NIST Study Questions Furniture Ignition Test

The bench-scale test of whether a burning cigarette will ignite upholstered pieces may underestimate the materials' tendency to smolder, the agency's Mark Bello reported.

NIST's Mark Bello recently reported that a study by the agency shows the bench-scale test widely used to determine whether a lit cigarette will ignite upholstered furniture "may underestimate the tendency of component materials to smolder when these materials are used in sofas and chairs supported by springs or cloth." The National Institute of Standards and Technology and American University researchers cooperated to conduct the study.

The study is noteworthy because the test became controversial when California removed an open-flame test from its furniture flammability testing law in November 2013. As Bello notes, California's law is "the de facto national standard since no national regulation currently exists—and now relies solely on the so-called cigarette-smoldering-ignition test."

The NIST/AU study identified changes in the test that may make it more realistic, that is, more representative of a "near-worst-case scenario."

"Because it inhibits air flow, the current test apparatus may diminish the propensity for smoldering ignition," NIST's Rick Davis told Bello. "Creating gaps to increase air flow and the other modifications we are suggesting—especially adoption of a reference foam—will enable more consistent smoldering behavior and help to minimize other causes of inconsistent flammability test results."

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