Flame Retardant Tarps: Everything You Should Know About Them

Flame Retardant Tarps: Everything You Should Know About Them

It’s time to set the record straight on flame retardant tarps.

There are some specifics you need to know, and some characteristics that we need to discuss so you know what you’re getting into.

Fire retardant tarps aren’t invincible, but they protect you against a lot more than just actual fire. We’ll break down their construction, materials, and talk about the tarps you have now and whether or not they’re also fire retardant.

As protection against static electricity, UV rays, and shielding your items/structures from the elements, there’s a lot to them. It’s time to teach you everything you need to know about flame retardant tarps.

Are All Tarps Fire Retardant?

No, not by a long shot. Specific materials and chemical treatments on those materials are what make a tarp fire resistant. Cotton canvas, polyester canvas, and mesh tarps would go up like a hay bale – they do not make good fire retardant tarps.

That being said, and while it would be redundant to do so, you could probably use fireproofing chemicals on a canvas tarp and get flame resistance out of it, but it wouldn’t last last. Polyethylene is always going to be the king material when it comes to fire retardant tarps.

Instead of going up in flames and actually catching fire, polyethylene basically melts if it gets too hot. It doesn’t catch fire and make it spread; it has to have a constant supply of intense heat for it to melt.

You would have to hold a torch to it for an extended period of time to get it to melt, which isn’t likely to happen even on your worst days.

Are Tarps Flammable?

Are Tarps Flammable?

It depends on the tarp, but yes, some of them can be flammable. Just to clarify what this means, they can catch fire; they’re not more prone to lighting on fire than a piece of paper, they’re just able to host fire which will continue to consume it.

This isn’t every tarp, though. Cotton canvas, mesh, polyester canvas, and a few other materials are able to catch fire, while polyethylene remains the best option for flame retardant chemical bonding, and natural flame resistance.

If you have a cotton canvas canopy hanging up in your backyard, it’s not flame retardant. You can treat it with chemicals, but it’s not going to hold up like a poly tarp will.

What Materials Are Used in Making Fire Resistant Tarps?

Fire resistant tarps are not as intricate as people think, in terms of materials.

While the materials we use at Canvas and Canopy may change based on our inventory and evolve as we create new tarp products, these are what you can expect to see on the market for flame retardant tarps.

Polyethylene

The main material in flame retardant tarps, this commonplace plastic is designed to work in hardcore packaging that creates a barrier between the item in the package, and the outside world, such as food containers. In larger applications, such as tarps, it’s naturally flame resistant.

Bromine

This is the most common chemical used in flame retardants across every industry, including electronics and furniture, and you will see it used on tarps from time to time.

PBDE

This stands for polybrominated diphenyl ethers, which is a mouthful to say the least. This is common in spray-type chemicals that can be applied to tarps after the fact. They’re dangerous to work with, and can come off with time, which is why they aren’t used as often.

Are Fire Retardant Materials Safe?

Are Fire Retardant Materials Safe?

They make your tarp safe, but the chemicals themselves are not safe, and it’s important to be informed about them.

Chemicals you’ll commonly find in flame retardants are damaging to the environment, but even worse, some of them are damaging to people.

Let’s go over a few so you can be sure to identify them in any flame retardant tarps you look to buy, and know what you’re getting into.

HBCD

Hexabromocyclododecane is the name, and it’s the main flame retardant ingredient found in home insulation.

HBCD is known to cause a variety of cancers since it doesn’t bond to the foam on a chemical level, which makes it a problem. This is the kind of insulation that you want to keep nice and secure, since it can get into dust and harm your lungs if breathed in.

PBDE

This is one of the chemicals we talked about before, but it’s important to know the warning surrounding it. Because this doesn’t bind well to products, it can essentially “leak” into the air, and be inhaled by everyone around it.

Thankfully, it’s not something we see used on tarps often; it’s actually used in furniture and electronics far more often. PBDEs are known to lower birth weights and could potentially stifle development of the neurological system in unborn children.

TBBPA

Studies are still being conducted, but basically, TBBPA can actually interfere with estrogen in the body in both men and women. This is under extreme circumstances where it is consumed.

OPFR

These have become replacements for PBDEs, which we talked about earlier. There is still more research that needs to be done about OPFR, but because it doesn’t bind well to the products it is applied to, you can – and should – anticipate similar results to PBDEs for the time being.

Usage of Fire Resistant Tarps

When would you even need a fire retardant tarp?

The utility is limited, but there’s more than one way to put one to good use. Here’s a few of them.

1. Insulating a Job Site

Do you envy construction workers who don’t get to take a break in winter?

I sure don’t. Being against the elements saps your energy and fatigues you to no end, which is why forced air heaters are commonly used on wintertime construction sites. These propel fire through an iron tube and heat up a small area very quickly, but they’re not cheap to run.

They burn through propane at an accelerated rate, which is why in the heated area, foremen will hang up flame retardant insulation to keep an area warm.

Because forced air comes with its own set of dangers, flame retardant tarps eliminate a lot of worry for everyone involved. Four of these are usually placed in a box-like shape where they’re hung up, while one might be used as flooring.

This can commonly be done in a building. If you’re working in the garage in the middle of winter and you don’t want to set your project down, but your garage isn’t insulated, this is a solution you can adapt to your situation.

2. Campsite Canopy

Campfires are mostly predictable, but all it takes is a big gust of wind to feed oxygen to the fire and send it up into the air twice as high as you were expecting.

There are low-hanging branches that can catch fire, which spells disaster pretty quickly. Instead of running the risk, you can use a flame retardant tarp for the top of your campsite to help maintain some of that heat.

It not only helps heat up a small area as long as the campfire is running, but it also means you’re not going to have debris fall from the treetops and catch fire as well.

