Killer Footie PJ’s! Toxic Chemicals in Your Kid’s Jammies

Did you know that most children’s pajamas are required to contain flame retardants, containing chemicals that could hard your little one?  Well, now you do!  It is not clear after doing quite a bit of research whether pajamas contain PBDE’s (polybrominated diphenyl ethers), one of the endocrine disruptors we’ve been discussing on this blog as contributing to early puberty, certain cancers, fertility issues (hopefully not a concern for your 7 year old!), thyroid issues and brain development.  What is clear is the flame retardants may contain PBDE’s, halogenated hydrocarbons (chlorine and bromine), inorganic flame retardants (antimony oxides) and phosphate based compounds.  I can’t find any studies indicating how much these chemicals offgas or whether they leach from the fabric into children’s skin, but the fact that their jammies go in a chemical bath is enough to give one pause.   I’m not totally against flame retardants – the last thing I want is for a child to go up in flames – but I do think we need to be informed about the choices we’re making.

Pajamas for kids between 9 months and 14 years old must meet specific flammability requirements; however pj’s for kids under 9 months do not.  That’s  because babies have limited mobility and are not likely to catch a sleeve or pant cuff on an open flame.  I find this issue a strange one, because most kids who die from fires when they’re sleeping and hence wearing pajamas, die from smoke inhalation.  Most kids who are burned badly are wide awake and may or may not be wearing pajamas.  Regardless, kids any age near open flames can spell disaster.

Flaming Mommy Story! Never mind the kids, watch your own bad selves around open flames.  When we got home from the hospital the day our daughter was born, I was pretty woozy, so I put on a robe and my Mom cooked us a festive dinner, complete with lit taper candles.  I was reaching across the table to set it with a plate and the sleeve of my robe lit up like a snowboarder in the woods.  Luckily my husband, who has worked from time to time in the burn unit of the hospital, reacted fast.  He leaped up from the couch where he was sitting with our baby and put the big flame out with his bare hands.  And then, with two burned hands, he was like, “oh no big deal”.

Now Back to Kid’s Pajamas.  Here is the Deal:

Quick & Easy Solution, Go Do Something Else Now:

Buy tight fitting long underwear (organic cotton is the safest) for your kiddos in winter and tight fitting cotton pants and tops for summer.  We don’t recommend loose fitting, because they ignite more easily.

Worst Choice

Nylon and acetate pajamas are highly flammable and thus chemically treated with flame retardants.  This chemical bath is a less stable form of the flame retardant and more likely to leach from the fabric into Junior’s system than pj’s where the flame retardant is bonded to the fabric.  Any pajamas that state they are “flame resistant” have probably been in such a chemical bath.  Fabrics treated with Proban or Securerest also contain chemicals of a different variety (tetrakis(hydroxymethyl)phosphonium chloride or THPC).  The THPC chemicals are allegedly stable and unlikely to leach from the fabric, but if you want to avoid chemicals altogether then avoid these as well.

Not So Great, But Not Worst Choice

Synthetic pajamas that are not nylon or acetate all contain flame retardants (yes, that includes those adorable fleece footie pajamas) but these flame retardants are incorporated into the fabric, so they are considered stable, and thus not as likely to leach from the fabric.

Best Choice

If the tag on the pajamas says “must be snug fitting” and “not flame resistant”, then it doesn’t contain chemical fire retardants.  Obviously, you want to make sure the pajamas are snug fitting on your child when you use them.  The cute kid in the photo above is wearing a good example of snug fitting pajamas likely untreated with flame retardants.


Be aware that cotton nightgowns and loose fitting untreated jammies can go right up in flames.  If you want to avoid fire danger to your kids and avoid PBDE’s or THPC’s or the rest of the flame retardant alphabet soup, then make sure your children’s pajamas are SNUG FITTING.  That means they are tight everywhere, not having droopy sleeves or pants, and not having any gaps containing oxygen that flames will use to their advantage.  Of course, your kid could be wearing a cotton or nylon dress and get into trouble too – there’s no accounting for kid’s behavior.  The best course of action is to use battery operated candles and keep fires behind closed glass doors.

Much of the information above comes from an excellent article here and there is another great article here.

photo courtesy of

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