The best FR shirts for men can protect you from electrocution, shield your skin from thermal burns, and even reduce harmful exposure to ultraviolet radiation. Like other protective equipment, however, not all welding shirts are created equal. Selecting the right FR welding shirt for you is a matter of balancing the need for all-day comfort with the strict safety requirements of your work. The welding shirt that’s best for you may be different than the best one for another welder, but there are some universal factors that you’ll always want to keep in mind when selecting your garment.
Factors To Consider When Selecting Your FR Shirt
Without a doubt, the shirt’s fabric is what makes or breaks its performance. It’s always best to opt for more durable materials and avoid manmade fabrics completely. Lightweight synthetics like rayon, polyester, and nylon might look stylish on the outside, but their fibers are too weak to withstand the heat that you face as a welder. Animal fibers, on the other hand, are heavy enough to offer protection while being soft enough to help you stay comfortable.
If keeping your skin protected from electrical sparks is your number one priority, then it’s hard to beat the fire-retardant shirts that are made from leather or heavy twill. With that said, wearing leather or twill all day isn’t exactly the best way to keep cool, so cotton is typically your best choice if you’re working in an indoor area without air conditioning or in an outdoor area with high temperatures.
Wool is also a solid option. You don’t have to worry about it melting under high thermal stress, and soft wool can be more breathable than you might think. It won’t stick to your skin, and it’s also pretty good at absorbing moisture. You’ll probably be happy with any of the animal fibers listed above, but there’s nothing wrong with trying a few different materials until you find one that offers the optimal combination of protection and comfort.
In addition to protecting you from sparks and high heat, the best FR welding shirts can also block UV light from reaching your skin. The color of your FR shirt’s fabric can have a significant impact on how well it blocks UV light, and the weave of the fiber also makes a big difference. Darker shades of blue and red have been shown in scientific studies to block more UV light than lighter colors like yellow, and wool tends to outperform other fire-resistant materials. A dense cotton weave is also quite protective.
If protecting your skin from UV damage is truly a major concern, then you’ll also want to make sure your shirt has the proper fit. A shirt that’s one size too small will hug your body to the point that the fabric ends up stretched, and stretched fabric will be more porous to the UV light rays that you are trying to avoid. When in doubt, opt for one size too large. If the fit is too baggy, then you can always put on an extra undershirt to tighten things up. Just make sure that the sleeves don’t have too much slack. Loose sleeves will create a work hazard if they hang too far off your elbows, but you can fix this problem by wearing an extra layer if need be.
After selecting a dense material that offers adequate protection and tolerable comfort, you’ll want to take a look at how the buttons and pockets are designed. The buttons and pockets might seem like small details, but a flimsy flap or a loose button can easily catch on your equipment and cause a catastrophic accident. You don’t want a piece of hot metal slipping into your chest pocket, so make sure the shirt has sturdy flaps and tight buttons. Some fire-resistant welding shirts don’t have any covers protecting the front pockets at all, and a shirt with that design is just an accident waiting to happen.
The Best Ways To Care For Your FR Shirt
A lot of professional welders like to starch their work clothes to help preserve the material. Although coating FR materials with traditional starch will compromise their effectiveness, some companies make special sprays that act like heavy starches. Whether you buy a ready-made spray can and refill it periodically with one of these special mixtures or create your own concoction, make sure to apply an even coating across the entire shirt.
To preserve the longevity of heavier FR materials like leather, you can dip the shirt in a shallow bowl of your mixture instead of spraying. When coating lighter materials like FR cotton, it’s best to treat the mixture with a bit of extra water first. If you find that your fire-retardant welding shirt is getting a bit too crisp, then you can always remove any excess coating by dipping your shirt in a shallow bowl water to simulate a normal wash cycle.
No matter which FR material you choose, it’s important to be disciplined about washing your shirt before you wear it to work. Whenever you have the chance, you want to clean off dirt and any debris that can weaken the fabric. Bleaches with chlorine are usually too harsh on FR welding shirts, and it’s also best to stay away from laundry detergents that contain hydrogen peroxide or animal fats and other strong bases. When washing your FR shirt, keep the water temperature below 115 degrees. Gently tumble drying your shirt will also help preserve its longevity, but some FR materials also respond well to old-fashioned hang drying.
The best FR welding shirts blend comfort with functionality, and there are plenty of options to choose from. As long as you select the right material, pick a safe design, and stay disciplined about cleaning your garment, you can enjoy sufficient protection while staying reasonably cool on the job. You may need to experiment with a few different styles to find one that works for you, but a fire-retardant shirt is an investment that can pay dividends for years to come.