Flame retardants come in many forms. They use a whole host of different ingredients to achieve their fire-fighting properties.
While some flame retardants might work brilliantly to protect the exterior of buildings, others are much more suited to improving the fire resistance of soft furnishings. Some are designed with electronic equipment in mind, while other types of flame retardant are made to be eco-friendly and non-toxic.
In this article, we’ll take you through some of the most commonly used flame retardants, discussing the pros and cons of each option.
Halogen flame retardants
Halogen flame retardants are widely used. This type of flame retardant includes some of the most popular options, such as Bromine Flame Retardants (BRFs).
Bromine Flame Retardants are well known as they’re used in numerous ways. These fire retardants are relied upon to improve the fire resistance of everything from textiles to construction materials.
Active bromine atoms are used in BRFs to halt chemical reactions that occur as a fire burns. This makes it more difficult for the fire to burn, reducing its capability to spread in a short space of time. Such fire retardants are used to slow a fire, rather than extinguish it completely, but their use makes it far easier for homeowners and firefighters to tackle a fire and put it out safely.
There is a downside to this type of fire retardant, however. The use of BRFs is being phased out, as concerns have begun to mount over the safety implications of some of the chemicals found in these products. The use of polybrominated biphenyls and polybrominated diphenyl ethers is now being limited, particularly with regard to products designed for the home.
Inorganic Flame Retardants
Inorganic compounds aren’t usually used in isolation, but they’re often found in fire retardant systems. That’s because they tend to require other forms of flame retardant to be used in conjunction with them in order to be able to slow the spread of a fire sufficiently. But that doesn’t mean that inorganic compounds are ineffective as a fire prevention measure. Far from it.
Antimony oxides wouldn’t do much to stop a fire on their own, but if they’re used together with bromine or chlorine based fire protection products, they really improve the efficiency of the fire retardant. The use of antimony oxide means that bromine and chlorine break down quickly, improving their effect quite dramatically.
Some inorganic flame retardants can be used on their own. These typically include products made with aluminium and magnesium hydroxides. The chemical compounds found in these fire retardants halt the burning process by releasing gases such as water vapour. This absorbs the energy of the fire, and adds a protective layer which reduces the damage that the fire can do.
Nitrogen Flame Retardants
One of the most popular types of fire retardant is the nitrogen flame retardant. These products are typically melamine-based, and they’re highly effective in a number of different settings.
The use of melamine in fire retardants makes a real impact, as it causes char to be formed faster, reducing the oxygen supply of the fire. The reduction in oxygen supply makes it more difficult for the fire to spread, slowing it down and making the job of extinguishing it far easier.
Intumescent coatings are widely used to reduce the risk of fire. These coatings are often added during construction, but they can also be applied once a building has been built.
During construction, intumescent coatings are added just like a layer of paint. They’re painted onto everything from walls to steel beams and wood. The coatings expand when they’re exposed to high temperatures, giving the material beneath them an extra layer of insulation. As a result, the risk of structural damage is significantly reduced even in the event of a serious fire.
Intumescent coatings are made using spumific compounds. These chemicals start to break down in high temperatures, releasing a significant amount of gas.
Phosphorus fire retardants
Phosphorus fire retardants work by increasing the production of char. This slows the spread of a fire by reducing its oxygen supply.
Phosphorus fire retardants are used in several different ways. They can be added during the manufacturing process, or they can be chemically bound to different materials in order to improve their fire resistance. Either way, they're effective at protecting all kinds of different materials from the risk of fire.
When char is formed, it makes it more difficult for combustible gases to be released. This can dramatically reduce the amount of damage that fires can cause, while also protecting the products the fire retardant has been applied to incredibly well.