Owens-Corning Fiberglass Curtains - Look. Don't touch.

Time for another fiberglass post, everyone! Today, we're admiring some wonderful fiberglass curtains, which were described by the unbiased observers at Owens-Corning as "the perfect drapery fabric" because it "never needs dry cleaning, never will shrink, sag, mildew or burn." All true, except for the "perfect" bit, which is subjective, obviously, and can't be proven or dispr... Hey! a picture!

In the fifties, asbestos was starting to get a bad reputation for making people hideously sick and dead for several thousand years. So, everyone was looking for a new fire-retardant fabric to make everything out of. Owens-Corning stepped up to the microphone and shouted "fiberlass!", then absently scratched at some little bumps on the side of it's neck

In this ad, we see some curtains made from fiberglass, but not for long, because the pattern on the curtains will make your eyes cross if you look at it for more than a second or two. The curtains were definitely good at not burning, shrinking, or wrinkling. But, there was the  strategically glossed-over feature that, if you touched them too much, or a little bit, you'd probably get something called fiberglass dermatitis. See?
Dermnet seems really scared that somebody will steal their pictures of skin diseases, so they've watermarked the hell out of them. If "the skin disease image atlas" sounds like a party to you, then by all means zap on down to Dermnet.com and whoop it up. As for me, after finding these pictures I am-scrayed, for fear of a total breakfast reversal (TBR).

Fiberglass dermatitis isn't a disease. It's just a condition, caused by little glass shards stuck in your skin. It will go away, if you just get all the fiberglass out of your skin. I was always told that cold water and scrubbing will take care of it (hot water will make your pores open up, causing the fibers to bury themselves even deeper). Here's a case study on Pub Med. If you tried to wash fiberglass curtains in your washing machine, the glass fibers would be released into the washer, where they'd deposit themselves in all your other clothes forever, because they're almost impossible to get out of the machine. Fiberglass curtains should be washed by carefully hanging them over a tree limb and gently setting the tree on fire. Or, spray the soiled curtains with a warm soap-and-water solution, then jettison the curtains into space. If you don't have access to a space program, spray the curtains with whatever you have, and scrub them with your face. Wear gloves.

But it's not like children, pets or humans ever brush up against / hide behind curtains, right? Well, there are reasons fiberglass curtains are hard to find now. Fiberglass fabrics have been supplanted by other fabrics that can be made to be fire retardant. Jury's still out on fire retardant chemicals for now. Stay tuned!

In later years, Owens-Corning produced these curtains in magic-eye versions. This example is from their Rock Legends collection. Allegations of Sudden Explosive Aneurysms are largely unfounded.

Skin irritation is definitely better than cancer, which is what you got from asbestos curtains. My curtains have always been cotton, I think. They burn more easily, but that's why I've made an early warning system with bowls of methyl ethyl ketone, which burns quite joyously. The smell of burning MEK should wake me up long before any fire gets out of control. (It stings the nose, donchaknow.) So far, I have yet to percieve any negortrive shide orffertcsrahh.


Craig said...

Other curtain materials experimented with in the 1950s:

Concrete - too scratchy

Brick - to bricky

Fire - too firey

Iron - worked well in Soviet states

Phil Are Go! said...

HAH!! "Too bricky"! Well played, sir.

Thanks Craig!

Dan said...

Craig, you overlooked the possibility of meat curtains. Insert your own joke.

Phil Are Go! said...

Huh huh. "Insert!"

BAM! Scooped you both!

Dave Pryor said...

What's the deal with the word Fiberglass spelled with only one "S"? Did they make their own special mix?

Dan said...


I believe Fiberglas is the correct trademarked name, while fiberglass is the incorrect (at least, according to the AP stylebook and all sorts of language nannies) generic term.

DevanGA said...

Can anyone tell me how to tell if vintage curtains are fiberglass? I bought a pair described as a poly blend but am concerned they are fiberglass.

Anonymous said...

Wow! Thanks so much for the info. I've been cleaning out my folks 1960's ski chalet & their curtains look as good as new.....I knew they were fiberglass but thought maybe I could "freshen them up" before I tried to sell the place. They're in the trunk of my car right now (the curtains not my parents) but they'll soon be in the trash:).

Anonymous said...

So - I was getting ready to hang Fiberglas Beta Custom Draperies in my house. I found them in a box in my grandma's house and I thought the curtains were beautiful with the look of raw silk. Also, they are in solid, natural colors. I've been handling them and they are laying on the sofa and the floor. I was having trouble getting the curtain hooks into the material and realized the curtains aren't wide enough for the windows anyway. So I started doing some research and found this article.
Before I throw them away - I wonder if there are any textile museums or collectors who may want them. One of the drapes still has the original packaging.

Anonymous said...

You can use them with epoxy to create for example a small boat (cover the surface and get a hard and durable surface), out door chair or what ever. A bit more fun than ordinary fiberglass... So try to sell them / give them away to people who build things - DIY:ers :) They are hard to find!

Anonymous said...

Sorry, the DIY:ers are not hard to find, the fiberglass curtains are hard to find! ;)

Anonymous said...

I remember these from back then.Look this article up because when i said itchy fingerglass curtains to a friend i thought i had DREAMED they used fiberglas for CURTAINS!!
Back in the age of "houseewifes " and men " worked" it is obvious as day men thought of these as awesome because FIRE RETARDENT WRINKLE RESISTANT .but didnt check how they got itchy when you handled them and an itch disaster when in the washI foubd thst out after washing clothes and putting them on right after washing the curtains It all had to be thrown out!!

Anonymous said...

Decided to make a pair of draperies back in the 1970. Had fiberglass rash from head to toe but nice windows. Took months at the dermatologist to get rid of the rash. Stay away from fiberglass!

khowardquilts said...

I was trying to get some ideas for using some old curtains when someone linked to this article. Since these curtains were junk, I cut a sample where there was a hole already and did a burn test; it didn't burn. The other curtains sample melted and burn so it is likely polyester.

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