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Over Half Baby and Infant Clothing Models’ Design and Processing May Pose Safety Risks Wash Before Wear to Remove Residual of Allergenic Chemicals

  • 2024.05.16

To ensure comfort and safety of attire for little ones, in addition to stringent selection of fabrics, design and workmanship should not be overlooked. Components such as buttons/snaps or decorative elements on clothing may detach when pulled and tugged if they were not attached securely, resulting in small parts that pose various safety risks to babies and infants. The Consumer Council tested 30 common models of baby and infant clothes and found that 11 models had snaps or buttons that detached during tension tests, which might lead to suffocation if swallowed by infants or babies. The cord design of 5 models did not comply with the European Standard, posing a risk of strangulation.1 model was also found to have a free formaldehyde level exceeding 50% of the upper limit specified in the Mainland Standard, which may cause skin irritation in babies and infants, and in serious cases, allergic contact dermatitis. The pH value of 1 model was high, which may cause itching and discomfort of the skin of babies and infants upon wear. The Council reminds parents to wash newly purchased clothes thoroughly before putting them on babies and infants so as to remove chemical substances on clothes as far as possible. The Council also urges manufacturers to ensure that their products comply with relevant safety standards to enhance the protection of babies and infants.

The Council purchased 30 pieces of clothing, claimed to be suitable for babies and infants aged 2 or below, from baby and children’s clothing shops, chain stores, and department stores, etc., including bodysuits, rompers, and clothes with side openings, also commonly known as ‘Kimono baby gowns’ or ‘butterfly rompers’, with an average price from $22 to $419 per piece. The test parameters covered mechanical and physical properties, chemicals contents, and durability of the models. 4 models achieved the highest total score of 5 stars, including a $139 (2 pieces) model which performed well in all quality indicators, indicating that the price and the quality of products might not necessarily be correlated.

Snap Buttons in 11 Models Detached Under Tension Test
May Cause Choking if Swallowed

Babies and infants like to chew or pull objects. One of the tests was to evaluate the tensile strength of attachments such as buttons and decoration elements, to prevent the detachment of small parts that babies and infants may accidentally put into their ears, nose, or mouth, causing blockage or breathing obstruction which leads to asphyxiation. The test was conducted by applying a tensile force of 90N (newtons) to various attached components of the clothing models and holding for 10 seconds. As a result, buttons or snaps of 11 models were detached and produced small parts, which failed to comply with the requirements of the European Standard for toy safety EN 71-1[1], among which 4 models had detached buttons or snaps at a tensile force of less than 70N. In addition, sharp points were found on detached snaps of 3 models, posing a risk of scratching the skin of babies and infants.

All Cords of “Kimono Baby Gown” or “Butterfly Rompers” Models Substandard

Even if a garment has no buttons or snaps, it is not necessarily safe. Baby and infant clothing with functional cords and strings around the area of the head, neck and upper chest, etc. also pose safety hazards. Apart from the possibility of getting entangled around the neck of babies and infants, the cords and strings may also pose potential strangulation risks at collars if accidentally caught or tugged tightly. According to the European safety standard EN14682, clothing suitable for children under 7 years of age should not have any cords or drawstrings around the head, neck or upper chest area. 5 models of ‘Kimono baby gowns’ or ‘butterfly rompers’, all with cords or strings at the upper chest area, did not comply with the requirement of the European Standard. 1 model had a cord between the chest and the waist with a length of 20cm, which also exceeded the maximum limit by 6cm. In addition, the cord ends of 2 models were not designed to prevent abrasion and unravelling, exposing loose yarns which may restrict blood circulation of babies and infants if fingers and toes are tightly entangled. Relevant manufacturers should improve the design of cords promptly.

1 Model with Free Formaldehyde Exceeding Standard
Another with High pH Value

Chemical additives may be used in the manufacturing process of clothes, either for colour vibrance, stain, water or wrinkle resistances. However, harmful chemical residues or releases from the additives may cause allergic reactions in babies and infants with delicate skin. Tests revealed that the amount of free formaldehyde detected in 1 model was 32.3mg/kg, which exceeded the upper limit (20mg/kg) set by the Mainland’s standard for textiles intended for infants by over 50%, which may irritate wearers’ skin, and in serious cases, lead to allergic contact dermatitis. In addition, if the pH value of the fabric is too high (too alkaline) or too low (too acidic) which could also cause skin irritation, babies and infants may suffer from itching upon wear. 1 model had a pH value of 8.5, higher than the acceptable standard limit (pH value 4.0 to 7.5) specified in the Mainland standard.

Based on the previous tests conducted by the Council, it has been observed that the amount of formaldehyde detected in clothing significantly decreased after a single wash, and the pH value returned to the acceptable standard limit. The Council advises parents to wash newly purchased clothing before dressing their babies and infants under all circumstances.

In addition, certain clothing may use optical brighteners to achieve a whiter and brighter appearance. However, some optical brighteners may migrate to the skin and cause allergic reactions. Optical brighteners were found in the main body fabrics, sleeve cuffs, collars, pant cuffs, prints, cords, and bows of 10 models. While there is no specific international standard regulating the use of optical brighteners in textiles, the Council recommends manufacturers to minimise or even eliminate their use in fabrics to reduce the risk of skin allergies in babies and infants.

Some Models Showed Obvious Shrinkage or Colour Fading After Washing

Clothes for babies and infants have to be washed frequently. With reference to the international standard ISO 6330 and the recommendations on care labels, all 30 models showed varying extents of shrinkage after being washed by washing machine for 10 cycles, among which 4 models showed a greater extent of shrinkage, with the body length or sleeve length shrunk by over 13%. Besides, 3 models showed obvious colour fading or changes after the 10 washes. This included fading or changes in the main body, collar, sleeve cuffs or pant cuffs. In terms of colour fastness, 4 models showed fabric colour staining on wet tester white cotton cloth after repeated rubbing. Among them, the colour of the fabric on the collar, upper legs of 1 model stained more severely onto the tester white cotton cloth. This may cause issues such as “colour staining” when these garments are rubbed against other wet white or light-coloured garments. Consumers should be advised that the models with poor colour fastness performance should not be washed along with white or light-coloured clothes.

There is no lack of choices in baby and infant clothing, and parents should take into consideration not only the price, appearance, and fabric quality, but also potential safety hazards that may arise from the design or manufacturing process. The Council urges manufacturers to not only focus on style but also evaluate risks when designing products. Consumers should pay heed to the following tips to purchase and use baby and infant clothes safely:

  • Avoid buying clothes that are prone to small parts falling off. Regularly check whether buttons, zips or other accessories are firmly attached and free from sharp points or edges, and whether seams have become loose. Avoid buying clothes with decorative items such as cords or drawstrings that are too long which may pose strangulation hazards;
  • New clothes may retain chemicals used in processing and dyeing. Consumers should always wash new clothes thoroughly before putting them on babies and infants, and avoid using detergents and softeners with added fragrance and optical brighteners when washing clothes;
  • Although hot water can kill germs and bacteria, high temperatures can also cause shrinkage and damage to fibres, affecting the softness and tensile strength of the clothes, so it is important to pay attention to the instructions on care labels.


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[1]As the European Commission’s Rapid Alert System for Dangerous Non-Food Products (RAPEX) has, from time to time, announced recalls of infant and young children's clothing, and that some of these cases involved the detachment of small parts, which is non-compliant with the requirements of the European Standard for Safety of Toys (EN71-1), the Consumer Council has also commissioned the testing laboratory to refer to the test methods and requirements of the EN71-1 standard in this exercise.