Fabric Burn Test Chart

If you don’t know what kind of fabric you have….

I sometimes buy fabric at a thrift store, and sometimes I’m not sure what kind of fabric it is.  I don’t usually use synthetic fabric for making clothing, but if it’s cheap enough I’ll buy it to stablise other fabric*; it is especially useful when cutting slipping fabrics like viscose, and even more so when cutting bias strips (Note: The fabric has to be really cheap to make it worthwhile, as it end up being a ‘throw-away’ fabric). However before using it as ”throw-away’ stabilizing fabric, I check by doing a burn test.  I am sometimes pleasantly surprised and find that I have ended up with some good quality fabric.  The burn test isn’t 100% reliable as there are fabrics that a mix of synthetic and natural, but it’s a good starting point. Although there is a lot of information on the web for doing burn tests, I couldn’t find a chart with all the information laid out in a table.  So I created one and have it available here for download. To get all the information on the chart, it does end up having quite small font, but you may find it useful. Download the Fabric Burn Test Chart here in PDF format. See the Cutting Bias Strips article for an example of using a fabric as a stabilizer. The same information that is contained in the downloadable chart is repeated here below (for search engines, as they can’t read the PDF file).

Determining fabric type by doing a Burn Test

The fabric burn test is best done outside or in a well ventilated room; the smell of synthetic burning fabric can be unpleasant, hazardous and linger. Note that the test is not 100% accurate due to fabrics that are blends. These fabrics will give a result that is a combination of both fibers. Also some fabrics may have chemicals added which also increases the unreliability of the burn test.  (I use the burn test mainly to check whether it is 100% natural or not. You will be able to tell if the fabric is 100% natural fiber like wool, cotton, etc).


  • fireproof dish (e.g. ceramic, glass, metal tin)
  • tweezers
  • matches
  • water in case you need to put out the fire


  • Cut a small piece of fabric (1 inch square) Hold one side with tweezers over fireproof dish
  • Light the other end with match
  • Let the piece burn completely , dropping the fabric when necessary
  • Take note of the smell and the smoke as it burns, BUT do not put the burning fabric directly under your nose
  • Leave the residue cool at the bottom of the dish so that you can handle when cool

Fabric Test Burn Table

Here is a link to the downloadable Fabric Test Burn Chart in PDF format.
Fabric Description Flame & Residue Smell Smoke Ash
Cotton natural cellulose fiber
  • burns quickly
  • may flare
  • no beads remain
  • after burning may continue to glow
burning paper grey or white
  • fine and soft
  • easily crumbled
Hemp natural cellulose fiber
  • burns quickly
  • bright flame
  • no beads remain
burning leaves or wood grey or white grey
Linen natural cellulose fiber
  • takes time to ignite
  • flame is easily extinguished
  • may glow after flame extinguished
  • no beads remain
burning paper grey or white fine and soft
Rayon man-made cellulose fiber
  • burns without flame
  • does not melt
  • no beads remain
burning paper slightly hazardous soft grey
Silk natural protein fiber
  • burns slowly
  • fabric curls away from the flame
  • leaves a dark easily crushed bead
burned hair or meat little or no smoke dark gritty ash when beads crushed
Wool natural protein fiber
  • burns slowly
  • fabric curls away from flame
  • leaves a brittle crushable bead
burned hair or feathers dark smoke gritty powder or dark, brittle, easily crushed bead
Acetate manufactured protein fiber
  • flares quickly
  • melts and drips
  • leaves a hard bead that cannot be crushed
hot vinegar black hazardous smoke no ash
Nylon synthetic fiber
  • flares quickly
  • melts and drips
  • leaves a hard bead that cannot be crushed
celery hazardous fume no ash
Polyester synthetic polymer fiber
  • burns and melts
  • shrinks away from flame
  • leaves hard dark brown bead
chemical odour
  • black smoke
  • fume is hazardous
no ash
Acrylic synthetic fiber
  • flares up, burns quickly
  • shrinks away from flame
  • leaves hard irregular beads
acrid odour
  • black smoke
  • fume is hazardous
no ash

4 Responses

  1. Great chart, easy to quick check! I’d like to print and hang in my studio, but your chart is missing what I would consider an important detail…..fabrics that self extinguish. Thank you!

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