Understanding Flame Retardants in Children’s Pajamas {And a Simple Way to Avoid Them}

One of the things we try to do here at Whistle Pig Hollow is eliminate toxins in our lives. I thought I’d share some of the ways we’ve found to reduce our exposure to toxins in a weekly “Toxin-Free Tuesdays” series.

flame retardant pjs

Are you aware that children’s pajamas in sizes 9 months and up are required to meet flammability requirements, which means some are treated with flame retardants? I wasn’t, until I happened to glance inside a cute new pair of fuzzy footie pajamas and read the words “flame resistant” printed inside. Say whaaa?

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) says:

To protect children from burns, [the flammability rules] require that children’s sleepwear must be flame resistant and self extinguish if a flame from a candle, match, lighter or a similar item causes it to catch fire. The rules cover all children’s sleepwear above size 9 months and up to size 14 and require that: (1) the fabric and garments must pass certain flammability tests; or (2) be “tight fitting” as defined by specified dimensions.

As a parent, I worry about all kinds of unlikely things happening to my child, but catching on fire while wearing pajamas didn’t even make my list. Not even my backup list. Why is a child more likely to burn their clothes with a candle, match, or lighter when wearing pajamas? Why are daytime clothes not subject to these requirements? And really I’d think the largest pajama-fire threat would be a house fire at night. But when it comes to house fires, the CDC itself, in their Fire Death and Injuries Fact Sheet, says most victims of fires die from smoke or toxic gases and not from burns.

So why are we treating children’s pajamas with flame retardant chemicals? Are children really getting injured from candles and lighters? The real story is told by Mommypotamus (here), and will make your blood boil. (Hint: it has to do with cigarette smoking in homes resulting in fires, and Big Tobacco talking people into making everything– furniture, mattresses, children’s pajamas- flame retardant. All so we can carry on smoking in our homes. Score!)

As infuriating as the Mommypotamus article is, the obvious course of action is to find a way to protect our children both from flame retardant chemicals and clothing-related fire injuries. To do so, we have to understand the different ways of meeting pajama flammability requirements and  how the clothing-related fire injuries are happening.

3 ways of meeting pajama flammability requirements:

(1) “Inherent” Flame Resistance. Inherently flame resistant fabrics have the flame resistance literally built into the fibers of the materials. The flame retardant capabilities can not be diminished through washing or wear and tear.

O Ecotextiles offered the clearest explanation I could find, short of getting a polymer science degree:

Fabrics which are inherently flame retardant are synthetics which have been changed at the molecular level to make the fabrics thermally stable and able to pass commercial flame tests.   Some petroleum-based synthetic fibers, such as Avora FR, Trevira CS and Lenzing FR viscose – add a flame retardant to the chemical treatment before polymer extrusion rather than change the molecular structure of the polymer.  This process builds the chemical treatment into the backbone of the polyester rather than adding it later to the finished product.  It is presumed to be less likely to expose the occupants to chemicals.

Please note the words “petroleum based.” Of course flame retardants have to be built into the fibers- the fibers are made from a highly flammable material.

Another thing to be aware of is that synthetics do not burn, they melt, which can cause just as much (if not more) harm if they catch on fire. For this reason, firefighters are not even allowed to wear synthetic underwear when fighting fires- wool or cotton only (see here). A certain well known brand claims their polyester sleepwear (aka, cute fuzzy footie pajamas) is “naturally flame resistant,” and this inherent flame resistance is what they’re talking about.

(2) “Treated” Flame Resistance. Treated fabrics have flame retardant chemicals added to the base fabric, and those chemicals can be washed out and diminished over time. Some people love this- and do everything in their power to wash out the flame retardant chemicals from their children’s pajamas, while other people are up in arms over the loss of flame resistance over time. (Nylon is likely to have been treated this way.)

(3) Tight Fitting. Simply by being tight fitting, pajamas are exempted from the flammability requirements and no chemicals are needed. (Yes please.)

How common are clothing-related fire injuries in children?