If you’re going camping, you should have a canopy anyway to maintain a cohesive campsite. You can just make it safer by making it flame retardant.

3. Emergency Shelter (Used by United States Military)

In the United States military, across every branch, there’s a basic set of survival skills that everyone needs to know. A flame retardant tarp is somewhat insulated, so a lot of military personnel learn to make an emergency shelter with these tarps.

There are plenty of dangerous situations where it would help them to have a flame retardant tarp to use as a shelter or sleeping bag in the throes of combat as well.

While it’s better to use a hammock tarp as an emergency survival shelter, it’s not the only option at your disposal. That extra bit of security, especially if your emergency shelter is near a firepit or campfire, is a good thing to have.

4. Keeping Belongings Safe in the Garage

Nobody wants to imagine a house fire actually happening, but what if it did happen? Are your belongings safe?

Because the attic is where the fire builds towards the end, and nothing in there is safe.

Because garages don’t have a lot of insulation (in many cases, no insulation at all), it will burn slower. Even if the fire spreads there, it’s less likely to exacerbate the fire in the way that your central walls will.

Mix that with the fact that garages have concrete or tile floors, which are inflammable, and you’ve got a recipe for success. Wrap up your belongings in a flame retardant tarp during storage, and keep them at least six inches away from the back wall.

This means that even if fire is engulfing the bottom portion of your garage wall, the flames will only periodically heat up the tarp, keeping it safe for a lot longer.

5. Static Electricity Prevention

Flame retardants are known to prevent static electricity from forming. This works great in workplace environments where a bit of static could actually be a big problem.

Flame retardant tarps, as well as other materials, are often used in industries where they deal with a lot of flammable liquids and gasses, because one spark could spell a real problem.

These flame retardant tarps can be used as flooring, or hung up to ensure that certain areas don’t endure any static shock. Alternatively, you can also use these when you have something like a yard sale or an outdoor event to make sure static doesn’t ruin any electronics that you have out.

Bluetooth speakers are very fragile and could break from a bit of static shock when multiple people are shuffling around, so this is really good for preventing that.

What to Pay Attention to When Buying Fire Retardant Tarps

If you’re in the market for a flame retardant tarp, there are a few features you should know about so that you can look for them. This information should be enough for you to decide on a flame retardant tarp.

Maximum Heat

This heat level is where the tarp material will start to melt or catch fire, depending on what you’re using. This isn’t just for the base material, though: this temperature is the highest point that the chemical compound covering can withstand as well.

When you’re looking for the maximum heat that it can handle, you should for the total burning time. For many items, temperatures in excess of 1,000°F can burn for about one minute before it eats through the chemicals, and gets straight to the actual material of the tarp.

Insulation

You can have a flame retardant tarp that’s also good for insulation. It sounds contradicting, but closed foam cells are not going to burn because it hits 180°F or something crazy like that.

It’s actually good to have quality insulation in a flame retardant tarp, because it can pull heat without catching fire. These are commonly used in construction environments like we mentioned before.

Grommet Resistance

Between the eyelets and the grommets, they need to be able to handle the heat as well.

They’re not going to be on the same level as the rest of the tarp, but you don’t want to use a flame resistant tarp only to find that it’s going to fall down anyway because of some bad grommets.

When you purchase a flame retardant tarp, everything is fairly straightforward. Just be sure to get it from a reputable source so you know it can live up to what the laboratory tests claim that it can do.

How Long do Fire Retardant Tarps Last?

How Long do Fire Retardant Tarps Last?

There are a few ways to look at it, and some variables that are going to influence it. First of all, it all depends on your intended use.

If you’re using this around situations that actually heat up and spark a flame on a constant basis, then it’s going to degrade faster. I said degrade on purpose – your tarp isn’t going to become useless.

How often are you using it? What was it rated for when you bought it?

There’s a lot to consider, but most importantly, it’s how you take care of your fire retardant tarp that’s going to impact its longevity.

On average, a durable, heavy duty fire retardant tarp is going to last you about three years. That’s anticipating that it goes through strenuous work in high heats, and that it has moderate care.

However, since flame retardant tarps aren’t exactly cheap compared to normal poly tarps, there are some things you can do to prolong its life and not have to shell out more money on another one.

Chemical Coating

Flame retardant chemicals are a necessity for any fire retardant tarp, even if it’s strictly made of polyethylene (one of the best fire resistant materials).

These coatings need to be reapplied annually, but if you get a lot of use out of this tarp, then you should opt for a twice per year schedule.

Cleaning and Storage

If you clean your tarps and store them well, they’ll work well. One of the most dangerous things for tarps is water.

Not because it can soak a polyethylene tarp, but because when you store a moist tarp in a dark place for weeks on end until you get ready to use it again, mildew eats at the materials.

Even if it’s something strong, mildew will be stronger. Be smart about how you clean and store your tarps to get the most out of them.

Usage

You get a tarp to use it, but overusing anything is how you speed up the effects of degradation. Abrasions, wearing down the materials, and UV damage are normal aggressors for tarp destruction.

For a flame retardant tarp, with a higher defense against UV rays, this isn’t as big of a problem. Just be careful about how much you’re using your flame retardant tarp and how it’s being used when determining how long it’s going to last.

They’ll last as long as you need them to, if you take care of them. The thickness of your tarp is also something to consider in accordance with how much use it gets.

More Than Just Basic Coverage

While these tarps are some of the most durable that you can possibly get, whether it’s poly or PVC, they’re not almighty.

For summer roofing projects, protecting goods from static electricity, and preventing UV rays from destroying the paint on the top of your boat or RV, these tarps will work wonders.

They’re definitely heavy dirty, so they won’t have a sufficient use in every situation, but they’re good to have on hand for niche situations.

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