3 Ways to Get the Flame Retardant out of Your Kids’ Fuzzy Pajamas

3 Ways to Get the Flame Retardant out of Your Kids’ Fuzzy Pajamas

The following post is from Katie of Kitchen Stewardship:

source: Katie Kimball

It kills me that other moms are forking out bucks for chemicals to “redo” the diminished flame retardant quality in their kids’ year-old pajamas while I’m going to great lengths to avoid them and get the fire retardants out to protect my kids’ health.

Did You Know?

Did you know the federal government, via the Consumer Products Safety Commission, has mandated since 1972 that all children’s sleepwear through size 6X must be flame retardant?

This almost always comes to fruition through added chemicals, which may be offgassing toxic fumes around your children as they sleep. (In the late 90s the standards were updated to exempt tight-fitting pajamas and sleepwear for children under 9 months old.)

Even my husband, who doesn’t always think critically or environmentally about things with me, wrinkled his brow when I explained that it’s a law and said, “What credentials do the legislators have to decide what is safest for kids?

Why pajamas?

That doesn’t even make sense!” The flame retardant quality is not meant in any way to save lives in the case of a house fire, at which point smoke is generally the lethal force well before flames anyway.

The official language states that “fabrics…of children’s sleepwear garments must self-extinguish after exposure to a small open flame.” (source)

When my husband asked “Why?” I guessed that some statistic came out demonstrating that kids were more likely to suffer burn injuries while in their pajamas than in their day clothes.

A little research made me shake my head in greater dismay than I expected:

“From 1967 through January 1973, FFACTS obtained information about 434 cases involving burn injuries associated with sleepwear, 101 of which involved children younger than six years of age.” (source, emphasis mine)

And get this:

Over 5,000 children were treated for burn injuries related to clothing in the four years between 1991 and 1994, even though only ninety kids were wearing sleepwear when they got burned from 1980-1994, fourteen years! (source)

Why do pajamas remain such a target?

I’m sure the parents of those 101 kids feel like their kids’ experience was the worst possible thing to ever happen to them, but let’s be serious here: one-hundred kids are the cause of pages upon pages and hours upon hours of government legislation?

And now ALL our children have to be subjected to chemicals???

It’s yet another case where I get a little political, which I hate to do, and shake my fist at “the government” for taking the choice out of my hands.

Sure, we have the option of only buying the tight jammies now, but my kids really like fuzzy PJs, and with our house at 61F, it’s kind of important that they have some with feet!

What are the health risks?

Besides the relatively low incidence of burn injuries in pajamas, there are serious health hazards to flame retardant chemicals.

Tris, one of the first flame retardants used on sleepwear, was banned after a few years because it caused cancer.

PBDEs, a class of flame retardant chemicals used more in mattresses or foam furniture rather than clothing, nonetheless may cause problems with neurodevelopment and hormone regulation.

They have been banned in Europe and are slowly being 100% phased out in the states. (source)

Flame retardants have been found in household dust, human breastmilk, and even grocery store food. Can we really trust that whatever is in our children’s PJs is safe? I’d rather take a chance with a “small, open flame,” to be honest.

For those of you who share my concern, here are 3 ways you can battle the chemicals so your kids aren’t breathing in the fumes from their flame retardant sleepwear all night long.

1. Hang for a Year

Pardon the lack of source here, but back when I first started looking into this problem when my daughter was passing the 9-month mark, I found a source that said the chemicals should off-gas simply by hanging up the pajamas for an entire year. I’m always thrilled to buy secondhand for this reason, and I’ve asked the grandparents to buy any new fuzzy jams a size too large. [Note: some disagree in the comments, so I think I’ll stick with no. 3 plus this one if I can.]

2. Wash in Soap

The CPSC standards state that the flame retardant quality must remain in effect for 50 washes in detergent, but if you read the tag on any sleepwear that isn’t tight-fitting, you notice a few things:

  • Flame Resistant” – your cue you don’t want to buy it if you can help it.
  • To retain flame resistance, wash in detergent only, do not use soap” – Eureka! I read that as instructions to beat the system, don’t you?

