The Flammable Fabrics Act was passed by Congress in 1953 due to several apparel-fire related deaths. The law forbids the marketing of dangerously flammable material, including all wearing apparel, regardless of fiber content or construction method. This law was amended in 1972 to include a more rigid test method for fabrics used for childrens sleepwear in sizes 0-6X. Another amendment was added in 1975 that increased the sizes of childrens sleepwear to include sizes 7-14. Fabrics used for childrens sleepwear must meet the testing standards after 50 wash cycles.

Controversy over the guidelines concerning childrens sleepwear has existed since 1976. One major issue was the use of a flame retardant chemical that was suspected of causing cancer. These retardants could be absorbed through the skin or orally ingested by infants. Scientists estimated that even if the sleepwear were prewashed three times the cancer risk would still be about 2,000 cancers per million children per year. The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) took action regarding this potential hazard and in 1977 most manufacturers who used the hazardous chemical switched to alternative methods of flame retardants. Other retailers and manufacturers attached warning labels to the garments.

A more recent issue that has caused concern among parents is the 1996 ruling by the Consumer Product Safety Commission to allow snug or tight fitting cotton garments for infants (0-9 months) and to be sold as sleepwear even if the garments are not fire retardant. One of CPSCs reasons for this amendment was that infants that fall into this garment size category are not as mobile as older infants and children. This ruling has caused and is still causing much debate regarding the issue. Adults who were badly burned as an infant have spoken out against it.

Regardless of the rulings by the CPSC, the following general rules of caution can be applied to prevent and minimize injury to infants, children and also adults:

Read the labels of garments before purchasing them. Many retailers may display flame resistant and non-flame resistant sleepwear next to each other. Unless there is a label stating that the garment is flame resistant, the garment should be considered not safe for childrens sleepwear.

Watch for recalls on childrens and adult garments that do not meet flammability standards. The Limited Too recently voluntarily recalled a childrens satin sleepwear set because it did not meet the flammability standards for childrens sleepwear. Many manufacturers and retailers voluntarily recall their product when they discover that it fails to meet flammability standards. For more information on recalls check and on the Internet.

Avoid substituting loose fitting garments such as T-shirts for correct sleepwear.

Fabric stores sell flame retardant fabrics for children's clothing. Look for the label on the bolt when purchasing fabric to make garments and sleepwear.

Remember that fabrics with a loose or fluffy pile will ignite faster than fabrics with a close tight weave.


Kadolph, Anna L. Langford, Textiles/...{et al}(8th ed. Prentice-Hall, Inc. Simon & Schuster/A Viacom Company)Upper Saddle River, New Jersey, 07458,pp. 362-364.

About the Author:


The author is the Vice President of Textile Fabric Consultants, Inc.