Ask Naturepedic: Aren’t You Required to Have Flame Retardants By Law?

Flame Retardant Standards and Testing

This is a common misconception. We are required to pass all State and Federal testing, but we are not required to use a flame barrier to do so.

The primary filling material used in most mattresses (but never Naturepedic) is polyurethane foam – a highly flammable petroleum-based material. Due to its high flammability, polyurethane foam is typically treated or wrapped with fire retardant chemicals. Some of these chemicals introduce health and toxicity concerns. In fact, most manufacturers don’t even disclose their fire retardant ingredients.

At Naturepedic, we don’t like harsh chemicals, and we certainly don’t like fire retardant chemicals! We consider the best form of fire protection to be superior product design that avoids the need for these chemicals in the first place. Organic cotton, for example, is a far superior filling material because it is significantly less flammable. Through extensive research and creative product design, we’ve eliminated the need for fire retardant chemicals and flame retardant barriers in our products.

In particular, we use materials such as organic cotton fabric, organic cotton batting, plant-based non-GMO PLA batting, and steel innersprings in place of memory foam, other forms of polyurethane foam and synthetic fabrics that have much higher fuel loads. Our materials tend to smolder instead of bursting into flames with very high heat release. This unique and innovative approach provides a simple and elegant solution that meets all Federal and State flammability standards without the need for any fire retardant chemicals or flame retardant barriers. After all, the safest fire retardant chemicals are none at all!

We are very proud to be one of the only mattress companies in the United States that does not use an added flame barrier!

Sincerely,
The Naturepedic Customer Service Team

What is “Ask Naturepedic”?
Ask Naturepedic is our brand new blog series, featuring our wonderful customer service team who will be answering real questions from real Naturepedic customers, twice a month. If you have a question you’d like answered, leave it in the comments below, email us at cs@naturepedic.com or call us at 1.800.917.3342.

About the author

Customer Service
Customer Service

The Naturepedic customer service team consists of moms, grandmas, uncles and more who pride themselves on giving customer service as high quality as Naturepedic certified organic mattresses and bedding. Parents have been wowed by the dedication of our customer service team to give them peace of mind about their choices, and make sure they are completely satisfied with their Naturepedic products. But even cooler: Naturepedic’s customer service department is a resource to hundreds of parents who have questions about healthier mattresses, safer materials–even baby sleep in general. They are truly there to help in every way.

Need help? You can email them at cs@naturepedic.com or call them at 1.800.917.3342.

  • It’s alarming the amount of chemicals that go into our products and food. We’re thankful for companies like yours that allows us to have cleaner air while we sleep! 🙂

    • Thank you, we love sharing the gift of #SafeHealthySleep! Thanks for checking out our blog, @knowyourproduce:disqus. Just checked out your site and YUM, everything looks delicious!

      • Thanks so much for all you do – and thanks for the comment about our site! 🙂 Curious, any plans for household furniture like couches or recommendations?

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  • AZDiver

    This is beyond confusing. I

    have not been able to verify the quote of the National Association of State Fire Marshals calling PU foam “liquid gasoline;” the link provided on this page leads to a document that LOOKS like a NASFM document, but it’s still hosted on the Naturepedic site. When I google “national association of state fire marshals furniture flammability standard,” I can’t find a document by that name.

    Interestingly, though, a “white paper on upholstered furniture flammability” issued by NFPA, the National Fire Protection Association, states that “improved resistance to cigarette ignition has been achieved by …. using polyurethane foam instead of cotton batting…” (Source: https://www.nfpa.org/Assets/files/AboutTheCodes/277/2156%20-%20UpholsteredFurnWhitePaper.pdf, page ii).

    That statement is in direct contradiction to Naturepedic’s statement on this page: “Organic cotton, for example, is a far superior filling material and is significantly less flammable.”

    Both can’t be true, so what gives?

    • Thanks for the excellent questions. There are several items here and we’ll break it down item by item:

      1. Yes, cotton is far less flammable than polyurethane foam. This is what we said in the blog and this is an established scientific fact.

