Even to parenting newbies, the instruction on infant sleepwear to “keep away from fire” must seem self-evident.
I mean, no matter how sleep-deprived a new mom or dad might be, they are hardly likely to dangle their kid over open flames, right? [Disclaimer: If you are so sleep-deprived that you answered otherwise, please put this blog down and dial Grandma or your doctor for help.]
How many open flames are there in a kid’s nursery, bedroom or playspace? Ideally, a number approaching zero. So why, then, do we frequently see this label on children’s sleepwear, and what does it mean?
What are the children's sleepwear rules?
All clothing will burn, eventually, if exposed to sustained contact with fire. Why is it especially important that sleepwear are flame retardant?
Like mattresses, sleepwear is with us during the most vulnerable hours of our day. Parents, no matter how vigilant, are slower to respond in an emergency when we’re asleep during the night.
When baby naps during the day, moms either need to rest ourselves or if we’re lucky enough to have had a good night’s sleep, may actually get a few things done. Either way, we’re not at our most watchful.
In the terrifying event of a fire, knowing that the things directly under, on and around our babes are not extra flammable is a good thing. There are a few ways to achieve this, and deciding which is best may keep you up nights, but at least, you’ll know you made an informed decision.
Most of the children’s clothing we buy have passed the U.S. regulations for children’s sleepwear safety. You can read the U.S. governmental instructions to clothing manufacturers here and the Canadian ones here.
Both sets of rules require that children’s sleepwear (sizes 9M-14Y) be both slow to catch on fire and “self-extinguishing,” should it ignite.
Interestingly, infant sizes 0-9M are exempt from these requirements. It might be that infants younger than 9 months are less mobile and less likely to be involved in household activities involving flame (candles, fireplaces, campfires, gas stoves, etc.)
Sleepwear manufacturers are also instructed to make children’s sleepwear (including garments in 0-9M sizes) close-fitting so that hanging sleeves or cuffs don’t brush past open flames.
[New parent note: cooking with gas? Put baby down. Lighting romantic candles? Ba ha ha! You are not!]
Reducing Flammability: So, what are my options?
There are three ways to make children’s sleepwear more flame-retardant:
- Choose a fabric with a naturally higher resistance to fire, like polyester,
- Cut the garment close to the body, so it has no flapping or dangling bits,
- Treat the fabric with flame-retardant chemicals.
To polyester or not to polyester?
That is the question. Most daytime clothing for children is made of cotton.
In lower-end labels and more affordable clothing lines, we do see polyester and blends, but cotton is still king of the children’s section. For many parents, the idea of putting our kids to bed in polyester that might not “breathe,” or may irritate the skin, feels less than ideal.
Can cotton be safe?
My advice would be to think of the saying “Good night – sleep tight.”
Tight-fitting PJs (like those by Baby Gap, Gymboree, Hatley and other popular brands) as well as baby sleepers, are easy enough to find in cotton — precisely because they passed the “tight-fitting” test.
Unlike pyjamas, nightgowns (which fail the “close to the body” requirement of flame-retardancy) and those cute menswear-styled PJ’s you see — picture a mini Hugh Heffner — are almost exclusively made from polyester.
The flounce of a nightgown’s skirt, or a wide pant leg, leaves sleepwear more vulnerable to swishing against something hot. Manufacturers counter the risk with fabrics having a higher burning point.
How juiced-up with chemicals are our kids’ jammies?
Manufacturers get pretty cagey when you ask them whether their sleepwear has been treated with flame-retardant chemicals, and which ones in particular.
While two of the most notorious chemicals used on children’s sleepwear until the mid-70s have since been banned (for being carcinogenic and causing DNA mutation,) chemicals used to treat kids sleepwear today include: chlorinated and brominated flame retardants, phosphate-based compounds and antimony oxides.
The first two — chlorinated and brominated flame retardants — are suspected to build up in our bloodstream and through industrial waste disposal, contaminate soil and water supply. As governmental regulations require that flame resistance be tested after fifty washes, it’s not like we can wash these chemicals out, either.
