The Dangers of Halloween Costume Flammability

Girl on Halloween night going to trick-or-treat with ASTM D1230 tested costume.

For thousands of years, October 31 has been dedicated to the dead, originating during a time when people would dress in costumes and light bonfires to ward away the ghosts and evil spirits that they believed to be returning from the Netherworld. In more-recent history, this one day has almost become representative of October as a whole, and we devote much of the month to the horror genre and other frightening and strange things. However, despite its ominous cultural aura, Halloween is intended to be a celebration, providing enjoyable activities for people of all ages.

The Real Dangers of Halloween

Even though children have the opportunity for great excitement on Halloween, through trick-or-treating and other activities, the holiday can be dangerous for them. While many of the issues that have often been in the public eye are nothing more than urban myths, with no more truth to them than the ghost stories that give the day its depth and meaning, such as poisonous candy or razor blades hidden in apples, there are many perils that can directly result from Halloween. This includes things like cuts from carving jack-o’-lanterns, trips and falls from loose fitting costumes, and car accidents harming the children walking around at night.

Halloween Costume Flammability and ASTM D1230

While children and their guardians are often warned to remain alert for these types of issues, they are generally not made aware of the dangers of Halloween costume flammability. According to ASTM D1230-22: Standard Test Method for Flammability of Apparel Textiles, some combustible fabrics used in the design of clothing “are potentially dangerous to the wearer because of such factors as ease of ignition, flame spread time, amount of heat released, and design of the garment.”

This standard covers the methods for performing flammability tests on clothing fabrics, and the knowledge acquired from such tests can be life-saving, as it prevents highly-combustible clothing from being sold to consumers. This is one of the many textile standards meant to secure consumer safety.

However, Halloween costumes, as outfits that are intended for a single use, rarely utilize the recommendations provided in international clothing standards, simply because they really don’t need to. Traditionally, people don’t wear their Halloween costumes for one October 31st and then store them in their closets to try out again the following year. Because of this, the materials that comprise costumes often are put together cheaply and can fall apart quite easily. Such outfits are said to disregard the United States federal requirement for costumes to be flame resistant, which could make them far more prone to danger from open flames than regular clothing.

Several news outlets have explored this theory over the past several years, performing flammability tests of their own on common Halloween costumes. In 2015, the topic of costume flammability became a major issue in the United Kingdom, since the country’s regulations considered the outfits to be toys, and thus they were not required to meet regulatory flammability requirements. During this time, it was reported that some costumes would ignite in a matter of seconds or less.

A good demonstration of this ignitability can be seen in the following video by ABC News:

These costumes weren’t tested by the manufacturers for any level of flammability, but similar fabrics are labeled as Class III by ASTM D1230-22, or textiles that are considered to “be unsuitable for apparel.” Despite this, they are still on the market.

And, the threat of fire is frightening, not only because it is always a possibility, but more so due to the presence of fire on Halloween. Like the bonfires that served as part of the celebrations of the early holiday, fire has remained an active part of the festivities, being a common component of the Halloween foreground through jack-o’-lanterns and candles. There are many opportunities for fire-related incidents to occur, and flammable clothing only makes matters worse.

In one notable issue, a 7-year-old New Jersey boy suffered second- and third-degree burns on Halloween 2015 after his costume came in contact with a candle during a party.

One potential method of avoiding tragic events like these is by making your child’s or your own Halloween costume. However, this does not guarantee security from fire, since the material you choose for this could still be more flammable than ASTM D1230-approved clothing.

Ultimately, consumers will likely not avoid these costumes for them and their children, since, in many instances, they are often the best and most convenient choice. Experts have recommended that parents look for costumes comprised completely of synthetic fibers like nylon or polyester, avoid glitter, as it can be more flammable, and avoid dangling cloths like capes, since they can more easily brush against an unwanted flame.

It is incredibly important to remain aware on Halloween, especially in regards to fire and open flames. By staying smart, we can assure that all participants will have access to the exciting horror theme without any of the truly horrific consequences.

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