Test - CAUTION. WARNING. BE CAREFUL!
This should only be done by skilled
burners! Make sure there is a bucket of
water nearby and that you burn in a
metal bucket or non-plastic sink.
To identify fabric that is unknown, a
simple burn test can be done to
determine if the fabric is a natural
fiber, man made fiber, or a blend of
natural and man made fibers. The burn
test is used by many fabric stores and
designers and takes practice to
determine the exact fiber content.
However, an inexperienced person can
still determine the difference between
many fibers to "narrow" the choices down
to natural or man made fibers. This
elimination process will give
information necessary to decide the care
of the fabric. Blends consist of two or
more fibers and, ideally, are supposed
to take on the characteristics of each
fiber in the blend. The burning test can
be used but the fabric content will be
WARNING: All fibers will burn! Asbestos
treated fibers are, for the most part
fire proof. The burning test should be
done with caution. Use a small piece of
fabric only. Hold the fabric with
tweezers, not your fingers. Burn over a
metal dish with soda in the bottom or
even water in the bottom of the dish.
Some fabrics will ignite and melt. The
result is burning drips which can adhere
to fabric or skin and cause a serious
Cotton is a plant fiber. When ignited it
burns with a steady flame and smells
like burning leaves. The ash left is
easily crumbled. Small samples of
burning cotton can be blown out as you
would a candle.
Linen is also a plant fiber but
different from cotton in that the
individual plant fibers which make up
the yarn are long where cotton fibers
are short. Linen takes longer to ignite.
The fabric closest to the ash is very
brittle. Linen is easily extinguished by
blowing on it as you would a candle.
Silk is a protein fiber and usually
burns readily, not necessarily with a
steady flame, and smells like burning
hair. The ash is easily crumbled. Silk
samples are not as easily extinguished
as cotton or linen.
Wool is also a protein fiber but is
harder to ignite than silk as the
individual "hair" fibers are shorter
than silk and the weave of the fabrics
is generally looser than with silk. The
flame is steady but more difficult to
keep burning. The smell of burning wool
is like burning hair.