My ideal jammies for kids, then, would be organic cotton, tight-fitting, and not treated with flame-retardant chemicals. Here are my Top Picks, based on these three criteria:
Top Children's Sleepwear Picks:
****New Jammies make PJs for boys and girls sized 12 months to 12 years, that hit all 3 of my targets: organic cotton, snug fitting and chemical free. 3 stars for New Jammies, and a great selection of patterns to boot! Available via Amazon.
*** Toronto-Based Playjamas are a surefire hit, if you have kids who love to play in their sleepwear. In other words, if you have kids. Made from top-quality Oeko-tex organic cotton and dyed with environmentally-responsible vegetable dyes, these costume-like PJ sets are going to be tops with tots. The manufacturer does admit to a certain rough texture that will “soften after the first wash” due to the use of eco-safe vegetable dyes. These get 3 stars from me, with the added bonus of being billed in Canadian dollars. Available Sizes: 2Y-8Y / Cost: CAD$38.95 / Free Shipping
***Hanna Andersson is also 3 for 3, though considerably higher-priced, with her long-john style sleep sets for boys and girls. Available Sizes: 18M-16Y / Cost US$44 / Standard US or International Shipping Rates.
**½ Hatley is a favourite with Canadian families, and their uber-cute patterns are a big part of the reason for that. Hatley’s PJs get 2-1/2 stars from me, for being cotton (but not organic), snug-fitting and untreated with chemicals. They come in short or long 2-piece sleep sets, in snug fitting long-john style. If cost is a concern, it’s worth noting that Hatley lists these in Canadian dollars, for Canadian residents worried about the unfavourable exchange rate. Available Sizes 18M-12Y / Cost CAD$39.00 / Free Shipping over $50
****Tentative 4-star honourable mention goes to the adorable and Canadian-made sleepwear by Om Home. While these are currently out of stock, keep your eyes peeled for more of these to hit the “shelves” online, as they not only meet our 3 look-fors, but are made in Canada to boot (a real bonus, for moms looking for factory-conscious clothing brands!). We've talked about these as a safer sleepwear option before.
What about popular retailers?
Mixed mention goes out to a few popular retailers of sleepwear: Baby Gap, Gymboree, Lands’ End and L.L.Bean. Since so many parents shop with these retail frontrunners, let’s take a look:
Baby Gap and Gap Kids offer both conventional polyester / treated sleepwear and the untreated, snug-fitting cotton sets, but the full 3-star kind (organic, snug-fitting and untreated) is available only in their toddler collection.
These organic toddler PJs are a good option, though, if you’re a Baby Gap lover, as they say the magic lawsuit-avoiding words “This garment is not flame-resistant.”
Lands’ End offers a mixed set of options: some healthier than others. Among their collection are a few “snug fit” pyjamas that do promise to be untreated with chemicals.
These are made of (conventional, not organic) cotton so if you would prefer to avoid chemicals at the field-level, these don’t go as far as the others listed above.
Additionally, Lands’ End offers an array of polyester and polyester fleece nightgowns and pyjamas in looser-fitting styles, but no information about chemical flame-retardants is provided about these.
L.L.Bean did not make my list of favourites since their offerings are largely polyester or polyester fleece, which is not a favourite in our house.
Additionally, the flame-retardancy claims made by L.L. Bean are vague, and do suggest chemical treatment at the yarn level:
Gymboree’s “gymmies” PJ sets have always been a favourite of mine, on grounds of cuteness. Gymboree seems to have gone with a no-news-is-good-news approach to product labelling on their website.
The classic gymmies make no mention of flame retardancy, but are snug-fitting and cotton, so likely untreated.
Gymboree’s looser fitting PJ style (what my husband and I jokingly call the “Hugh Heffners”) and nightgowns are made flame-resistant by means of fabric choice (polyester) and chemical flame retardants and are labelled as such, as you can see here.
More bedtime reading about pyjamas
- Underables, a great Canadian eco-tique carrying some of our top-picks, founder Cher has this to say about the importance of organic, chemical-free sleepwear.
- David Suzuki has this to say about flame-retardant chemicals.
- The Queen of Green weighs in here.
- Want to see the rules for yourself? Canadian guidelines for flammability of children’s sleepwear can be found here.
- See what a child sleep expert recommends to keep a baby warm at night
At the end of the day, the take home message seems to be, “For a good night, sleep tight” but organic, and chemical-free.
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