The very sad reality is that some children actually are harmed or even killed from fire accidents resulting in ignition, melting, or smoldering of their clothing. The CPSC has a National Burn Center Reporting System, where 92 of the 105 burn centers agreed to report burn injuries related to children’s clothing. From June 2004 through December 2005, about a 1.5 year time frame, here’s what they found (Read the report):

    • 261 children were burned by their clothing (badly enough to go to a burn center), and one died. (3/4 of the children were boys.)
    • The most frequent scenario involved children playing with lighters or standing too close to outdoor fires. Almost half of the incidents involved accelerants such as gasoline.
    • None of the incidents involved children wearing 100% cotton tight fitting pajamas or infant garments size 9 months or smaller (which aren’t treated with flame retardants). (Also note, the vast majority of the children were earing daytime clothes, although at least 14 children were wearing flame retardant pajamas.)

 A couple of things we can take away from this study:

  • We must be diligent about watching smaller children around fire, and teaching older children proper fire safety (especially boys- yikes!).
  • Wearing 100% cotton tight fitting pajamas (not treated with flame retardants) absolutely does not increase the likelihood of the child being involved in a clothing related burn, as indicated by exactly none of the reported injuries involving these garments. 

Clothing-related fire injuries in children are horrible, yet rare, tragedies. In 2011, there were more than 200 million (205,894,364) children ages 14 and under in America. Even if all 261 incidents occurred in one year’s time, that would mean an incident like this only happened to 0.0001% of children. I put it this way only to further illustrate that these are relatively uncommon accidents, not everyday occurrences that warrant flame proofing our children’s sleepwear. What I believe this study indicates is the need to make sure our children know not to play with gasoline and fire, regardless of what clothing they are wearing. 

So you want to avoid flame retardants in pajamas?

Should you decide to avoid flame retardants in your children’s pajamas, it’s extremely simple.

(1) Look for the magic words. “Wear snug-fitting not flame resistant,” or “for child’s safety, cotton pjs should always fit snugly,”  or something to that effect. Often times these words (or the words “flame resistant” or “meets flammability requirements”) are printed inside the back of the pajamas, near where the tag would be. Sometimes it’s written on the tag itself. When ordering online, websites will disclose this info.

Unfortunately, the warm, fuzzy footie pajamas are out. In the winter I found that the cotton pajamas were not enough to keep my son warm. He has not yet started sleeping under a blanket, so I had to layer him for bed- a set of cotton pjs underneath a warmer daytime outfit, like a sweat suit. Or sometimes a long-sleeved onesie under a cotton tight-fitting pj set. Natural fibers, such as cotton, are best.

(2) Wash out flame retardants. If you have “treated” fabrics, then you can indeed remove some of the flame retardants over time. Washing with bleach, or hydrogen peroxide combined with hard water, are two of the most effective ways. There’s a lot of info on this online (see additional sources below). Personally, I’m not comfortable with this. The only thing worse than having flame retardants in the clothing in the first place is having them break down and come out of the clothing slowly over time. It just seems like an additional exposure pathway waiting to happen.


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. When faced with choosing sleepwear for my child, I go in this order: cotton tight-fitting pjs, daytime natural fiber clothes, diaper only. I avoid anything claiming flame resistance at all costs, and honestly, I am no longer comfortable with synthetic fibers even for daytime wear (even though we admittedly do still wear many synthetic fibers- getting away from them will be a long process for us). If money were no object, I would always buy 100% organic cotton pjs, because in addition to being a genetically modified crop, cotton is heavily sprayed with pesticides/herbicides. 

Were/are you as annoyed as I was to learn about flame retardants in children’s pajamas? Have you ever known anyone who benefited from wearing flame retardant children’s pajamas? (As in, did a flame pop out of the fire place and smoulder and go out due to the pjs, for example. I truly wonder if there is ever an instance when they came in handy.)


For additional information, please see below:

Facts about Inherent Flame Resistant Protective Clothing from DuPont Personal Protection

Children’s Sleepwear: Avoiding Flame Retardant Chemicals from Keeper of the Home.

