Theatre Stage Drapery Fabrics and Flame Retardants Explained

Theatres, Schools and Event Venues: Be Proactive on Stage Drapery Fire Safety.

Fire Safety on Stages is a real issue. Fires at events are responsible for some of the worst fire related disasters on record. Textiles are highly flammable, add the presence of hot lights, props, and pyrotechnics greatly increases the risk of fire. To prevent this from happening in the future, we have developed regulations designed to protect us from fires in theatres, schools and event venues. However, regulations cannot be successful in saving lives if they are mostly ignored.

Regulatory Summary:

There is no national code, as a result there is a patchwork of regulations, administered at the local state or provincial level. Typically, fire codes reference National Fire Protection Association Standards (NFPA) which sets the standards in America. Canada has adopted it own test standard different than the NFPA 701 standard, entitled CAN/LAN S109. In Europe, there is an EU and British Standard. Some states, notably New York and California, have implemented a higher level of standard than that set out by the NFPA. Also, individual venues, or school boards may have set their own standards as they relate the textiles and their flammability.

Typically, regional state/provincial Fire Code follows the guidance of the NFPA, when it comes to textiles. Here are the textile excerpts from the Ontario Fire Code:

Flame Resistance of Textiles: (1) Drapes, curtains, netting, and other similar decorative materials, including textiles and films used in buildings, shall meet the requirements for CAN/ULC S109, “Flame Tests of Flame Resistant Fabrics and Films”.

Over time, with the accumulation of dust, the original test result is no longer a good indicator of flammability, as a result, the fire code requires certificates to be continually updated
Flameproofing treatments: treatments shall be renewed as often as required to ensure the material will pass the match flame test in NFPA 705, “Standard Methods of Fire Tests for Flame-Resistant Textiles and Films.

While these little know sections of the Fire Code are easy to miss, things are starting to change. Just because your local fire inspector has never asked before, don’t assume you are covered. Fire Inspectors in the western states, and several provinces are increasingly adding textile and stage drapery flammability to their inspections enforcing the regulations. What’s more, in Ontario, the Ministry of Labour is getting involved in enforcing the fire code.

Types of Stage Drapery Fabrics:

There are two types of flame retardant fabric. IFR and Flame Resistant. Inherently Flame Resistant (IFR) drapes are made of a patented material which has flame retardant woven into the fabric itself. As a result, it does not wash out, however, IFR drapes do require regular cleaning as dust is flammable and can cause IFR drapes to fail flame testing. This fabric is considerably more expensive and does not have the same aesthetic appeal as traditional drapery fabrics.

Stage Drapes manufactured from natural fibers such as cotton are typically treated with flame retardant at the mill. The flame retardants work by coating the flammable fabrics with a mineral based barrier, preventing fire from reaching the fibres. However, flame retardant needs to be re-applied ever 3-5 years to remain effective as it will fall off over time. In addition, if drapes have become wet or have been washed or dry cleaned, the flame retardant properties will have been removed. Non-immersion drapery cleaning is the only method of cleaning drapes which will not remove the flame retardant properties.


When it comes to fire safety, proactive is the only way to go. Be sure to include Flammability Testing of all stage drapes, decorative materials and props into your annual safety inspection regime.

Not sure if your drapes are in compliance? Contact On-Site Drapery Cleaners today to arrange NFPA testing of your drapes..

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