Elisabeth is a 13-time Emmy-winner, a critically acclaimed personal finance author and a 20-year consumer advocate for programs such as Good Morning America and The Dr. Oz Show. Connect with her via Twitter @ElisabethLeamy and on her website, Leamy.com.
When Dr. Oz asked myself and a group of other mothers, “When it comes to your kids’ pajamas, which do you worry about more, the risk of a fire? Or the risk of harmful chemicals in them?” I wanted to joke, “We’re moms! We worry about everything, that is our job!” I held back, but there’s some truth to the thought that went through my mind. As parents, one of the things we do is scan for potential threats to our kids like a mama or papa bear always on the lookout.
So here’s some good news: For our Dr. Oz investigation, we went shopping in the Macy’s children’s department, among other stores, and bought nearly 30 pairs of PJs. We then had them tested at a lab and found no evidence of chemical flame retardants in any of them. Industry insiders were not surprised and say these days it’s pretty rare for clothing manufacturers to use spray-on flame retardants in children’s sleepwear. Back in the 1970s, there was such an uproar over cancer-causing chemicals in children’s pajamas that they voluntarily removed them.
Which raises the question, if chemicals aren’t keeping our little ones safe from flames, what is? Two things, smartly woven polyester and tight-fitting cotton. These are the appropriate choices for all types of children’s sleepwear, from pajamas to footies to nightgowns and also robes and loungewear.
Polyester Pajamas: Turns out polyester, because of the actual structure of the fibers, self-extinguishes when exposed to flame. No chemical flame retardants are needed. Flame resistance is an inherent property of the fabric. That’s why most children’s pajamas are made of polyester.
- Read fiber contents. Look for a label which says the pajamas are polyester and flame-resistant. There are many different styles of polyester pajamas, from fleece footies for boys to silky-looking nightgowns for girls. And it’s perfectly fine for them to be baggy because they’re polyester.
- Follow care instructions. For example, fabric softener, chlorine bleach, and liquid soap somehow mess with the weave of the polyester and reduce its flame resistance. Don’t use them.
Cotton Pajamas: Some parents prefer that their children sleep in a natural, breathable fabric, and the Consumer Product Safety Commission recognized that. In 2000, it amended its children’s sleepwear standard to allow cotton pajamas as long as they are tight-fitting. Cotton is highly flammable, so the idea is that if the PJs are tight-fitting they are less likely to drape through an open flame and they create less oxygen between the fabric and the body to fuel a fire.
- Look for the yellow hang tag. The CPSC requires a bright yellow tag on snug-fitting cotton PJs and other sleepwear that explains that it is not flame-resistant and that it should be worn tight-fitting. That tag means the manufacturer knows the rules. You should follow them, too, by buying PJs in the correct, snug size for your child.
- Do not allow baggy T-shirts or boxers. One of the reasons the government began allowing professional sleepwear manufacturers to make snug-fitting cotton pajamas is because they were concerned about parents allowing their kids to sleep in billowy cotton T-shirts and boxer shorts. This is not safe. Again, they are more likely to drift into an open flame and the oxygen in the folds fuels a fire.
- Do not buy from amateurs. The Good Housekeeping Research Institute has gone undercover and bought pajamas and nightgowns from online craft marketplaces and found that they were fire hazards waiting to happen. Billowy cotton pajamas that go up in flames. Long, flowing nylon nightgowns that melt into the skin when they catch fire. Because so many fires happen at night, it’s best to buy children’s sleepwear from an established brand that knows and follows government regulations.