
  • Leaves soft grey ash 

Wool is manufactured by harvesting animal hair and spinning them into yarn, this yarn is then woven to produce the fabric.

  • Burns slowly and self extinguishes 
  • Yellow flame and fabric curls away from the flame 
  • Dark smoke
  • Smoke smells like burning hair
  • Leaves a brittle black ash 

Silk is the strongest known natural fibre. It is made up of a natural protein fibre, mainly fibroin, which is a type of protein that certain insect larvae secrete to form a cocoon. Most silk is made from the larvae of a worm that only lives on mulberry trees. 

  • Burns slowly and flame self extinguishes when it is removed
  • Yellow flame and fabric curls away from the flame
  • Very little smoke
  • Smoke smells of burning hair but less strong than when burning wool
  • It leaves dark crushable ash 

Viscose (also known as rayon) is neither a natural fabric or a synthetic fabric. It is somewhere in between because it is a regenerated cellulose fibre usually manufactured from wood pulp which has been chemically treated. Viscose is well known for it's softness, drape and silk like lustre. Viscose may contain LENZING™ ECOVERO™ fibres. This is a sustainably certified viscose fibre. These fibres are derived from certified renewable wood sources using an eco-responsible production.  Lyocell is a form of rayon that contains cellulose fibres that are made from wood pulp that’s harvested typically from Eucalyptus, Oak and Birch trees. Unlike viscose Lyocell is derived from wood pulp that is dissolved using an organic solvent (Amine Oxide). The solvent and water used in the production process can be reused.  TENCEL™ is actually a brand name of lyocell. For a fabric to be called "tencel" it must contain at least 30% branded TENCEL™ lyocell fibres produced by the Austrian company Lenzing AG.  TENCEL™ fibres are derived from sustainable wood sources, harvested from certified (FSC) and controlled sources. TENCEL™ fibre production is known to be environmentally responsible due to Lenzing's innovative closed loop production process where water is recycled and solvents are reused during the solvent-spinning process.

  • Burns quickly and continues to burn after the flame is removed 
  • Yellow flame
  • Grey smoke
  • Smells like burning paper or wood 
  • Leaves a soft grey ash with no beading or melting 

Polyester is a synthetic fabric that is usually derived from petroleum. The majority of polyester fabrics are not biodegradable. You will often find polyester in the following types of fabric: crepe, scuba, peachskin, satin and so on. You can read all about the different types here

  • Burns slowly and melts
  • Bright yellow flame and it shrinks away from the flame 
  • Black smoke
  • Smoke smells of sweet chemicals 
  • The residue is hard black/brown beads 

Nylon is a synthetic fabric which is a polymer meaning that it is a plastic. It is often used in activewear and swimwear fabrics. ECONYL® is a 100% regenerated nylon yarn derived from pre and post industrial waste such as the discarded fishing nets retrieved from our oceans via the Aquafil SpA regeneration plant.  This yarn boasts the same features as virgin nylon in terms of performance and quality but has the added bonus of being manufactured in a fully sustainable way.

  • Burns slowly and melts 
  • Fabric shrinks away from the flame 
  • Produces a black smoke
  • Smoke smells like celery 
  • The residue left is hard black beads that cannot be crushed 

Spandex also known as LYCRA® is a synthetic fibre that is well known for it's elasticity so you will often find it in knit fabrics and some woven fabrics (such as stretch cotton or stretch denim). It is often combined with a natural fibre such as cotton.  The company INVISTA has introduced a new bio-derived spandex that uses fibres from a renewable source made from the dextrose derived from corn and it has produced spandex that is made from recycled spandex fibres. 

  • Burns and melts (but depending what it is combined with it will react differently) 
  • The colour of the flame depends on what it has been combined with
  • Grey/Black smoke depending on what it has been combined with
  • Chemical type smell due to the spandex 
  • Soft black ash and some beading may be seen 

We have also produced a YouTube video for this tutorial which you can watch here.

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published