You know those large yellow tags on children's pajamas that say, “For child’s safety, garments should fit snugly. These garments are not flame resistant. Loose-fitting garments are more likely to catch fire.” Talk about a complete emotion-hijack! Especially if it’s your first time seeing the label, you can’t help but second guess whether you should be buying these pajamas. Are they safe?
We’re here to shed light on why you’re seeing the label and whether it’s safe to allow your child to wear non fire-resistant pajamas.
The Whole Long History of Flame-Resistant Pajamas for Babies & Toddlers
Back in the 1940’s, some children’s dress-up clothing was made of rayon, a highly ignitable fabric that resulted in the flash burning and death of some children. It was a huge scandal and as a result the Flammable Fabrics Act was passed in the 1950’s. This act required that children’s pajamas be made with flame-resistant fabric.
To make pajamas flame-resistant, two chemicals were typically doused onto the fabric, brominated and chlorinated tris. Turns out that they’re both carcinogenic so they were banned in 1977. Unfortunately, the alternative chemicals used today - polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) – are not particularly safe either and have been linked to lowering IQ and causing hyperactivity issues and a host of other health issues (see more below).
It wasn’t until decades later, in the 90's, when the Consumer Product Safety Commission finally voted to allow children’s pajamas to be made without added flame retardants but only if those pjs were tight fitting. The argument is that if pajamas fit snuggly there is less oxygen between the garment and child's skin for the fire to feed on. This meant that cotton pajamas without added chemicals could make a comeback! However, these pajamas are to be sold with the big honkin’ yellow tag that indicates that they aren’t flame resistant. And that’s why you’re seeing the tag. But this is not a bad thing (even though it sounds super scary!).
Is it safe to wear pajamas that don’t have fire retardants?
Honestly, we feel confident putting our own children in them. Unless you have a ton of flammable objects that your young children access without your direct supervision, we feel like the known consequences of exposure to these chemicals outweighs the risk of your child catching fire. Secondly, fire safety standards have drastically improved since the 70’s – for example smoke detectors are in pretty much every home today. Far less people smoke nowadays too – so it’s less likely that young children will encounter lighters and burning cigarettes which was one of the primary causes of these fire-starting issues. In fact, pajamas are the garment that got the most attention because young children were thought to be getting their hands on these lighters and matches in the early morning hours while their parents were still asleep. In summary, we’ve come a long way since the 40’s and 70’s! You’ve got to be the judge on this one though.
What are the health impacts of fire-retardant chemicals in pajamas?
A study published in August 2014 found that PBDEs (polybrominated diphenyl ethers), the most commonly used fire-retardant chemicals, were linked to numerous health problems including thyroid disruption, early onset of puberty, cognitive problems, and delayed mental and physical development. Thyroid disruption is a pretty big deal. While these chemicals do diminish the flammability of pajamas, the chemicals leach out of clothing and into children’s bloodstream. Just think about how many hours your children spend in their pajamas. Mine wears his pretty much the entire weekend.
Do the fire-resistant chemicals impact eczema and sensitive skin sufferers?
There is no clear-cut or researched answer on this, but the anecdotal evidence suggests that yes, it does. Kids with eczema have sensitive skin and chemicals in fragrance and other irritating ingredients tend to cause flare-ups. If your child has eczema and is wearing pajamas with fire-retardants, making the change might help alleviate some of the pain.
If you want to avoid the fire-retardant chemicals, here is what you should consider when purchasing sleepwear for your young children:
- Don’t be alarmed by the yellow tag with the warning that the pajamas don’t contain flame retardants – in fact, look for it. If you don’t see it or a website doesn’t state that flame-resistant chemicals aren’t added, ask before you buy. But do be sure that the pajamas fit snuggly.
- Be wary of the white tag that has very similar words but actually states that fire-retardants have been added.
- Nightgowns are not considered tight fitting, therefore, according to the law they can’t legally be made or sold without flame retardant chemicals added to the garment. You should assume that any that any store-bought nightgown has flame-retardant chemicals in them. Of course, you can probably go on Etsy and find some that are made without flame retardants. We recommend you stick with tight fitting cotton pajamas.
- Lots of pajamas are made with polyester or a poly-cotton blend. While polyester is a more flame-retardant material, we prefer cotton to polyester tenfold. Polyester is a man-made material and it doesn’t break-down ever – meaning it just clogs up landfills. It’s also not a breathable fiber so if your child has sensitive skin, polyester is the enemy. It’s basically like wrapping the skin in a plastic bottle.
- And to close out the list of considerations, be smart about fire safety at home. At the risk of sounding preachy, double check that any lighters, lit candles and gas stove controls are out of reach of children.
To summarize, it’s a good thing when you see the yellow tag that proclaims that the pajamas don’t contain flame retardants. If you don’t see the tag, we encourage you to do more research to ensure that flame-resistant chemicals haven’t been added.