Is Alpaca Wool Fire-Resistant?
Updated: Feb 10
You may have heard that alpaca wool has many exclusive qualities. But did you ever hear that alpaca wool is fire-resistant?
Alpaca wool shows better flame resistance compared to other animal fibers. It is also slower to ignite, has self-extinguishing capabilities and lower heat release. Compared to synthetic fibers it doesn’t melt as quickly. However, alpaca wool is NOT 100% fireproof.
Everything will burn if you get it hot enough, and the same goes for alpaca. However, alpaca wool seems to be praised for its capability to resist the heat and flames better than other fabrics. Why is that?
WARNING: This article is for informational purposes only. Do not test whether or not alpaca wool or any other fabric is flammable or not. Playing with fire is dangerous and should be avoided at all times.
Understanding Fire Resistance
Fireproof and fire-resistant are basically the same: they both mean that everything will eventually burn, melt or evaporate. Anything exposed to a temperature high enough, or to a certain heat long enough will need to face the consequences. If something is fireproof or fire-resistant, it talks about the different degrees of resisting fire or high temperatures.
Fire resistance is especially important when it comes to fabrics. This is because they can cause injury to the wearer. With more and more synthetic fabrics being used in the fast-fashion industry, it is worth considering safer options.
What Happens When Alpaca Wool Catches Fire?
When alpaca wool or yarn catches fire, there will always be a similar reaction: it will start to smoke, then melt, and eventually char until there is very little left of it.
The so-praised aspect of alpaca wool is that it is much more fire-resistant than other fabrics.
There are several reasons for this.
1. The Structure of the Fiber
Alpaca wool has a special fiber with a scale-like texture. It has a glossy shine that makes sure water is wicked away before it can be absorbed. The same goes for smells. And the same goes for flames and exposure to high heat.
Wool in general burns slower because of the structure of the fiber. Alpaca wool burns even slower than wool because of its superior fiber texture.
On top of that, alpaca wool has high sulfur content. Without getting into too many technical details, this means that it causes lower heat release and higher char yielding. Lower heat release means that it has lower flammability. Higher char yielding means that it slows down the fire and has better fire resistance.
2. The Type of Fabric
Once a piece of clothing or fabric is set on fire, the type of fabric can influence how long it takes for something to burn. Alpaca wool is spun: this means that it is tightly twisted until there is a highly dense thread of yarn. This yarn, in turn, is used for tight hand-knitting or weaving. Tightly knitted or woven fabrics have higher density and therefore have lower flammability.
Lower flammability means that tightly woven fabrics burn slower. Especially compared to other fabrics: tight fabrics with a higher density will take longer to burn than loose fabrics like cotton or linen.
3. Ignition Time
Another important aspect of alpaca wool’s better fire resistance is that it takes longer to ignite. Compared to wool, alpaca can be exposed to flames for more time without catching fire.
Researching this topic, I found one example of a study done to research the Flammability Characteristics of Animal Fibers that showed that 100% alpaca wool took (on average) 31 seconds to ignite, while a llama merino blend (50/50) took “only” 23 seconds.
4. Self-Extinguishing Properties
When alpaca wool catches fire, it is most likely to self-extinguish before much damage can be done. This, again, has to do with the structure of the fiber and the high density of the yarn. These aspects contribute to lower flammability and a slower burn, and thus flame retardant, leading to self-extinguishing.
Everything Will Eventually Burn
No, this is not some kind of dark prediction of the future of our planet, but a simple warning to you, my dear reader:
BEWARE: Eventually, any type of fiber will catch fire, including alpaca.
So what does it mean that alpaca wool is highly resistant to flames? It means that if you accidentally pass too close to a candle, an alpaca woolen piece will not immediately be eaten by flames. If you accidentally drop a match on it, it will not set you on fire.
It is also a very nice trick to see if alpaca wool is real. Sometimes, shop owners (especially in South America) will sell you something for the price of 100% alpaca wool, without it actually being 100% alpaca wool. If you firmly suggest lighting a match to see if the fabric will distinguish the flame upon contact, you might find yourself an honest answer.
NOTE: I don’t think shop owners will appreciate you trying this in their store, but you can probably guess by the looks on their faces whether they are selling real alpaca or not :)
If you want to read about other ways to find out if alpaca wool is real or not, you can read my article on Different Ways To Recognize Real Alpaca Wool.
It’s All Natural
An interesting remark (and credits for the alpaca!) is that all these capabilities that lead to low flammability, flame retardance, and self-extinguishing, are all-natural! The alpaca fiber comes this way without any treatment.
Treated fibers, on the other hand, are flame resistant because they have been treated to become so. During its fabrication process, a chemical is added that makes them flame-resistant. This process can be highly chemical and therefore potentially harm the environment.
Different Blends Mean Different Results
Keep in mind that this article talks about garments, items, and fabrics that are made of 100% alpaca yarn. Only when 100% pure, unblended alpaca fiber is used, a fabric benefits the low flammability of the wool.
Nowadays, many fabrics use synthetic or other wool blends to lower cost or to avoid potential downsides of alpaca wool. Keep in mind that most (if not all) synthetic fibers and fabrics are highly flammable.
Alpaca wool being flame resistant is a nice feature. But let’s be honest, will you determine to yay or nay your next purchase on its capability to slowly ignite? I don’t think so.
Nevertheless, it is interesting to think of other options that may not necessarily apply to your wardrobe, but that do include alpaca fiber. Think of blankets or furniture, or even bigger: insulation!
The alpaca fiber is an increasingly used alternative for wrapping your house! It is seen (and used) as a green, sustainable and environmentally friendly alternative for home insulation.
Being fire retardant is definitely a plus for choosing alpaca insulation for your home!
Is alpaca wool waterproof? Alpaca wool is not waterproof. Alpaca wool is water-resistant and it has great wicking capabilities that help make sure the fabric doesn’t absorb water. It is also insulating, which means that when it does get wet, it will evaporate the water with its insulating hollow fiber.
Check out this article I wrote to answer the question Is Alpaca Wool Waterproof?
Is alpaca wool windproof? Thanks to the windy habitat of the alpaca, the fiber has developed itself to be windproof. A great feature for clothing like scarfs, hats and sweaters. Keep in mind that most alpaca garments are (hand) knitted or woven, and some wind will therefore still be able to pass through the fabric.