Product Safety: Pants and Fidget Spinners on Fire


Onesies don’t seem like obvious sources of fear. But it seems that children’s clothing often poses a greater fire risk to the American consumer than the average toaster—or any other kitchen appliance, for that matter. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has seen it fit to recall many more items of children’s clothing than any particular appliance in the past 10 years.

Since 1972, the CPSC has regulated safety standards for items in the marketplace, including everything from pacifiers to ATVs. It also recalls items that were deemed to be dangerous (initiated either by the manufacturer or the CPSC itself). By the measure of recalls, children’s clothing, after candles, represented the greatest fire hazard to Americans for the period examined.

Top Fire Hazards 01

It is worth noting that the flammability standards for clothing (particularly, children’s clothing) are much more stringent than they are for other products. For example, in order to pass safety standards, children’s sleepwear must be flame resistant and self-extinguish if lit with a match or candle. There are a number of labs around the country that specialize in the sort of fire tests these standards require.

In case you were wondering, the CPSC issues a slew of specifications to standardize the methodology of flammability tests. As per their specifications, in order to test fabrics for flammability, a number of 10” x 3” swaths of fabric are placed in a test cabinet with a small burner. The cabinet is ventilated (so that the fire will have some access to oxygen), and the burner is run for 3 seconds. After that duration of time, the length of the char on the fabric is measured. Fabrics with char lengths that were on average greater than 7 inches must be rejected.

Lab Tests

Images from the CPSC Laboratory Test Manual show a flammability test in action.

Candles also undergo a series of fire tests in order to be compliant with international standards. Some of the qualities tested include the size of the wax pool, the length of time the flame is “guttering” (a term that describes instability, or flickering quality, of a flame), and the “clubbing” (the amount of carbon deposit of the burned wick) of the wick.

In the case of candles, the CPSC works with the American Society for Testing and Materials (now known as ASTM International), a voluntary standards organization, to develop requirements.

Today, the CPSC is newly concerned with fidget spinners. Aside from its small component parts representing a potential choking hazard, the CPSC’s Fidget Spinner Safety Education Center hosts a statement from Ann Marie Buerkle, the acting chairman, warning that there have already been some reports of small fires involving battery-operated fidget spinners.

An official government-issued statement about fidget spinners may seem like a bit much, but given their newfound ubiquity, the potential for a fire involving a fidget spinner is more troubling than that of candles — where a little fire is to be expected.

Explore this consumer product recall data and more on Enigma Public.