Liberty Goodwin, Director

P.O. Box 40441, Providence, RI 02940

Tel. 401-351-9193, E-Mail:


(Lighting the Way to Less Toxic Living)




From Mothering Magazine: Mindy Pennybacker,

Family Health and Our Environment


What kinds of chemicals are used to make baby clothes flame retardant? Are all sleep clothes treated with these chemicals and how safe are they?


Most sleepwear made from synthetic fiber is polyester and according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), "less than 1% of either polyester or cotton sleepwear garments are treated with flame retardant chemicals." The key word here is "treated," which, in this case, does not mean exactly what one might suppose. Treated or not, most children's sleep clothes made of synthetic fabrics will contain flame retardant chemicals in one way or another. In some cases, the material is treated after it is woven or after the garment is finished; in other cases, the flame retardant is actually bonded into the composition of the fabric. Therefore, the most chemical-free (as well as comfortable) option is untreated, snug-fitting cotton stretchies. But it's crucial to note that they must be snug-fitting in order to comply with government safety rules.


Chemicals used on pyjamas or pyjama fabrics include halogenated hydrocarbons (chlorine and bromine), inorganic flame retardants (antimony oxides) and phosphate based compounds, all of which are the basic building blocks of most conventional fire retardants.  Like all fabric finishes, fire retardants can off-gas into the air children breathe and irritate their skin.  For purposes of the CPSC, synthetic materials are either considered to be "inherently" flame resistant or treated with flame retardants. Materials not requiring treatment include most polyesters, modacrylic (Verel, SEF, Kanecaron); matrix (Cordelan); and vinyon (Leavil).  However, "inherently" flame resistant polyester textiles are manufactured with built-in fire retardants.  This is because the fire retardants can be chemically inserted into the polyester compound, becoming a part of its molecular composition.  The enhanced polymers are quite stable, so polyester sleepwear is unlikely to pose a health risk to your child, beyond the reduced breathability of the fabric, which can contribute to overheating and rashes.  And one can also consider the negative impact on the environment during its manufacture from petrochemicals.


Materials requiring chemical treatment include nylon, acetate, and triacetate. The CPSC first adopted standards for children's sleepwear in 1971.  The standards stipulated that all sleepwear exposed to a small open flame must self-extinguish.  Polyester garments and cotton garments treated with chemical fire retardants were approved, but untreated cotton garments were not.  Subsequent data indicated a significant decrease in sleepwear- and-fire related deaths and injuries among children.  During the 1980s and 90s, pressure from consumers groups for organic fibers lead to the CPSC's relaxing the standards of the Flammable Fabrics Act to include cotton garments.  However, an important distinction was made with regard to fit.


According to the CPSC, loose-fitting sleepwear made of cotton or cotton blends are associated with 200 burn injuries every year.  When the standards changed in 1997, "snug-fitting" untreated cotton sleepwear became a legal alternative for children over 9 months old. The same amendment eliminated all restrictions for infant (0-9 months) sleepwear, since infants are less mobile, and most burn injuries result from children playing with fire.  Following the new CPSC standards, all snug-fitting cotton sleepwear is labeled with a hangtag that says "For child's safety, garment should fit snugly.  This garment is not flame resistant.  Loose-fitting garment is more likely to catch fire."  The permanent label says, "Wear snug-fitting. Not flame resistant."


Flame resistant garments are usually labeled "Flame Resistant."  These are expected to have passed the rigorous testing parameters set by the CPSC, which require that the fabric, seams and trim self-extinguish after being exposed to an open flame.  The fabric is tested as produced and again after fifty cycles in a washing machine.  Failure at any point in the testing is supposed to stop the item from moving forward to production.  Garments cannot be retested and must comply with all CPSC standards before going to stores.  Most polyesters pass the testing, whereas untreated cotton does not.


The current regulations determine the safety of cotton garments according to a set of measurements for each size group.  These measurements are based on testing done to determine the optimum snugness necessary to prevent the garment from being inflammable when exposed to an open flame.  The standards are based on studies that showed eliminating the airspace-and therefore the oxygen-between the garment and the child's skin significantly diminished a cotton garment's inflammability. (CPSC used dressed mannequins for their testing.)   Cotton can be treated with fire retardants, though the strict CPSC standards requiring all cotton garments to be snug-fitting and the negative perception of treated natural fibers do not create a favorable market for such innovation.



Your choices, then, from worst to best are:


1)      Nylon or acetate treated with fire retardants,


2)      "Inherently" flame resistant polyester with fire retardants built into the polymer or


3)      Snug-fitting cotton garments.  The healthiest safe choice with the lowest embodied energy and lowest ecological impact would be snug-fitting, organic cotton, long johns or union suit-style pajamas with the "Wear snug-fitting. Not flame resistant" label.  These common sense choices conform to the CPSCs standards, give the environment a break and provide your child with safe and comfortable sleepwear.  For where to get organic cotton children’s sleepwear and other clothing, go to and click on "Product Reports" and then "Clothing.








Berkeley Parents Network - On-Line Discussion Group

On less-toxic flame-resistant pajamas.




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Flame Seal Fire Retardant Products


Flame Stop, Inc.


FRC Flame Inhibitor