The safety of children’s Halloween costumes is a key concern for parents, chiefly around flammability.
Recently, Mark Gardiner, a product safety expert with the Chartered Trading Standards Institute, told The Huffington Post UK they are “especially concerned” about Halloween costumes because many are poor quality and they are popular at a time of year when people tend to use more candles.
In advance of Halloween, Good Housekeeping conducted an investigation into the safety of children’s costumes of high street retailers.
Now they have revealed their latest findings in a bid to get retailers to employ stricter standards.
They said: “Currently, children’s costumes are classified as toys by EU rules. Some retailers have acknowledged these aren’t stringent enough on flammability and voluntarily test their costumes to nightwear standards (known as BS5722) – which are the toughest flammability regulations that currently exist.”
Good Housekeeping tested six costumes from high street retailers Wilko, Aldi, George from Asda, TU from Sainsbury’s, F&F from Tesco, John Lewis, TK Maxx, and Marks & Spencer to see how they fared when evaluated to the BS5722 standard, which is the British Standard used for nightwear and dressing gowns.
“To do this, we sent the costumes to a dedicated flammability testing facility that is both UKAS (United Kingdom Accreditation Service) and ISO (International Organization for Standardisation) accredited.
”To test products for flammability multiple samples, which have been washed, dried and conditioned in a temperature-controlled room, are cut from the garment (sized 670 x 170mm) and tested, including all threads, trimming and decorations.
“These are tested on a machine called a ‘Rhoburn’. It has a vertical frame, with horizontal trip threads (which have a specified yarn count and must be cotton) set at 300mm and at 600mm.
“The samples are pinned to the frame and held over a small gas flame that is roughly equivalent to a match flame. For consistency, a 40mm flame is held to a point about two inches above the bottom edge of the fabric for 10 seconds on each sample.
“To fail the test, the fire would need to reach the trip thread at 300mm in under 25 seconds, or reach the higher thread in under 50 seconds.”
Here are the results:
Note that all these clothes warn against exposure to naked flames. They all meet the European Standards of safety and break no laws.
Good Housekeeping (GH): "On one of the samples tested for the Sainsbury's costume, the trip thread at 300mm was severed. The flame spread to that point in a minute and four seconds, which is slow enough for it to still pass the standard. Some of the samples did not burn very much, but both the lining and sleeve samples burned for over 30 seconds, with the sleeve burning for 72 seconds in total."
Retailer says: "Safety is our top priority. We have looked at every detail of each product in our dress-up range and introduced our own, more stringent flammability safety standard – exceeding all legal requirements. Still, it’s very important to remember that all clothing carries a fire risk, so we are doing all we can to encourage customers to celebrate safely. For example, we only sell LED tea lights in our Halloween range, instead of traditional candles.’
"Sainsbury’s also added that through product engineering, it has worked to construct its costumes to slow down the flame spread, with built-in fire breaks and carefully chosen fabrics, embellishments and finishes."
GH says: "Samples taken from the cape of this costume didn’t catch alight for very long and no flaming debris was produced. However, other samples of the costume did result in some flaming residue. The flame didn't sever the 300mm mark, meaning it passes the nightwear standard, however, the samples did burn for 32.3 seconds on average."
Retailer says: "We are a family business and nothing matters to us more than our customers’ safety and that of their young families. Our expert quality team works constantly to ensure that all of our products comply with all relevant legal and regulatory requirements. Additionally, for this year’s Halloween (October 2016), we have independently tested all of our own label Halloween costumes under more rigorous conditions than are currently legally required by testing to the voluntary BRC Code of Practice. We are also cooperating fully with increased Trading Standards testing to ensure compliance with legal requirements. Although we have worked hard to ensure that all of our own label Halloween costumes pass all flammability standards, it is still really important that a constant watch is made on Halloween activities to avoid any close proximity to naked flames. For this reason, we have also introduced LED tea lights which can safely replace naked flames in traditional candle tea lights. We want our customers to have a safe and enjoyable Halloween."
GH says: "Once again, the flame did not sever the 300mm trip thread on any of the tested samples, so it passes, but the samples did still burn for an average of 31.5 seconds. One of the samples burned for almost a minute and a half, and the majority of samples produced melted flaming debris in the test."
Retailer says: "Customer safety is our top priority. As with all our dress up items, this product was subjected to independent flammability tests under strict laboratory conditions to ensure it fully complies with the new British Retail Consortium (BRC) Code of Practice on flammability."
GH says: "The flame did sever the 300mm trip thread on five of the samples but only reached the trip thread in under 25 seconds on one of the printed fleece samples. However, many of the other samples had borderline results, and almost all of them burned to the 300mm mark in about 20 to 30 seconds, continuing to burn after that time too. The result is unclear whether it would pass the nightwear standard, and we found that samples burned for 1 minute and 41 seconds on average."
Retailer says: "Our F&F dressing up costumes meet all recognised industry safety standards and are made from materials that have performed best in flammability tests. We’ve also reviewed the styling of all our costumes to make sure they don’t include any long floating and potentially hazardous fabrics that trail on the floor. All costumes are tested to Nightwear British Standard, EN71 toy standard and BRC Code of Conduct . We work with industry experts to ensure the most up to date, rigorous flammability testing is conducted on our garments. We still use pretty meshes, sparkles and shiny fabrics, but through stringent risk assessment and development, we ensure our garments are constructed in a way that will reduce the risk of flammability."
GH says: "This witch costume was the least successful performer in our test, as the flame did spread quickly enough to sever the 300mm trip thread on two of the six samples tested. This result means that it fails to meet the nightwear standard. While the flaming only lasted for an average of 35 seconds, the samples of the costume burned very quickly."
Retailer says: "At TK Maxx, our customers are our top priority and the quality and safety of the merchandise we sell is paramount. Our products are tested to the applicable safety standards, and the item referred to in the article was fully tested and safe for use as set out in those standards. Customers who would like to return the item may do so at their nearby TK Maxx store or by contacting customer service at 01923 473561."
GH says: "The flame did not sever the 300mm trip thread, meaning that it passes the nightwear standard, but the samples did burn for 27.8 seconds on average. While this is the shortest duration for the flame among the costumes tested, all of the samples of this costume produced flaming debris."
Retailer says: "We want to help make sure everyone stays safe this Halloween and customer safety is our number one priority. All of our dress up costumes have been independently tested under strict laboratory conditions. All costumes meet both the legislative flammability requirement of the European Toy Safety standard, EN71 Part 2 for Dress Up, and the BRC Modified EN71 Part 2 test."
GOOD HOUSEKEEPING GUIDE TO STAYING SAFE THIS HALLOWEEN
Avoid capes, trains, and dangling sleeves – these can make the risk of catching fire greater, and they’re a trip hazard too.
Materials like cotton and rayon generally burn most easily, while synthetic fibres like nylon can be considered a lower risk. However, these fibres can also melt and potentially stick to skin, so are still risky even if they don’t burn as quickly.
To limit the fire risk, use battery-operated tealights and candles so that kids aren’t exposed to naked flames. These are widely available and can be used to light pumpkins and put in regular tealight holders
Don’t ever leave lit pumpkins or candles unattended. If you live somewhere where children might be trick or treating, don’t leave candles on paths or by doors that could catch costumes.