Flame retardants are confusing. There are several to keep track of in different products. It's hard for a sleep deprived parent to keep up! No wonder not many of us know what to do. There's Deca that is still used in furniture, mattresses and other household items. Deca is a PBDE which retains its toxicity over time, according to the Environmental Working Group. I've written about PBDEs in our environment and in children in this past post (and several others-click flame retardants in the labels section).
But not all flame retardants are alike. Different chemical additives are used in sleepware to add flame retardency (although I have yet to come across the chemical or chemicals name). In a quest to find out if it washes out, I asked the great folks at the Environmental Working Group and they thought I was asking about one of the other type of flame retardants, the above mentioned Deca. Hence the confusion. So I elminated that last post and am getting to the abbreviated point soon, I promise.
According to the Green Guide, the flame retardant used in synthetic sleepers is not likely to be toxic, since it is woven into the fabric and is not likely to leech out. Check out what they had to say:
"Is fire-retardant sleepwear toxic? Most likely not, but it might be uncomfortable because synthetic; the polyester used in sleepwear is a fire-resistant blend, even without additional treatment. In 1977, a toxic fire-retardant called Tris commonly used in sleepwear was banned, and since then most fire-resistant sleepwear has been additive free. We have not found any sleepwear that does use PBDEs as a flame retardant. In any case, washing should dissipate chemical additives, while the CPSC requires fire-resistant sleepwear to be effective through at least 50 laundry cycles—that is, fire-retardancy is generally a characteristic of the fabric, not of an additive that can leech out. Mark Ross of the CPSC said that his commission doesn't allow toxic clothing to be sold."
In addition, this article (also from the Green Guide) gives more information about flame retardants in sleepwear. The main gist? A quote from this article pretty much sums it up for tired parents (bold added by me- for you sleep deprived speed readers):
"Your choices, then, from worst to best are
1) nylon or acetate treated with fire retardants,
2) "inherently" flame resistant polyester with fire retardants built into the polymer or
3) snug-fitting cotton garments.
The healthiest safe choice with the lowest embodied energy and lowest ecological impact would be snug-fitting, organic cotton long johns or union suit-style pajamas with the "Wear snug-fitting. Not flame resistant" label. These common sense choices conform to the CPSCs standards, give the environment a break and provide your child with safe and comfortable sleepwear."
The only benefit it seems of selecting organic cotton sleepers then is the lessened impact on the earth, not on your little one. Of course I would love to only outfit my girls in organic cotton sleepware, if only for the environmental benefits, but that is not realistic for us. For parents on a budget, Target sells some affordable thermal cotton snug fitting pjs that are work well. Thankfully, it seems those fleecy sleepers we have are not too chemically laden either, especially considering how many times they have been washed.