The Real Story Behind Flame Retardant Baby Clothes

The Real Story Behind Flame Retardant Baby Clothes

Last Updated: August 10, 2016
How parents got around the legislation which put dangerous chemicals in baby pajamas.The Real Story Behind Flame Retardant Baby Clothes

A first time parent is shopping online for newborn pajamas. Pausing to smile over an adorable pair of rocket ship pajamas, they are taken aback to read, “For child’s safety, garments should fit snugly. These garments are not flame resistant. Loose-fitting garments are more likely to catch fire.” This mysterious and alarming warning is a bit confusing to understand without the historical and legal context behind it. Even if stores appear to be full of warnings about your baby catching fire, that’s the last thing you need to worry about. In fact, the non-flame-resistant PJs are actually the better option!

Why? It’s a long story. In the 1940s, they made sweaters and children’s cowboy chaps out of rayon fabric that would ignite easily and flash burn, and there was a scandal over the tragic deaths that resulted. So in 1953, they passed the Flammable Fabrics Act which required children’s pajamas and a number of other items like mattresses to be made from flame-resistant fabric. (There were state-specific laws as well.) Many people believe that the tobacco industry was behind all this because they wanted clothing and furniture manufacturers to be blamed for fires–rather than cigarettes.

For years flame-resistant chemicals were added to children’s pajamas, carseats, and other items. In 1977, when researchers discovered that two commonly used fire retardant chemicals (brominated and chlorinated tris) were very dangerous and mutated your DNA, those particular chemicals were banned. But in later years, folks started to figure out that even the “safer” fire retardant chemicals were potentially dangerous to kids: the chemicals were linked to increased hyperactivity and lowered IQ.

Despite the risks of flame retardants, the laws requiring flame retardant fabrics remained on the books. Luckily, in 1996 the Consumer Product Safety Commission voted to introduce a loophole in the law: pajamas didn’t need to be made of fire-resistant fabrics if they were tight-fitting! Tight-fitting pajamas are less flammable because fires need oxygen to burn. So if there is no air between the child’s skin and the fabric, the fire gets less oxygen.

So the pajamas with the “not fire resistant” warning are actually the ones you want. A pediatric safety website recommends always looking for the phrases “must be snug fitting” and/or “not flame resistant” when you buy your child’s pajamas. Also, as one BabyList mama remarked, tight-fitting pajamas are the cutest kind because they show off your child’s chubby limbs.

There’s other good news: smoke alarms and increased fire safety standards have made fires one of the LEAST likely ways for your baby to be injured. Although buying tight-fitting pajamas can be nice, making sure your fire alarm has good batteries is a better way to keep your baby safe. (The worry about flammable clothing makes even less sense when you consider that smoke inhalation is a more common cause of death in house fires than burns.)

In other words, don’t worry: if you really want to put your baby in a cute nightgown, you’re not putting her in a fire death trap. Although, because of the laws, you may have a really tough time finding a chemical-free version of that nightgown (unless you make it yourself or buy from Etsy). Mommy blogger Ashley wrote, with blistering sarcasm, “I find it highly annoying that I have to act like a lunatic/borderline conspiracy theorist just to keep my child from wearing garments made from or with (dangerous!) chemicals.” However, as concerns about the chemicals become more widespread, there are less and less products that include them on the market.

Ensuring your child’s safety can sometimes feel complicated and stressful, when there is so much conflicting and confusing information. We hope this information helped, and you can browse several chemical free baby PJ options here if you need them.