Written by Courtney, Contributing Writer
The warm summer evenings are turning into cool autumn nights. Your children’s closets are probably all set for fall weather, an organization project most of us like to do before the start of the new school year and long before the weather starts to cool down. Where we live, the weather is just getting chilly after a long and mostly warm month of September.
My children are turning in their short-sleeved pajamas for warm and cozy long-sleeved and one-piece sleepwear. I love snuggling up with my pajama-clad babies before bedtime, reading a good book or telling stories. And when it’s time to say goodnight, they look so comfy and peaceful tucked into bed with a warm blanket.
Toxins in Sleepwear
Our choice of sleepwear is an important one, considering the amount of time our children spend in slumber. Unfortunately, most pajamas are doused with chemical flame retardants that pose a major health risk to our little ones. It’s tempting to want to dress our babies in soft and fuzzy fleece pajamas, but we certainly don’t want the toxic chemicals that come with them.
These days, we must be cautious with what we expose our children to. Our world has turned from nature as a source of everything from food and medicine to clothing, and everything in between. Our man-made alternatives offer benefits in many situations, but there’s no doubt they come with a cost to the environment, and ultimately to our health.
What Can We Do About It?
It’s hard to remove all the toxins from our children’s environment, but choosing safe sleepwear is one easy step we can take to reduce their exposure.
Brominated flame retardant chemicals are added to sleepwear primarily due to the combustible nature of the synthetic fabrics most pajamas are made of. The majority of children's pajamas are polyester, which is most often made from petroleum. The flame resistance is an extra step needed to counteract the flammable nature of these man-made fabrics, but this additional manufacturing process only “fixes” one bad idea with another.
Many mothers are alarmed at this dangerous manufacturing practice that puts our children in harm’s way during what should be the safest part of their day. Two common solutions to this problem are to wash the chemicals out of the clothing by doing the opposite of what the “to retain flame resistance” laundering instructions say and to push for a regulatory ban of these chemicals in children’s sleepwear altogether.
Both of these attempts to avoid these chemicals are faulty. The solution to toxic flame retardants is not found in laundering or lobbying. The solution is simply to purchase sleepwear made of natural fibers.
Washing out the flame retardants through using soap instead of detergent and running them through multiple cycles in an attempt to remove the chemicals is a bad idea for several reasons. Pushing for regulations to remove these chemicals altogether leads to the same problems.
- Some fabrics are made from fibers in which flame retardants have been chemically bonded. Requirements governing the use of flame retardants would likely not apply to fabric in which the chemicals have been bonded to the fibers before being made into fabric. And while laundering may remove flame retardants added to fabrics, it will not remove flame retardant chemicals that are chemically bonded to the fibers.
- Flame retardants are added to fabrics that are highly combustible, so taking away that protection, as dangerous as it is, poses a fire hazard in the event your child comes across something that could ignite, such as a candle or fireplace. Also, in the event of a house fire, these fabrics will ignite much more quickly and from further distances, reducing the amount of time you have to safely exit the home.
- If it is possible to completely remove the fire resistant chemicals, your child is still sleeping in a synthetic fabric, often that which was derived from petroleum. While some man-made fabrics are much safer than others, it's still a good idea to stick with natural fibers.
What to Consider When Shopping for Pajamas
Shopping for pajamas can be complicated due to the fire resistance requirements and the clever ways around them. The fact that the majority of children’s sleepwear is made of synthetic fabrics makes our selections even more limited! My mom buys pajamas for each of my children every winter. My children look forward to this tradition and are excited to slip into them on Christmas Eve.
However, shopping for them drives my mom crazy. Because most pajamas are fuzzy polyester and labeling can be confusing at times, she’ll sometimes call me with questions about what to avoid and what is safe. These are a few shopping tips I’ve learned over the years:
1. Check the label for fabric composition. Opt for natural fabrics like cotton or wool and avoid synthetics such as polyester and nylon. ( Most cotton is free of flame retardant chemicals, but some cotton pajamas are treated.)
2. Always avoid sleepwear labeled: “To retain fame resistance” or Flame resistant fabric”
3. Look these labels instead:
“For child’s safety, garment should fit snugly. This garment is not flame resistant. Loose fitting garment is more likely to catch fire.” or simply “Wear snug-fitting, not flame resistant” This is the gold-standard in pajama shopping. This indicates that the fabric is not inherently flame-resistant and has not been chemically treated. It is a good idea to follow the “snug-fitting rule” since loose fitting clothing captures air between the fabric and the child and ignites much easier when exposed to a flame. This also reduces the risk of suffocation in younger babies.
“Not intended for sleepwear” This seems to be common with cotton/poly blend thermal underwear and loose fitting flannel bottoms. My children sometimes where these for pajamas and I’m okay with the small amount of polyester, probably used for its wicking ability.
4. Sleepwear for newborns and babies up to 9 months don't follow the same rules. Sleepwear for babies under 9 months are not necessarily required to be flame resistant or to carry any labeling. Sleepwear for babies may still contain fabric made of chemically-treated fibers, so avoid synthetic fabrics altogether.
My favorite sleepwear for infants is simply a cotton tee or side snap shirt with a wool diaper cover over cloth. Swaddling a baby dressed simply like this makes for restful sleep and easy diaper changes…no unzipping/unsnapping and pulling legs in and out of pants or one piece outfits!
5. When purchasing fabric to make your own sleepwear, choose natural fabrics and be prudent about examining the label for any mention of flame resistance or chemical treatment. Often, 100% flannels, especially those with baby/toddler prints, will carry the warning “Not intended for sleepwear”. Flannel is more loose-fitting than other types of cotton fabrics, so the warning must be present to indicate that it doesn’t meet requirements for sleepwear. I think flannel is a fine option, particularly for older children.
I wouldn't be opposed to using a plush or fuzzy synthetic when making pajamas for older children, as long as it isn't inherently flame resistant (bonded chemicals) or treated with flame retardants, but I do try to limit the use of man-made fabrics in clothing and blankets and I always choose natural fabrics for babies.
If you’re interested in finding out more about the specific requirements for children’s sleepwear, you can most likely find your country’s requirements online. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission’s regulations are found here.
This week at my blog, I will be discussing some of the other ways to reduce our children’s exposure to flame retardant chemicals, which are found in mattresses and bedding, car seats and other baby gear, and household furnishings.