Cost saving on textile processing can compromise product safety
The UK's leading textile testing laboratory, Shirley Technologies (STL), says it is seeing signs of potentially dangerous cost-cutting in the manufacture of soft furnishing fabrics.
“We've seen some very unusual samples of late, and after in-depth testing and investigation into the materials involved in the production of one product, we concluded that the manufacturer had clearly been cost-cutting in the use of a key chemical flame retardant,” said Ian Strudwick, Operational Head at STL.
“It may not have been intentional, but the results of such cost-cutting could at one extreme provoke an allergy attack, but at the other extreme could be fatal.
“Upholstered furniture fabric has to contain flame retardant chemicals. These are usually completely 'anonymous' because they are chemically designed for specific applications, which, in turn, is part of the process of making them invisible but effective.
“Our investigations suggest that what appears to be happening is that some furniture manufacturers are running down key chemical stocks as low as possible to delay spending on new stock as part of cost-cutting or cost-managing measures.
“This is resulting in the use of cheaper chemical alternatives which may not give as effective a performance. More significantly we have seen instances where end-of-stock flame retardant chemicals are blended together - not just one chemical flame retardant, but in some cases several.
“Following a complaint of discolouration, we discovered that multiple flame retardant chemicals had been used in manufacture when the fabric had been intended to be used with one. These chemicals had mixed, reacted with one-another and leached through the use-surface material.
“There are very many chemical flame retardants, and with all chemicals there is the danger of unknown reaction between chemicals of different composition which ultimately but independently do the same job in furniture. This reaction can cause discolouration, but it could also cause an allergic reaction - or even negate flame retardancy properties.
“Another example involved a fabric which had caused corrosion to the underlying metal frame. Again, this was proven to be due to an alteration to the flame retardant chemicals used, causing a reaction to form a corrosive compound.
“We would urge manufacturers and retailers to ensure that furniture is produced to consistent standards, and be mindful and wary that specifications may slip through the use of cheaper, non-original specification flame retardants, or, of more concern, mixing of end-of-batch chemicals.”
Shirley Technologies Ltd (STL) is a UKAS (United Kingdom Accreditation Service) accredited laboratory providing competitive, independent, expert textile testing, certification, advisory and investigation services across the traditional and specialist textile industries.
STL is an independent subsidiary of BTTG Ltd, formerly the British Textile Technology Group. With more than 80 years experience, Shirley Technologies Ltd provides unrivalled and expert reassurance through its technical services to a global network of clients which include manufacturers, retailers, the legal profession, police, consumers and related interest groups including Trading Standards.
Highly qualified and experienced technical staff work directly with clients to ensure that they receive the best advice and service in a wide range of technical areas.