What Is the Flammable Fabrics Act?

The Flammable Fabrics Act (FFA), was enacted by the U. S. Department of Commerce in 1953 and signed into law by President Dwight D. Eisenhower. There had been increasing public concern and outcry resulting from a number of serious incidents in which children were severely burned. Many of these involved brushed rayon, high-pile sweaters that became known as “torch sweaters” because of the frequency in which they caught fire. Children’s cowboy chaps, often marketed with the name of the popular television star, Gene Autry, were made of brushed rayon, which ignited easily and flash burned.

The law was designed to prohibit the sale of articles of clothing and fabrics which are highly flammable. Clothing, or wearing apparel, is a fairly vague term but, basically, means any article of clothing, costume, uniform, etc., intended to be worn by an individual, but it did exclude hats, gloves and footwear.

In 1967, with the support of President Lyndon Johnson, Congress amended the Flammable Fabrics Act and expanded its coverage beyond clothing. This amendment added interior furnishings, as well as paper, plastic, foam and other materials used in wearing apparel and interior furnishings. Under the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), flammability standards were established for clothing textiles, vinyl plastic film (used in clothing), carpets and rugs, children’s sleepwear and mattresses and mattress pads. Enforcement is also under the purview of the CPSC and carried out through ongoing testing and inspections. These flammability standards, which regulate clothing and the textiles intended for the manufacture of clothing, are contained in Volume 16 of the Code of Federal Regulations, Subchapter D – Flammable Fabrics Act Regulation, in the following references:

  • Part 1610 Standard for the Flammability Testing of Clothing Textiles
  • Part 1611 Standard for the Flammability of Vinyl Plastic Film
  • Part 1615 Standards for the Flammability of Children’s Sleepwear: Sizes 0 through 6X
  • Part 1616 Standards for the Flammability of Children’s Sleepwear: Sizes 7 through 14

There is an ongoing balancing in act in which the government strives to keep its citizens safe without going overboard with regulations. This often results in a basic level of protection from items that pose a high probability of risk. The Flammable Fabrics Act is such a standard in that it provides minimal protection. While much better than in the days of “torch sweaters”, there is still a need to be cautious in our purchases. According to the National Association of Fire Marshals, “more than 4,000 consumers suffer severe burn injuries and an estimated 150 or more die when their clothing ignites from even minimal exposure to ordinary household ignition sources.”

It always important to do our own research and practice vigilance as consumers. Caveat emptor, let the buyer beware, may well remain the best advice of all.