      2. The confusion is coming from not understanding the definition of “flammability” and the associated difference between actual ignition and charring/smoldering. So first let’s define these terms:

      • The definition of flammability is heat release. If a material is “more flammable”, that means that there is “more heat release” when it burns. For example:

      “It is the purpose of this paper to explain why heat release rate is, in fact, the single most important variable in characterizing the ‘flammability’ of products and their consequent fire hazard.” (“Heat Release Rate: The Single Most Important Variable in Fire Hazard”, Vytenis Babrauskas & Richard D. Peacock, Building and Fire Research Laboratory, National Institute of Standards and Technology, Fire Safety Journal, 1992, Volume 18, page 255, Abstract)

      “…one of the first questions a person might wish to ask about the hazard of a building fire is ‘How big is the fire?’…this means, ‘Tell me the heat release rate of the fire.’…It is clear that knowledge of underlying variables related to burning rate is the key to understanding and quantifying the hazard in unwanted fires. Measurement of the heat release rate provides this understanding.’” (ibid, page 261)

      “The HRR [heat release rate] is the single most important variable describing fire hazard.” (Fire Behavior of Upholstered Furniture and Mattresses, John F. Krasny, William J. Parker, Vytenis Babrauskas, Noyes Publications, William Andrew Publishing, Copyright 2001, page 351)

      “In general, it is clear that the heat release rate is the dominant variable describing all aspects of upholstered item fire hazard, including its toxicity.” (Fire Behavior of Upholstered Furniture and Mattresses, John F. Krasny, William J. Parker, Vytenis Babrauskas, Noyes Publications, William Andrew Publishing, Copyright 2001, page 80)

      “Fire deaths are most commonly the result of toxic products of combustion…the most significant predictor of fire hazard is the heat release rate.”
      (“Heat Release Rate: The Single Most Important Variable in Fire Hazard”, Vytenis Babrauskas & Richard D. Peacock, Building and Fire Research Laboratory, National Institute of Standards and Technology, Fire Safety Journal, 1992, Volume 18, page 269)

      • Actual ignition, which is also referred to as “open flame” testing, means igniting the material with an actual flame and measuring the heat release as the material burns.

      • Smoldering/charring is not a flammability measurement per se, although it’s a related term. It is commonly used in conjunction with “cigarette smoldering” type of testing, and it measures how much smoldering/charring occurs surrounding the cigarette when a cigarette is placed on a material.

      3. Next, let’s talk about the differences between cotton and polyurethane foam regarding flammability and smoldering/charring.

      • Cotton (and basically all natural fibers) is not highly flammable, but smolders/chars easily. When you put a cigarette on cotton, the cotton will turn black and char and that charring will spread quite a distance. However, that doesn’t make the charred cotton highly flammable like polyurethane foam (and the cotton may not even ignite and burn at all, no matter how charred it is). And, even if the cotton did ignite, and even if the cotton was ignited with a serious flame (and not just a lit cigarette), the heat release would be minor compared to the heat release from burning polyurethane foam. So cotton chars easily but isn’t highly flammable and doesn’t emit high heat release.

      • Polyurethane foam (and many petroleum based materials) is very flammable, but doesn’t smolder/char. This is because when a cigarette is placed on those materials, for the most part the cigarette is not strong enough to actually ignite the material (and the polyurethane foam material usually just melts away from the cigarette). However, once there is enough to actually ignite the polyurethane foam (e.g. from a lit candle that tipped over, or from the flame of a cigarette lighter, etc.), then the polyurethane foam burns heavily and the heat release is huge. So polyurethane foam does not char, but when ignited, it’s highly flammable with high heat release.

      “Polyurethane foam is, by far, the most widely used padding today…However, the rapid fire growth of such foams in even moderately hot fires has led to suggestions that it be removed from the market.” (Fire Behavior of Upholstered Furniture and Mattresses, John F. Krasny, William J. Parker, Vytenis Babrauskas, Noyes Publications, William Andrew Publishing, Copyright 2001, page 256)

      Fire services all over the world are concerned about the rapidly developing fire in polyurethane foam containing furniture, compared to the older materials such as cellulosic battings…” (Fire Behavior of Upholstered Furniture and Mattresses, John F. Krasny, William J. Parker, Vytenis Babrauskas, Noyes Publications, William Andrew Publishing, Copyright 2001, page 13)

      4. Now let’s look at the following statement:
      Interestingly, though, a “white paper on upholstered furniture flammability” issued by NFPA, the National Fire Protection Association, states that “improved resistance to cigarette ignition has been achieved by …. using polyurethane foam instead of cotton batting…” (Source: https://www.nfpa.org/Assets/files/AboutTheCodes/277/2156%20-%20UpholsteredFurnWhitePaper.pdf, page ii).

