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Old 11-16-2008, 06:16 PM
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Problem to be Solved:

What fabric materials will burn most rapidly?


Heavy fabrics that are closely woven will burn more slowly than open fabric fibers.


To determine the burning rate of the different fabrics, each of the samples was cut into equal sized one-inch squares. Each sample was cut and placed in its own zip-lock baggie along with a label to tell which type of material it was. The bagged materials were then placed in a box to store them for testing.

A frying pan was placed upside down in the sink of my parent's downstairs basement. Next, a four-inch square of tin foil was placed on the upside down pan. The first sample of fabric was placed on the tin foil so that it would be flat with one corner sticking out about one-half inch from the edge of the foil and the frying pan bottom. A long snouted lighter was used to light the fully exposed one-half inch corner of the fabric. The fabric was carefully observed to see burning characteristics. The sample was allowed to burn on its own until it was burned up. If the sample went out, it was turned and re-lighted a second time using another corner and the same procedure. An assistant recorded the time that it took for the fabric to burn completely. The time was the total of the time that the lighter was exposed to the corner each time and the total amount of time that the fabric burned on its own. If the fabric was observed to go out, the clock was stopped until the material was re-lighted. The total number of times the fabric had to be lit, the burning time, the burning characteristics, and the residue left after the burn was done were examined and recorded.

Cloth Swatches: Burlap, Cotton, Felt, Linen, Nylon, Polyester (light, middle and heavy weights), Silk, Wool
Frying Pan
Fabric Labels
Bic SureStart Long-Snouted Lighter
Plastic Baggies
Tin Foil
Stop Watch


The three polyesters within that group burned more slowly as the closeness of the weave became heavier. Felt, which was a heavy fabric took less time to burn than silk which is a very light fabric that is loosely woven.

Cotton was one of the heaviest fabrics . The time to burn was somewhere in the middle of the group. In addition, the cotton patch only required one lighting to complete its burn.

Wool, a heavy fabric, was one of the slowest to burn.

Nylon was the next slowest fabric to burn. This was a heavyweight nylon. In addition to its slow burn rate it required the fabric be lit four times.

The slowest fabric of the group was burlap. This patch required only one lighting to completely burn.


They hypothesis that heavy fabrics that are closely woven will burn more slowly than open fabric fibers held true only some of the time. For instance, before the experiment I felt that silk, because it was very light and airy, was going to be one of the most flammable fabrics. Silk burned quickly, but felt, a much heavier fabric, also burned quickly.

The three types of polyester did follow the expected burn order with the lightest material burning the fastest. There was a problem, though, because the heavy cotton fabric was much faster at burning than either the middleweight or the heavyweight polyester.

Overall, it can be said that the heavier fabrics did appear to burn slower from the data, but because this did not always happen there are other things that also change the burn rate.
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