The first thing I did with this year’s Christmas gift pajamas was to soak them in castille soap and hot water. So there, flame retardant chemicals! (Note: Not everything that says “soap” is a soap. Charlie’s Soap is a natural laundry option that I’ve tried out, but it is actually a detergent.)

UPDATE: More good points in the comments, that the soap almost certainly diminishes the effect of the flame retardant chemicals, but most likely does not actually remove them from the fabric. Moving on to number three…

3. Soak in Acid

I was tweeting about my success with soap when another option popped up on my screen. The brilliant Lisa of Mama Says, whose husband has to wear flame retardant clothing for work, shared that any acid is also not supposed to come in contact with the fabric. She recommended soaking in Coca Cola, which apparently cuts industrial oil stains when added to the wash. (And I let my husband drink that stuff? Gah!)

I chose vinegar as a less expensive and clear acid and soaked all the evil PJs for about two days in a 50/50 solution with water. You could also use lemon juice in a ratio of 1 cup to a gallon of water.

Onward with Warm Pajamas!

I’m sad that the fuzzy pajamas are almost always polyester, a plastic, which opens a whole new can of worms. But for now, let’s just be happy that we can, I think, fingers crossed, eradicate the flame retardant chemicals in the sleepwear we already have.

No need to snatch away your kids’ fuzzy or loose-fitting PJs that they receive for Christmas. Hopefully we can rest a little easier with one of these methods, even as we try our best to purchase organic cotton for the 50% of their time that our children spend sleeping.

What do your kids wear to sleep?

Katie Kimball is a mom of two who spends a ton of time in the kitchen making real food with whole ingredients and then blogs about her successes and failures at Kitchen Stewardship. She believes everything in life is a gift from God and should be taken care of wisely.

This Post Has 22 Comments

  1. Thank you!

  2. You could possibly get around the pj dilemma by purchasing t-shirts and sweats as an alternative.

  3. Thank you so much for this post. My husband and I are due our first baby in November, and we’ve been looking all over the place for baby clothes without flame retardants in them, to little avail (especially given that our wallets don’t travel as far as the online options would require). Looks like I’m about to buy a bulk lot of vinegar, and start hanging!

  4. Could it be that it says the fabric mustn’t come into contact with acids because the flame retardant chemicals undergo a chemical reaction with the acid that makes it more harmful? Hopefully not, but remembering my chemistry studies, that would be perfectly plausible. Hopefully that’s not the case and the acid works to get the flame retardants out. But how do we know that’s the reason it says avoid contact with acids? That’s my concern.

  5. Thanks for sharing this. Our kids have received nice cosy pjs from grand-mother that are flame retardant. I don’t want to return them but wanted to find out how to wash out the chemicals. I will definitely consider soap, coke or vinegar. It is good to know other parents worry about this and find time to dig into this Thanks for the research!

  6. Thanks for sharing this. Our kids have received nice cosy pjs from grand-mother that are flame retardant. I don’t want to return them but wanted to find out how to wash out the chemicals. I will definitely consider soap, coke or vinegar. It is good to know other parents worry about this and find time to dig into this Thanks for the research!

  7. IF you want to know why flame retardants are put into our clothes, beds and furniture, look no further than the lobbiest from the petro chemical industry. This industry could care less for people.
    It’s the almighty dollar that trumps humanity.

  8. I’ve also read that soakig in vinegar works.

  9. i’m really bothered by this issue too – but how do you know that any of these methods actually work? (as in – they remove the chemicals from the clothing?)

