How to Protect and Care for Theater Stage Curtains
Stage curtains are found everywhere from cruise ships to churches and community centers to schools. On these stages, countless productions will play out in front of packed theaters or lifetime milestones that will be held in front of family and friends. Each has one thing in common: thick, cotton velour stage drapes. These super-sized fabric pieces used to decoratively conceal various parts of the stage can be fire hazards.
To combat this safety issue, theater curtains are treated with flame-retardant to reduce and eliminate the chance these beautiful, expensive curtains will go up in flames. Just what do you need to know, to go about planning and preparing to make your stage curtains fire code compliant?
The first step is cleaning the curtains. Dust is flammable, and often a small electrical spark, or a hot light too close can be the cause of a stage curtain fire. Dust is abrasive and causes stage curtains to wear out prematurely. Even Inherently Flame Retardant, or IFR, curtains need to be cleaned and have dust removed from time-to-time. Although fire codes can vary from state to state and county to county, Fire Marshals will agree that you should clean, test and treat your stage curtains every three to five years to maintain safety.
PRO TIP: Do your stage curtains have white splotches? Applying old-fashioned flame retardants to black or dark-colored stage curtains can often cause white splotches. This phenomenon is known as “salting out” and is caused by humidity pulling the flame retardant to the surface of the material. Flamecheck M-111 chemically bonds to the material and eliminates this problem making Flamecheck M-111 ideal in high-humidity areas like Florida and on cruise ships.
Has your hardware become rusty? Flamecheck M-111’s non-corrosive formula gives your hardware extended life too. Rusty grommets and rusty chains in the hem of the curtains can cause your velour to rip, tear and wear out prematurely. Velour stage curtains are designed to last 35-40 years when properly maintained, will your stage curtains last that long?
Children touch the curtains then touch their face or mouth, wouldn’t you feel safer with a non-toxic fire retardant used on your stage curtains? Flamecheck M-111 has been extensively tested and found to be non-toxic: Acute Oral Toxicity Study & Primary Skin Irritation Study (Hill Top Biolabs) and Toxicity on Sewer Sludge & Toxicity on Fish (Newcastle University), Flamecheck M-111 is safe for use around children and in areas of daily human contact.
Does the smell of other flame retardants leave you feeling ill after treatment from their strong ammonia odor? Not with Flamecheck M-111, which has a light lemon scent when sprayed, leaving no smell behind once the curtains are dry. Less chemical and faster drying times leave you with soft and supple stage curtains. Just two light sprays over the velour curtains are normally all you need when you use Flamecheck M-111 to pass the NFPA 701 test.
PRO TIP: When applying any flame retardant, be safe. Always use standard paint precautions, including wearing goggles, dust masks, and gloves when spraying any chemical.
Once the curtains are dried, it’s time to test your application technique using the NFPA 701 field test to verify the application was successful. With scissors cut a small sample of curtain approximately 1” x 6”. Take your sample to a safe location before testing. Using tongs hold the small test sample of treated and dried material, and hold a gas lighter or flame under the sample for 10 to 12 seconds. When the flame is removed the material should immediately extinguish itself. If the treated material does not continue to burn, drip fire, or afterglow two seconds after the removal of the flame, your treatment is effective.
Washing the curtains will remove Flamecheck M-111. We developed tags that have a water-based red ink section that washes out when wet that will alert the Fire Inspector that the item in question should immediately be retested to verify it’s still up to code.
At a fire training session at the LA County Fire Training Center, Flamecheck was asked, “When something has been treated, how do we know if the fire retardant might have been washed out?” To help Fire Inspectors verify that the materials have been effectively treated and that the treatment is still there, we can add a special fluorescent dye to Flamecheck M-111. This gives the Fire Inspector the ability to see if the curtains are still fire retardant at any time with just a black light. Be careful, when used on stage curtains, it can light up the stage if black lights are used during the production!
PRO TIP: Apply a tag to the curtain, to show when it was cleaned, treated, tested, and certified. Most Fire Inspectors want to know who, what and when of the treatment. Always provide a tag with your company name, what chemical was applied, and the date of treatment.
Certificate of Fire Resistance is given to most facilities once the work has been completed. This is kept at the office so it’s ready to present to the Fire Inspector upon request. This information will match what you list on the tag, such as the application company’s contact information, date of treatment, the chemical used, batch number of chemical, a unique tag number for each item treated that matches the tags on each curtain, and description of curtain’s color and material.
Be sure to ask your local fire inspector what is required in your area so that you, too, can be fire code compliant with your stage curtains.