Sometimes you get fabric when someone cleans out their stash. Sometimes you thrift fabric.  This kind of fabric is rarely marked with the content, but a fabric burn test can help you figure it out.

Now it’s impossible to figure out exactly what kind of fiber the fabric is made from, but you can find out if it’s a synthetic, natural, or blended.

How to Do a Fabric Burn Test // heatherhandmade.com

supplies

  • Small pieces of fabric with unknown content
  • Small pieces of fabric with known content for comparing
  • Metal container to hold burning fabric
  • Matches or a lighter

You are going to burn your fabric scrap and ask yourself some questions:

  • How is it burning? Does is melt and bubble or burn?
  • How does it smell? Does it smell like plastic burning or does it smell like hair burning?
  • What color of smoke does it give off? Is it black or white?
  • What does it look like afterwards? Is it like ashes or like hard melted plastic?

 

  • If the fabric is burning, it is a natural fiber. If it smells like a regular fire and gives off white to gray smoke, it is a natural fiber. The burned bits were ashy.
  • If the fabric melts when it burns, it is a synthetic fiber. If it gives of a unnatural smell, like burning plastic or rubber, and gives off dark smoke it is a synthetic fiber.  The burned bits will be hard.
  • If the fabric does a little bit of both, it is a blend.

Cotton Spandex Jersey

Burned, smelled natural, white smoke, and ashy

How to Do a Fabric Burn Test // heatherhandmade.com

Bamboo Rayon Spandex French Terry

Burned, smelled natural, white smoke, and ashy

How to Do a Fabric Burn Test // heatherhandmade.com

Wool Blend Coating

Burned, smelled natural, white smoke, and ashy, but there was also some melting and dark smoke. I think this is a blend.

How to Do a Fabric Burn Test // heatherhandmade.com

Unknown Fuzzy Sweatshirt Fabric

melts, unnatural smell, dark smoke, and it’s hard after burning

How to Do a Fabric Burn Test // heatherhandmade.com

Cotton muslin

Burned, smelled natural, white smoke, and ashyHow to Do a Fabric Burn Test // heatherhandmade.com

Unknown slub fabric

melts, unnatural smell, dark smoke, and it’s hard after burning

How to Do a Fabric Burn Test // heatherhandmade.com

Silk

Burned, smelled natural, white smoke, and ashy

How to Do a Fabric Burn Test // heatherhandmade.com

Unknown silk-like fabric

melts, unnatural smell, dark smoke, and it’s hard after burning

How to Do a Fabric Burn Test // heatherhandmade.com

Acrylic craft felt

melts, unnatural smell, dark smoke, and it’s hard after burning

How to Do a Fabric Burn Test // heatherhandmade.com

It is easier to tell when you compare the pieces after they’re burned. Now this isn’t a foolproof method, but it’s better than not knowing! I found a really handy fiber burn chart to help answer more questions!

If you make something using this tutorial, I’d love to see! Please share it on social media with the hashtag #heatherhandmade and tag me!

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Author: Heather Handmade

I'm a seamstress and mother. I sew, blog, thrift, upcycle, design fabric, and teach sewing classes. I'm also a self-proclaimed fabric fondler.

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4 thoughts on “How to Do a Fabric Burn Test

  1. Oh, oh, oh – thanks, perfect timing! I was just going through my fabrics, wondering about a few of them.

    Posted on January 30, 2013 at 10:43 am
  2. This is very helpful. I get fabric given to me for all sorts of charity projects. I can usually tell by the feel, what it is, but this is great. I posted this to my Pinterest-Fabric board.
    http://pinterest.com/thelostapron/fabric/

    Posted on January 28, 2013 at 8:34 pm
  3. Ok, this is an awesome post. I have some mystery fabric's and I have been wondering how to go about figuring out what they are made from. Pinning this for sure.

    Posted on January 29, 2013 at 1:13 am
  4. CSI detective?!

    Posted on January 25, 2013 at 3:27 pm