Reducing the severity of household fires with chlorine chemistry


Fires in the home are responsible for thousands of deaths and injuries in Europe each year. They also lead to millions of euros of damage to buildings and their contents. But the application of flame retardants to household items can dramatically reduce the chance of a fire developing. This limits the production of smoke which is the main cause of injuries in fires.

Flame retardants interact with the fire and prevent it from reaching ‘flashover’ point – the near-simultaneous ignition of the combustible material in an enclosed space. They can be applied to almost any material including textiles, leather, paints and coatings, and foam fillings for furniture and appliances.

There are many types of flame retardants on the market. Some of the most effective are based on chlorinated paraffins and chlorinated phosphates. Polyvinylchloride (PVC) also exhibits some intrinsic fire-resisting properties.

By slowing the progression of a fire, flame retardants give people more time to escape to safety. This has led some governments to mandate their use, particularly in household applications such as furniture and electrical goods.

In this video, the flammability of two identical ‘Ektorp’ sofas from IKEA is shown. One was bought in the UK where fire retardants are compulsory, while the second was purchased in the Netherlands where their use is not mandatory. As the video shows, impregnating household products with fire retardants can make a dramatic difference to saving lives.
It’s a chlorine thing!