Emily Oster

2 min Read Emily Oster

Emily Oster

Why Are So Many Baby Clothes Flammable?

Q&A on labeling

Emily Oster

2 min Read

Why do so many baby clothes have warnings about them being flammable? Did something happen to cause us to be worried about babies catching fire?!

—Mom of a curious crawler

The answer to this is an interesting history lesson…

Back in the 1940s, a lot of clothes were made of rayon, including children’s clothing. Rayon is highly flammable, and there were tragic deaths of children whose clothing caught fire and could not be extinguished. The flammable clothing issue was likely exacerbated by high rates of cigarette smoking, which is a significant fire hazard.

match stick burning
Salah Ait Mokhtar / Unsplash

To address this issue, the Flammable Fabrics Act was passed in 1953, which required (among other things) fabrics used in children’s pajamas to be less flammable. The way that fabrics were made less flammable was with chemical treatments. Unfortunately, those chemicals themselves are not without their risks, and there were some links drawn between exposure and cancer.

In 1996, the law was therefore amended to allow for pajamas to be untreated as long as (a) they were “snug-fitting” and (b) there was a warning label that said they were flammable. The snug-fitting idea is that if the clothing is snug, a corner is less likely to be caught by a fire.

This labeling is a little confusing, since I think it often leads us to think, “Shouldn’t I find some pajamas that aren’t flammable?” In fact, the answer to that is “no,” because the non-flammable pajamas are coated in dangerous chemicals. Further: the fabrics that are used in children’s pajamas now are much less flammable than the rayon that caused this concern in the 1940s. Finally: smoking around an infant is not recommended in any case, even if the pajamas fit snugly. Avoiding cigarettes in that situation is likely the best way to keep your child safe from fire.

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Share this post with a friend who could use a little more data, and a little less parenting overwhelm.

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