      • What this statement is saying is that polyurethane foam will not react to a lit cigarette, but cotton will. This is correct. A lit cigarette will likely melt away the polyurethane material closest to the cigarette, but there is not enough there to actually ignite the polyurethane foam (in almost all cases, unless perhaps it’s one of the stronger cigarettes that used to be used fifty years ago). Again, the cigarette will not likely actually ignite the polyurethane foam.

      • On the other hand, cotton will char and turn black. But cotton will also not usually ignite from a cigarette. And, if the cotton did ignite, it would not have high heat release.

      5. A charring/smoldering test is valuable regarding preventing fires that originate with cigarettes, because if the material does not char/smolder when a cigarette is placed on the material, then there likely will not be any ignition. That said, cigarettes are not as important as they once were regarding home fires.

      According to the 2010 Fire Profile from NFPA, only 25% of total civilian home fire deaths are due to ignitions from smoking materials. (See “Quantifying Flaming Residential Upholstered Furniture Fire Losses”, William M. Pitts, Engineering Laboratory, National Institute of Standards and Technology, USFA National Workshop on Changing Severity of Home Fires, Maryland Fire and Rescue Institute, December 11-12, 2012, U.S. Fire Administration/National Fire Data Center, “Changing Severity of Home Fires Workshop Report”, FEMA, page 71 [page 75 of the pdf], and elsewhere in the workshop, for complete review.)
      http://www.usfa.fema.gov/downloads/pdf/publications/severity_home_fires_workshop.pdf

      As well, cigarette smoking has dramatically reduced in the last several decades. According to a 2007 CDC study, smoking rates in the U.S. have dropped in half from 1965 to 2006, falling from 42% to 20.8% of adults.
      http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm5644a2.htm#fig (see Figure at very end)
      (CDC MMWR, November 9, 2007 / 56(44); 1157-1161, National Health Interview Survey, United States, 1965-2006 )

      As well, according to another recent study, cigarette smoking at college campuses is only a few percent.

      6. So what’s the bottom line:

      • Cotton is not highly flammable, even if torched with a serious torch, but it does turn black (char/smolder) if you place even just a lit cigarette on it. If the cotton is actually ignited, the heat release will be minor (compared to the heat release when polyurethane foam is actually ignited). As such, cotton will char/smolder, but regardless is significantly less flammable than polyurethane foam.

      • Polyurethane foam is highly flammable (certainly compared to cotton), but it will not char/smolder if a cigarette is placed on it. Said differently, as long as the polyurethane foam is not actually ignited, polyurethane foam will not char/smolder.

      • So what the NFPA is saying is that if all you’re doing is putting a cigarette on the material (and that’s what the NFPA was focused on), then (a) if the material if polyurethane foam, it won’t char/smolder and it won’t ignite and won’t burn; but (b) if the material is cotton, it will char/smolder, and, implicitly, is also saying that there is a higher possibility that the charring/smoldering could lead to ignition (even if such ignition didn’t lead to any significant heat release).

      • In summary, cotton does char/smolder when a cigarette is placed on it, but, when actually ignited, cotton is much less flammable than polyurethane foam. On the other hand, polyurethane foam does not char/smolder when a cigarette is place on it, but, when actually ignited, polyurethane foam is highly flammable, and certainly far more flammable than cotton and has far more heat release than cotton.

      • Said differently, here is the bottom line:
      “Furniture using padding materials made of cotton batting showed lower rates of heat release and slower fire buildup than those using polyurethane foams…Furniture using cellulosic fabrics showed lower rates of heat release and slower fire buildup than those using thermoplastic fabrics.”
      (“Upholstered Furniture Heat Release Rates: Measurements and Estimation”, Vytenis Babrauskas, Center for Fire Research, National Engineering Laboratory, National Bureau of Standards, U.S. Department of Commerce, Washington, D.C. 20234, Page 30)

      7. Regarding the National Association of State Fire Marshals, thanks for pointing out that they have apparently updated their website. We’ve removed the link and updated the blog post accordingly.