Children’s Sleepwear: Avoiding Flame Retardant Chemicals

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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.

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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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

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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.

Is this an issue that you were aware of? What, if anything, are you currently doing to avoid flame retardant chemicals in your children’s sleepwear?

About Courtney

Courtney is passionate about natural and simple living. She believes in taking the time to nurture her family with nourishing food and healing through nature, knowing that God is the giver of life and that he has supplied us with ample resources for health and healing. She blogs at Simply Nurtured, where she shares her thoughts on raising a healthy family, with the belief that the foundation for a healthy life begins in the womb and in the early years. She also owns the Simply Nurtured Shop, where she sells natural products for mom and baby.

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Comments

  1. In doing research about avoiding chemical flame retardants, I have read in multiple places that polyester is inherently flame resistant and therefore NOT treated with chemicals and that cotton often IS… I’m avoiding polyester and other synthetics to begin with because of other risks of these fabrics but I am getting confused and frustrated by the conflicting information out there. Can you clarify your information or point me to other more concrete sources that say what is what? thank you…

  2. Thank you for this article! My 12 month old son recently started having skin issues and after eliminating all scents, dyes and perfumes in his skin care regimin we finally turned to prescription strength but it still didn’t help. Now after reading your article my suspicions that he was having an allergic reaction to his polyester fleece jammies is confirmed. Thank you so, so much!

  3. judi hinton says:

    Thank you for your article – I am a 55 year old mom soon to be grandma who is having issues with flame retardants. You might be interested to learn that even at my ripe older-ish age my skin gets weirdly dry and any open wounds (I have a pit mix dog who uses her paws too much so arm wounds are a part of my daily life) won’t heal and are weirdly inflamed when left uncovered and allowed direct exposure to my sofa (I threw it out a week ago) and had a remarkable noticeable improvement withen 24 hours. I truly believe that flame retardants are bad for everyone no matter the age, and I’m trying to remove them from my life I’m currently trying to read about fabrics and how to identify good from bad so your article was hugely helpful. I have three dogs and they sleep with blankets as well as I sleep with blankets :) and I’m now on a mission to make every single thing that we sleep on safe. thanks for your information it’s been up till now the most informative thing I’ve read and today I am off to find all natural materials for sleeping on/in.

  4. As a mom, I wanted to avoid flame retardants and keep my sons warm enough in a blanket-free crib. I created my own sleepwear line, Snug Organics, when I couldn’t find what I was looking for. Our sleepers are made of 100% organic cotton sherpa, which has a similar feel to polyester fleece, but is a natural breathable fiber. Check us out: http://www.snugorganics.com.

  5. pollyester may be inheritly flame resistant and not necessarily treated with flame retardant but the “fabric” contains pertrolium.. So either way its not a good fabric to wear :/

  6. Di Linh Reichman says:

    I’ve been wondering for a long time why children’s sleepwear needs to be snug fitting or flame retardant compared to regular clothing. Is there proof that children are more likely to catch fire in their sleep than during the day? I don’t get it. If these regulations are as antiquated as the need for Daylight Savings Time, I’m baffled as to why the practices continue.

  7. This article discourages me. As a new mom I had never heard about this and have not looked at tags of her pajamas or blankets. Nothing has tags on it to be returned and we just don’t have the money to buy all new pajamas. What alternative do you suggest for those moms who were unaware of these chemicals? Because now I just feel awful that my infant may be wearing unsafe sleepwear but it is not feasible for me to get rid of all her fleece pjs and blankets. We live in buffalo where it is cold for much of the year! What is your suggestion for someone in my scenario?!

  8. I recently received an e-mail from a relative that contained info from a pediatric nurse regarding flame resistant sleepware. Research has been done but not yet published that there is a chemical used in the process that causes
    thyroid cancer. Another reason to avoid items treated in this way.

  9. Amanda Johnson says:

    “Unfortunately, most pajamas are doused with chemical flame retardants that pose a major health risk to our little ones.”

    Sorry hun, this just isn’t true. They stopped this practice a long time ago. I have spoken with both Carter’s and Gerber, and they both say that none of their sleepwear is treated with chemicals. They say that polyester is inherently flame resistant (not retardant).

    I’m going with 100% cotton just because it’s breathable and won’t cause heat rash though so I definitely agree that natural is best, but I’m afraid the inaccurate information in this article might cause some mothers unnecessary stress thinking they have endangered their children.

    • Is the information quoted inaccurate? Yes and no:

      All pajamas are *not* necessarily doused with flame retardants.
      *However,* the flame-resistant ones that are not “doused” with them, have them *woven into the fabric.* Therefore, Carter’s and Gerber are allowed to state that they are not “chemically treated.” I have read that this kind of treatment cannot be washed out, and either way, the companies are to test their products’ flame-resistance after 50 washings. You can look up this info online.

      So yes, go for “snug-fitting” non flame resistant p.j.’s

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