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The Best Way to Identify Yarn Fiber Types

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Have you ever needed more of a specific material, but weren’t sure what it was made of? There is a very simple test that anyone can perform to identify which fibers are in a material in mere seconds. All it takes is a sample of yarn…and a little fire.

Unless you need to know the exact chemical makeup of a fiber (most industrial users do not), a burn test is a simple and effective way to identify yarn. For the sake of brevity, I’ll discuss only the most common types of industrial yarn.

Natural Plant-Based Fibers

Expose natural fibers like cotton and rayon to a flame, and they won’t shrink back. These materials will burn rapidly with a yellowish flame and leave behind a soft ash.  As they burn, they give off a smell like burning paper or leaves.

Synthetic Fibers

These fibers have a tendency to shrink back and melt when exposed to flame. They will drip melted polymer when burning, so be careful not to burn yourself!

Polyester, once ignited, will give off a heavy black smoke that has a sweet, chemical-like odor. Once the flame is removed or extinguished, a very hard black bead will remain on the unburnt material.

Nylon will give off a white smoke that has a strong, almost celery-like smell. When the flame is removed from burning nylon, it will typically leave a hard yellowish, gray bead.

For more information, here is a great video that gives you more information about these and other fibers, and shows how they burn.

I know you’re curious, so go ahead and burn something! Take a video and share it with us too!

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