Conservation Minnesota

What Parents Need to Know About Flame Retardants In Children’s Sleepwear

Flame retardants are found in many products from foam furniture cushions to mattresses to baby changing table pads and car seats. But what about flame retardants in our kid’s pajamas? Children can spend 10-12 hours day in their pajamas and the thought of prolonged exposure to chemicals raises alarm bells for parents. If you’re wondering what chemicals are used in pajamas and if there are health risks from exposure to these chemicals, there are more questions than answers. Here’s what I found out and some recommendations for safer sleepwear choices.

Flammability Requirements for Children Sleepwear

Sleepwear for children aged 9 months to 14 years must meet flammability requirements to prevent ignition if loose fitting pajamas come in contact with a candle or open flame. Tight fitting sleepwear meeting certain specifications and labeled as such are exempt from these requirements. Manufacturers must submit clothing to a flammability test – it must resist an open flame for three seconds. They must also meet labeling requirements and assure that garments retain flame resistance after 50 washings.

You might wonder why flammability standards apply to sleepwear and not other clothing. It has to do with a few high profile child burn cases related to flammable pajamas way back in the 1970’s. It turns out that these types of burns are rare and parent supervision of children and safeguards around open flames is the best way to keep children safe.

Worst chemicals banned, but need for more disclosure on current chemicals

Before 1977, kids’ sleepwear was treated with chlorinated and brominated Tris to reduce flammability. When regulators learned that these chemicals are mutagens and probable carcinogens, the Consumer Product Safety Commission  (CPFC) banned brominated Tris and chlorinated Tris was subsequently removed from kids sleepwear. To meet flammability standards today some manufacturers chemically treat the fabric. While chemical treatment affects only a small segment of the children’s sleepwear market, the chemicals used are not disclosed.

The vast majority of garments are made of fabric in which chemicals have been inserted into the fiber e.g. polyester.  Because of this, they are chemically stable and tests have demonstrated low migration from these garments. That’s why you see polyester sleepwear labeled as flame resistant. The problem is manufacturers don’t disclose what chemicals are used in the process, so it’s hard for parents to make an informed decision if they want to avoid chemical exposures.

However, cotton sleepwear containing Proban is labeled. Proban, also labeled Securest, indicates that the chemical tetrakis(hydroxymethyl)phosphonium chloride (THPC) has been applied. There are questions about the health risks from exposure to THPC.  Some animal studies indicate possible adverse effects on weight, neurodevelopment, skin and liver. According to the National Research Council, risk from inhalation should not be a concern and dermal exposure is unlikely to occur, because THPC is chemically bound to the fabric.

Tips for flame retardant-free children’s sleepwear

Since there are still questions about polyester and cotton treated with Proban, here are some tips for parents wanting to avoid flame retardants.

  • Look for sleepwear labeled, “For child’s safety, garment should fit snugly. This garment is not flame resistant” or “… is not intended for use as sleepwear.”
  • If sleepwear is labeled with garment care instructions to maintain flame resistance, that’s a giveaway that flame retardants were added.
  • Garments labeled as made of flame-resistant 100% cotton do contain flame retardants. Instead opt for the snug fitting style with no added chemicals.

About Kathleen Schuler

Kathleen Schuler

Kathleen Schuler manages the Healthy Kids and Families program. With degrees in sociology and public health, Kathleen is perfectly situated to serve as the Co-Director of the Healthy Legacy coalition, which is a statewide network of advocacy organizations working to eliminate toxic chemicals from common consumer products.

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