Not intended for sleepwear

November 11, 2007 § 11 Comments

I decided to make PJs for bilingual baby. I wanted to make them out of warm and cozy flannel. So, we went to the fabric store looking for materials to make the PJs and came upon a couple of rows of flannel prints that just cried out “infant/child apparel”. After quickly choosing a print, I noticed something underneath the sign that said “Flannel”. It said, “Not for use as sleepwear”.

If you wonder what this warning is all about, you’re not alone. All of bilingual baby’s clothes have this written on the tag. I had been thinking that it had to be a litigation thing. You know, like the woman who bought a coffee through the drive-thru, spilled it on her lap and sued the company. I did some research and found information on the CPSC website (My doubts of the CPSC don’t stop at my recent post but I do think that this agency has good points.) The CPSC basically gives you two options. Either you put your child in sleepwear that is flame retardant or you put them in close fitting clothes that are less likely to catch fire. These clothes must bear a tag that says that they are not flame retardant and that they must fit snugly.

So, how fast does cotton burn? How about wool? Polyester blends? Silk? (but who’s putting silk on a baby to sleep in?) Here’s a publication prepared by Jan Stone, extension textiles and clothing specialist, and Sara Kadolph, professor of the textile and clothing department from Iowa State University called Facts About Fabric Flammability. Give it a quick read. It gives the rules and regulation on flame resistant fabric as well as what to do if your clothing were to catch fire (wearing tight fitting sleepwear, for children, lowers the chance of the clothing catching fire). Very informative.

Here’s an article from Fuzzy Galore on the flamability of fabrics. It answers the question above about fabric burn rate. It says:

The main thing is that fiber content vastly influences a fabric’s behavior when it burns. Roughly, there are 3 categories of fibers, and which one makes a huge difference in a fire:

  • Plant fibers: cotton, linen, hemp etc. Also to some extent rayon types, which are derived from wood (brand names: Viscose, Tencel). These catch fire quickly and brutally, flame energetically, spread fast. On the other hand, they have an excellent quality in clothes: they tend to fall away from the body. The residue is just ashes. Rayon tends to be the most flammable.
  • Animal fibers: wool, alpaca, mohair, silk etc. These have a tendency to smolder, so that a fire that one thought was out comes up again. But they don’t catch fire easily, in fact wool is probably the best fire-resistant fiber ever. They don’t flame much, and they also fall away when burning.
  • Synthetic fibers: nylon, polyester, etc. These are nominally fire-resistant, which is a good thing, ie they delay the catching on fire when exposed to an open flame. But they smolder much more than animal fibers, and an armchair can burst in flames after hours of nurturing a cigarette butt. And they have a heinous problem: they melt as they burn, and they stick, particularly to skin. Another very nasty thing is that they produce thick toxic smoke which kills people from axphyxiation when present in relatively small quantity. Polyester is a bit more fire-resistant than nylon.

The website also mentions the history of the “not intended for sleepwear” label. It’s “from a law brought about in the 70s when many babies died in a carapace of melted synthetics.”

Here’s a page to help you understand what a fire retardant is- which starts by explaining what fire is. I found it also very interesting. The more you know, the less you fear.

Now, what about the chemicals used to make clothing fire retardant- the PBDEs? The Green Guide says that the chemicals used in flame retardant clothing get into the environment but the long-term effect in inconclusive to what kind of harm is done, “though animal studies indicate they can disrupt thyroid hormones harming the brains of developing fetuses.” Here’s another article on the GG responding to a mother’s question about the toxicity in her baby’s PJs. They quote the CPSC with the facts that the PJs have to be made with flame-resistant fabric or they have to have a label on them that state that they are not flame-resistant and that they must fit snugly, as snugly fit clothes are less likely to catch fire than loose ones.

One way to avoid the chemicals is to choose organic cotton for your clothing. Wool is a good choice for carpets and rugs (and diaper covers, as the outer PUL is extremely flamable) as it is slow to burn and may self-extinguish. You can also test some fabrics to see for yourself how they burn.

From a continuum concept point of view, keeping children safe is not a matter of using flame retardant sleepwear (and we know that babies sleep all the time- in all their cute flammable clothes). It’s a matter of helping them respect fire and its properties. Not through fear or force but through patience and trust in their “strong self-preservation instincts”.

For the emergency situation, know the facts and be safe.


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§ 11 Responses to Not intended for sleepwear

  • susan says:

    Information sometimes boggles the mind. I’m glad you are so persistent! Thanks.

  • Father of ten-year-old says:

    My daughter asked me what about the “not intended for sleepwear” label in a gift she received.

    She is a good reader. Should I print out all of this stuff and have her laugh at “the government” as either “a big baby” or, worse still, “not to be believed.” (ie the boy who cried wolf) ?

  • Leila says:

    father of 10-year-old,
    You could have her read it and when she gets to parts she doesn’t understand from the CPSC you can assure her that it’s not her. The way they write this stuff is not meant to be clear- now that’s a conversation I’d love to be in on.

  • This is a great idea, thanks for sharing with us.

  • Andrea says:

    Good info. Thanks for the insight on this fabric. While I do believe PUL and other waterproof fabrics are good for the environment in that they keep so many other chemicals out of the landfills, it is important to realize that use of these fabric do not go without risk. Thanks.

    • Leila says:


      I see you run a business selling PUL, which colors your comment a bit, but I also appreciate what you mean. It is the lesser of two evils. Definitely.

  • Jo says:

    This is a great, informative article. What is still not clear to me, even after contacting CPSC (no response) is whether ALL baby clothing that could be regarded as “sleepwear” (ex. onesies) even if it’s not marketed or named as such should still bear the tag, “not intended as sleepwear” on the label? I see it on some organic onesies, & other organic lines don’t have that wording. Is ir mandatory for this be included in all labels or just baby sleepwear?

    • Leila says:

      Thanks for your comment. It’s nice to hear from people who read these bits of learning I’ve researched as a mom.

      It’s mandatory for the label to be on sleepwear only for the simple reason that the real fire risk comes when everyone is asleep. During the day, kids are technically safer to wear clothes that aren’t treated with flame retardants because the adults that care for them are most likely awake and alert.

      Does this help at all?

  • Jo says:

    Thanks for the quick response, Leila! In your experience, should baby “playwear” that could be construed as sleepwear (ex. onesies, bodysuits) include “not intended as sleepwear” to protect the consumer as well as the retailer? This is what I’m confused about since the CSPC regulation defines sleepwear as 1) how it’s “promoted” as sleepwear” 2) nature of garment “related” to sleeping activities 3) …”the likelihood” that garment is used primarily for sleeping. Onesies are likely to be used for sleepwear, in my opinion. I’m torn on whether including this “not intended” wording on the label is more confusing to the consumer or should the retailer simply include it to be safe?

    • Leila says:

      I agree it’s confusing. I’d much rather see a label that explicitly states that certain clothes are treated with flame retardants. This whole “not intended for sleepwear” label makes things confusing.

      I also agree that having consistent labeling would help families decide what to put their babies in at night, or for naps, etc. I don’t remember whether the onesies we used with our kids had the label on them but we most definitely used them as sleepwear- all time wear, in the summer, actually.

      Is any of this helpful? Am I understanding your question?

  • Jo says:

    Leila, yes, thanks for your help!

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