Cotton clothes catch fire easily

The problem of burns - new sources of danger / study on textile burns


In Austria, 50 people still die each year as a result of burns. The injury mostly occurs in private homes. Around 1/3 of the 1,700 inpatient burns treated annually affect children under the age of 5 (accident statistics 97).
The children treated in our department show a typical age-dependent accident pattern. Over 70% of our patients suffer from one scalding and are younger than 4 years. With increasing age we see contact burns, electrical accidents and the flame injuries that usually occur in adolescence. Burns in flammable textiles are rare overall, with no specific age peak, but mostly with serious consequences.
The First aid after the accident is one of the decisive factors for the extent of the damage that is often permanent or even for life and death. Thermal injuries "burn after", that is a progression and deepening of the tissue damage after exposure to heat. This afterburn can be caused by the rapid cooling of the affected area can be reduced with water. The optimal water temperature for this is between 15 and 30 degrees Celsius with an exposure time of at least 15 minutes. This measure makes sense even 30 minutes after the accident. When cooling large burns, especially in small children, hypothermia can easily occur. Since hypothermia also has a negative effect on the course of the disease, it must be strictly avoided.

Thermal injuries, especially in children under 10 years of age, are not that rare through child abuse caused. A history of unclear or contradictory accident history, an atypical injury pattern such as immersion injuries, burn locations such as the back of the hand, soles of the feet, head and neck as well as contact burns with a uniform burn depth, old scars, psychologically abnormal behavior or children who appear neglected should always raise the suspicion of abuse and lead to appropriate abuse further clarification of the situation to protect the child.
A temperature of 54.4 degrees Celsius is sufficient for 30 seconds to damage the human skin to a third degree. The same damage occurs after just 2 seconds at 65.6 degrees Celsius. This explains why the contents of a coffee cup can scald 30% of a toddler's body surface.
For this reason, place containers with hot liquids on a non-slip surface beyond the often underestimated reach of your children and never leave them unattended. Secure the stove with protective grids and turn the handles of the cooking vessels towards the wall. In particular, use the rear hotplates. Do not leave your children alone in the kitchen while you are cooking.
Use pot handles to transport hot pans. Never wear hot things when children are playing under your feet. Never drink hot beverages with a child on your lap. Avoid hanging tablecloths. Inhaling hot water from open pots under a towel is dangerous and requires special supervision. Reduce the temperature of your hot water tank. Check the bath water temperature. Do not fill any liquid over 50 degrees Celsius in hot water bottles. Check the temperature of the food warmed in the microwave before feeding. When the contents are boiling hot, the vials often only feel lukewarm on the outside.

Flammable textiles

Every year in Austria, numerous people suffer disfiguring or even fatal injuries as a result of mostly avoidable fire accidents in flammable textiles. For these reasons, some countries have issued regulations on the fire safety of textiles. To date, there are no statutory provisions in Austria.

Almost all textiles on the market are flammable. Cotton and viscose in particular catch fire easily and burn off quickly. Synthetic textiles melt away from the pilot flame when they burn, which reduces the risk of ignition somewhat, but in the event of a fire, the higher burning temperature and burning into the skin can often lead to even more unpleasant injuries. Polyester and nylon are generally poorly flammable; acrylic, on the other hand, has very different fire behavior. Mixed fabrics made of cotton with synthetic fibers are particularly fond of burning. Only the pure wool is very poorly flammable and burns very slowly. Some items of clothing have the flame retardant seal of approval. However, this does not mean that the item of clothing in question is fire-resistant. Textiles can be made flame retardant through special chemical treatment. The horse's foot is, however, that these chemical substances are not always harmless. For example, in the USA, where there are statutory provisions on the fire safety of children's nightgowns, many textiles have been treated with the chemical trisdibromoprophyl. Today this flame retardant is banned because of its carcinogenic effect. In general, one can say that loosely spun or light textiles burn better than dense and heavy fabrics. In particular, plush and fleece surfaces, as well as some fleeces, catch fire very easily and burn off as a whole due to the good surface spread (flush).

The design also has a decisive influence on the fire behavior of garments. Loosely fitting clothing such as nightgowns, dressing gowns, cocktail dresses etc. burn off much better and faster than tight-fitting clothing with cuffs due to the good chimney effect and oxygen supply. Ignition in open flames by hanging is also much less common. The most common ignition sources for textile fires are matches, candles (Advent wreaths, Christmas trees, lantern festivals, sparklers), cigarettes, gas flames, stoves, charcoal grills (gasoline or alcohol explodes), open chimneys, overheated oil and heating devices.

The most important measure to avoid serious fire accidents is to be careful when dealing with fire:

  • Never leave your child alone with an open fire
  • Keep matches and lighters out of the reach of your child
  • Use electric Christmas tree lights instead of real candles
  • Keep your child a safe distance from sparklers and fireworks. Sparks can set clothing on fire.
  • Soluble adhesives and sprays (e.g. mosquito sprays) should not be used near open flames (cigarettes).
  • Never pour alcohol, gasoline or other easily flammable liquids on poorly burning fires. The resulting deflagration (a meter-wide and meter-high wall of flames) can lead to extremely severe burns.
  • Carnival disguises should always be made of flame-retardant fabrics.
  • Choose clothing for your child (especially a nightgown) that combines the advantages of flame resistance and fire-proof design.
  • Fire running and other tests of courage with open fire are dangerous and should therefore be avoided.
  • Practice lighting and extinguishing matches, candles, campfires, etc. with your child. Prohibitions are only an incentive to ignite.

If there is a clothing fire anyway smother the flames with blankets or by rolling on the floor or by water. Walking around only increases the clothing burn. Cool the injured skin areas under running tap water or with a damp cloth. Avoid hypothermia in your child. Call the ambulance.

Further information / studies:

Burns - a specialty of pediatric and adolescent surgery in the Donaustadt Clinic (formerly Donauspital - SMZOst)

How to protect your child from burns

Burns overview