3 Ways to Get the Flame Retardant out of Your Kids’ Fuzzy Pajamas at Green Your Way (post by Katie from Kitchen Stewardship).

Avoiding Flame Retardants In Cozy Children’s Pajamas at 5 Minutes for Going Green (post by The Smart Mama).

PAID ENDORSEMENT DISCLOSURE: To support my blogging activities, I may receive monetary compensation or other types of remuneration for my endorsement, recommendation, testimonial and/or link to any products or services from this blog. Thank you for supporting our efforts at Whistle Pig Hollow!


  1. rjcorun says:

    Many times the flame retardant can not be washed out, because it is actually spun into the fabric, not sprayed on afterwards. You can never tell which is whichhttp://www.rosco.com/scenic/flamexSF.cfm

  2. Those of us that are fortunate enough to be able to sew can always make our own PJ’s from untreated fabric-but I know that not everyone has that option. I have already decided that when I am lucky enough to become a grandmother, I will be making all of my grandchildren’s pajamas. It’s just so ridiculous that we have to resort to these measure’s to protect our kids!

  3. Andrea Smith says:

    Thanks for this. I agree! I’ve been opposed to synthetic materials since pregnant with my first. Its annoying that car seats and mattresses have this issue too. I hate it. Anyway, most flannel at the fabric store says, “Not intended for sleepwear” so it is safe and I have made a few nightgowns for my girls. They do not have access to matches, open flames, and lighters. My favorite source for cotton jammies is Costco though. They carry Hanna Andersen’s last years styles in organic cotton fitted pajamas for $11 and have their own organic line of cotton jammies. I have a couple of each in different sizes and am grateful for them.

    • I agree that it best to avoid flame retardant chemicals for everyone, but please please do not sewn loose fitting night gowns for your kids out of flannelette. I have seen the videos of the full body tests of the gowns on a toddler size mannequin, when was doing my undergrad in textiles, the mannequin is engulfed in flames in seconds. the combination of quick burning cotton or rayon, lots of oxygen s (from space around the body) equals a terrifyingly quick fire. Just stick to close fitting natural fibre sleepwear and cotton sleep sacks. Please please.

  4. I thought about this “naturally flame resistant” polyester and wondered if a company making one kind of polyester for certain pajamas was actually sourcing another kind for daytime clothes and infant sleepers. I emailed the company, and, no, they aren’t. If you want to avoid the issue, now you can’t buy anything polyester at all…

    • I suspected the same, Mary. Thanks for verifying and sharing what you found. I have gone (mostly) to all natural fibers for the kids, but the warm, fuzzy pants and jackets sure are hard to pass up in the winter. I have started to look for more sweatshirt type of material instead of the fleece.

  5. Thank you so much for this post. Such disturbing information, and helpful for the future. Wish I had read this four years ago! 🙁

  6. Great writing, but it isn’t correct. Viscose is a natural product and it’s inherent properties do not drip or melt. It isn’t a synthetic fiber but a cellulose fiber. It is treated usually to enhance it’s flammability characteristics and good examples won’t wash out over time and good for the life of the garment. That, along with Lenzing FR, is an extrememly comfortable garment for anyone. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Viscose Also, wearing tight garments is a very bad idea. Anyone in the FR world knows that skin tight garments allow for more heat transfer. Heat transfer can burn your skin very quickly and easily without ever burning through the material. An air gap is the best way to add thermal protection to your garments. Asking Dupont what the best material is to wear is like asking an encyclopledia salesman should you buy encyclopedias. They produce aramids (Nomex). Do you own test. Take a regular cotton garment outside in a safe area and put a lighter to it. It will catch fire and continue to burn..it has to be extinguished (be prepared with a fire extinguisher or water bottle). It’s like wearing a torch untreated. You are right about sythetics. They are dangerous and melt easily. But, they contain polymers (polyester). Viscose and Lenzing do not contain it. Sometimes spandex is added to their garments, but it is usually 3% or less and doesn’t affect flammabilty or melting.

