IF you thought cotton was safer than synthetic, think again. Scientists at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Delhi, have dispelled the myth that it is safer to wear cotton saris while cooking and that cotton garments are less prone to fire. After a two-year WHO-sponsored study, they have concluded that cotton saris, in particular, "catch fire easily and the flames engulf the whole body in a matter of seconds" whereas the flames on synthetic saris are "smaller and the whole sari does not catch fire everytime".
This does not mean that synthetics are safer near a fire, but that cotton, too, is highly unsafe. The latest scientific advice is to avoid wearing 'any' loose-fitting clothes as also those made from thin fabric, whenever near an open flame. On the other hand, tight-fit-ting clothes and those made from dense fabrics "catch fire with less difficulty" and burn slower. Therefore, it is hazardous to wear either a sari, salwar kameez or nightie—regardless of the fabric they are made of—while cooking, but shirts and trousers and garments made from khadi and denim are safer.
The study, conducted by Professor Dinesh Mohan, Dr Sunil Kale and K.S. Bawa Bhalla of the institute's Centre for Biomedical Engineering, proves that loose-fitting cotton garments burn "more vigorously", emitting "very large" flames that move rapidly over the fabric which "neither breaks nor falls off during the burning process". In contrast, in synthetics like terrycot and polyester, combustion is less vigorous and flames are always smaller, localised, travel slowly through the fabric and the fabric tends to melt and fall away.
"We first stumbled upon the finding six or seven years ago while making a film on safety tips for Diwali. For a visual on how synthetics and cotton burn, we dressed a statue in clothes made from these...