  10. That is exactly what I buy for my daughter to sleep in. T-shirts and my Mom also bought her some hand made PJ’s from a Amish lady

  11. If you notice on the back of most liquid fabric softener bottles, it warns quite prominently that use of the product will remove flame retardants from fabric, so they should not be used on children’s pajamas. So…..soften away! I haven’t seen anything specific on how many loads with a liquid softener it takes to get the chemicals entirely out of a fabric. I imagine the results of that research are under heavy lock and key at the Proctor & Gamble and Sun Products companies laboratories. And of course if you are trying to get all chemicals and fragrances out of your fabrics, then this may seem counter productive at first. But get the flame retardants out first as they are probably the most harmful. Then wash with Charlies or other fragrance free soaps until they are “clean”.

    But the best alternative is to buy stuff to sleep in that’s is not categorized as “sleepware” and therefore not required to be treated. Like maybe long johns?

  12. As an edit to my own post above, I may have been a bit hasty in my conclusions about fabric softeners. After reading the studies more thoroughly, it appears that softeners merely make fabrics more easily burnable by leaving a flammable layer on them, rather than actually removing the flame retardant chemicals. Sorry if I misled anyone.

  13. I think you know that the right thing to do is just stop buying fleece pajamas because you don’t know for sure that soaking the fleece is removing the chemicals (or enough to matter) and you pointed out two issues, the chemical off gassing and the fabric itself. Fleece is polyester, polyester is made from petroleum. Just buy a looser size of the tight cotton, non flame resistant ones and put socks on with them and a tank underneath if they need more warmth. If they must have their fleece, buy or make them a fleece blanket. They also sell cotton footed pajamas.

  14. I figured that more vinegar soaking the better and soaked 4 for a little over a week which disintegrated the zippers! Oops! Don’t make that mistake!

  15. I think it does remove the fame retardant chemical , at least to an extent- I washed a pot holder in hot water with vinegar- with my towels- I use vinegar as an alternative to bleach- and when I went to remove something from the oven the next time- IT MELTED on the oven rack! yikes! someone should do a post on that!

  16. Would all these options also work to get rid of the chemicals required to make fabrics Antimicrobial? And all the other “anti” stuff.

  17. Dr. Oz Show first aired 3/9/16 they tested children’s pjs and there are three options to buy : untreated snug fitted cotton, flame resistant polyester which it’s how it’s made (no chemicals) or loose fitting chemically treated fabric. They did testing, check it out pretty informative!!

  18. Or buy pj’s that don’t contain flame retardants? This seems like a lot of work for no guarantee of getting the compounds completely out of the fabric. Merino wool is naturally flame resistant and so can be sold as pj’s without the added chemicals. Our baby loves her Woolino pj’s.

  19. I’ve stayed away from the fuzzy pajamas because of the chemicals. Though expensive, we’re investing in merino wool pajamas that do double duty as a base layer for outside play. Wool is naturally flame resistant, incredibly insulating, and has healing properties to regenerate the body. It can soak up more than its weight in water, keeping the body dry and warm even when the fabric is wet. It’s naturally anti- bacterial and can be worn several times before a wash is needed. It’s worth the extra price, as long as it is organic. Chemically – processed wool is one of the biggest reasons behind scratchy wool.

  20. I recently purchased a tent that is treated with Tris (or TDCPP). Anyone have suggestions for something that will remove or neutralize this chemical? My searches have come up with everything from fabric softener to Oxiclean to acetone. I’d really like to feel comfortable sleeping in it as I’m planning a backpacking trip during which I will spend 6-7 months in the thing.

  21. Did you find a solution? I’m also trying to figure out how to get it out of a tent. Thanks!

  22. Not a great one, unfortunately. Somewhere I read that ordinary dish soap (as opposed to laundry detergent) would remove the chemicals, so I ran my tent through the wash cycle a few times with dish soap. It may have removed the fire-proofing, but it also removed all the water-proofing! The tent leaked on me horribly.

    My suggestion is to try another solution; leave the tent in the sun for a few weeks (4 or 5 was suggested by a friend). Supposedly in the sun, the fire retardant chemicals may break down and start to off gas.

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