  7. Thank you for the info. My daughter has suffered from severe eczema-like, itchy rashes for 4 years. After many tests and treatments that have failed, we have found out she is actually reacting to flame retardants. I have never thought twice about what chemicals are in my kids clothes and within the last week I am reading every label and purging our drawers. She has new bedding and pajamas & I have removed all synthetic clothes from her wardrobe. If you know anymore info to pass on, I would really appreciate it! I will do anything to help her heal & feel better.

    • If it’s flame retardants Renee, I’d look into your furniture, your actual mattress, and the padding beneath your carpet. You can send samples from the foam in your furniture/under your carpet/in your mattress to Duke University and they will test it for flame retardants for free (http://foam.pratt.duke.edu/). Electronics are also said to be a source of flame retardants. And car seats, unfortunately.

  8. Nichole says:

    Thank you so much for posting. I was looking into this for my 7 month old who also has eczema. I usually do purchase organic, but my father in law just bought a pj set with flame retardant for my son and has been asking me about it, and why he hasn’t worn it (I hid it once I saw the tag). After reading this though, I think I will keep that pj set hidden. I didn’t even think of the possibility of it releasing further while attempting to get these chemicals out.
    Lately, we have been buying mainly the soft Kickee Pants brand bamboo which size up to 10 in children. Although this can be pricy, my son seems to itch less while wearing since its a lighter fabric. Zulily has Kickee pants and other various organic on sale pretty regularly. For smaller babies, Hudson baby organic is a great inexpensive option too: https://www.babymallonline.com/browse/0/organic/clothing/Unisex-baby

    I am also so glad to see this info being talked about online, I thought the same thing about fire retardant in baby clothes as well, it makes you think spontaneous combustion is an issue the way these clothes are labeled! A year ago I watched a documentary discussing the the CA tabbaco case and was in shock. There seems to be many concerned about the effects of these chemicals in the scientific community, so hopefully they are able to overturn this, in furniture as well.

  9. Thank you for your site and concern. You may have heard of Arlene Blum in your research. Fascinating woman, scientist, mountaineer, environmentalist working to ban flame retardants. http://www.arleneblum.com/keynote_alps.html

  10. Before the flame retardant rules, a very young cousin of mine died from burns after climbing onto a stove in her pajamas. So I’m a bit skeptical of the numbers, even though I know anecdotal evidence like this doesn’t disprove anything. I think it would be interesting to see the statistics before and after the flame retardant rule. Obviously, the best thing would be to have fabrics that don’t burn, but don’t give off nasty chemicals either.

  11. I notice that one comment above said it’s not a good idea to wear tight-fitting pjs. They aren’t saying to wear sleepwear that is TIGHT, they mean NOT LOOSE, as in flowy nightgowns or pajamas with baggy sleeves and pants, that could more easily catch fire if near fire.

    Also, washing out flame retardants misses the point. The point is that flame retardant chemicals are highly toxic, no matter where they are. They are in the air samples surrounding our planet. They are in snow samples in the top of the Himalayas. They are in the oceans. They shouldn’t be allowed to be created in the first place. PLEASE DO NOT ADD TO THE PROFITS OF MANUFACTURERS OF PRODUCTS CONTAINING FLAME RETARDANT CHEMICALS! And, if you love your children, don’t surround them with them all night, every night, in their bedding, their pillow, and their sleepwear!

    Watch the excellent documentary: Merchants of Doubt. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j8ii9zGFDtc

  12. I also want to share a brand new documentary film: Stink Movie. http://stinkmovie.com/
    Watch it! And share it! We are being duped, (and poisoned) and corporations are making a profit at the expense of our childrens’ health and our environment.

    • We worried about this 40 years ago when my first son was born and I can’t believe we are still subjecting our children to fire retardants all night!!! No wonder our poor children have so many problems, it is just one chemical after another.


  1. […] Understanding Flame Retardants in Children’s Pajamas {And a Simple Way to Avoid Them} […]

Speak Your Mind