CPSIA: Children’s apparel exemptions

If you make kid’s products and have somehow missed the CPSIA party, catch up here. Start at the bottom entry and work your way up. For others who’ve kind of sort of kept up, the CPSC released a new ballot on the final lead rule (pdf) last Thursday which provided details and proposed exemptions to lead testing. I know what you’re thinking, it’s a ballot and not final. That it will pass is essentially a foregone conclusion. So the question is, is this a good thing or a bad thing for apparel producers of kid’s clothes? Judging from consensus, it’s not a complete solution but we (apparel) are a whole lot better off than other segments of the children’s products market.

Before getting into exemptions, I must reiterate that testing of individual components is technically not permitted under CPSIA. We were granted a stay effective through February 2010 but it’s not a permanent change. I mention this because judging from the content of this 94 page document, it seems obvious that a change in testing requirements to favor component testing is being seriously considered. Here’s the money quote (emphasis is mine):

The Commission is aware that there are many questions regarding component part testing and certification for lead content given that any children’s product may be made with a number of materials and component parts. The questions regarding testing and certification are significant because not all component parts may need to be tested if they fall under the scope of the exclusions approved by the Commission… The Commission intends to address component part testing and the establishment of protocols and standards for ensuring that children’s products are tested for compliance with applicable children’s products safety rules, as well as products that fall within an exemption, in an upcoming rulemaking.

The reason I mention this before talking about exemptions is because exemptions are itemized per component. Many analysts are interpreting the focus on components as indication that policy changes will permit component testing in the future, hopefully before the expiration of the stay in February. Caveats dispensed with, here’s the skinny.

The good news:
The CPSC concludes that textile and leather materials whether natural or man made do not include lead in excess of the legal limits of 100 ppm and are thus exempt from the testing requirement. The listing of textile related exemptions starts on page 18 (different than the page count in the pdf window) and are also found in the cheat sheet “Appendix A”, page 6 (in pdf, it’s page 84). Ditto for dyes and pigments which are also considered exempt from testing.

The bad news:
Embellishments such as bling are bad; rhinestones and crystals must meet the 100 ppm standard. Further, there are painstaking differences made between dyes and pigments and so described “after treatments”. The latter are defined as screen prints, iron on transfers, decals etc. For those who may be unaware, those items can contain lead and or phthalate levels in excess of the legal limit.

Summary: You don’t have to test components such as fabrics, thread, yarn etc whether dyed or natural. You don’t have to test buttons or components made of natural materials like wood, bone, nut or leather unless they have a non-exempt coating (bees wax is exempt) applied to their surfaces. You are required to test metal and plastic parts such as zippers, grommets eyelets, etc. In addition, you must test “after treatment” applications such as “screen prints, transfers, decals, or other prints are specifically cited as requiring testing”.

I’m not saying it won’t be a tremendous challenge to design a line to avoid the necessity of testing but it is possible. Likewise, if you’re selling to national accounts, you may be required to comply with their written policies regardless of what the CPSC has done thus far. All of this of course, is in addition to the tracking label standards they may require. By way of example, Rick Woldenberg has posted a three part (links in the second paragraph) document that details Wal-Mart’s standards. I haven’t read them yet but he says the decision tree resembles that of one describing the process of building the Space Shuttle.

CPSC has revised the Resale Shop Handbook (pdf).
CPSIA articles index
CPSIA discussion forum
It’s rumored the Senate just confirmed two more commissioners to CPSC posts but I don’t have a link.

Get New Posts by Email


  1. Rachael says:

    Hi Kathleen —

    Question – we use 100% Union Ink (always have) and they’ve advised (and have provided documentation) that their inks are lead-free and we’ve been advised their products have been lead-free for 30 years. We use both their plastisol pigments as well as water based pigments. So, based on the new ballot, would we need to re-test the pigments as components, or, having documentation on hand (which we’ve had since last year) that they’re lead-free/tested prior to us even receiving them, is sufficient? We’ve offered this to any buyers/stores and thus far, it’s not been an issue. Any insight? Thanks so much for the valuable updates.

  2. Hi Kathleen –
    I have pretty much the same question as Rachael. My screen printer has said the same thing that the paint does not contain lead etc. Would an MSDS serve as qualified paperwork from the ink supplier? I am concerned about phthalate levels in the ink.

  3. Rachael says:

    Hi Pamela,

    You have to make sure that your printer is using inks that are phthalate free. Just because inks are lead-free does not mean that they’re phthalate free. For example, Union Ink company has two versions of ink – the older versions (which many print shops are still using) that are lead-free, but do contain phthalates (above the legal limits), and then they also carry a newer phthalate-free version called Liberty (10% higher cost than the older version). You have to make sure your printer is using such inks on children’s products (ages 3 and under for phthalates – though we’re just applying the phthalate-free policy for all of our products, regardless of the age of the child/size). So, key issue is what ink/ink company is your printer using. Union Ink assured me today that with the documentation they’ve provided, we should be okay. Don’t consider my 2 cents as any legal advice by any means…just doing my research to ensure I can sleep well as night knowing my products comply. Hope this helps!

  4. Kathleen says:

    I was trying to figure out an easy way to let you both down. Unfortunately, MSDS (nor any other supplier certifications) cannot be used to certify your products. This is something we’ve all rallied against, the requirement of duplicate testing. The only advantage to having MSDS or certs is that you have likely assurances your products will pass the testing you are required to do so you won’t have to worry they’ll fail and have to start over.

    In sum, if the design application is the sort that is known to contain phthalates in any quantity, you must test regardless of your vendor’s assurances. If the design application is a so called “after treatment” (iron decals etc), you must also test for lead and phthalates if applicable.

  5. bente says:

    Rachael, you write: “You have to make sure your printer is using such inks on children’s products (ages 3 and under for phthalates)”.
    Does this mean that phthalates content has to be tested only for products sold to children up to 3 years old?
    I must say I haven’t read much news from CPSIA lately, it was destroying my “passion” for what I do so I had to stop. I tried to engage my self for a while, but it made me sick not to understand the logic. I admire you Kathleen for still working on this..thanks a million.

  6. Kathleen & Rachael –
    It feels like I’m walking a fine line here. I spoke with a screen printer today who refuses to give the name of their ink supplier. The ink supplier does sell phthalate-free ink at 50% mark up and the printer refuses to use the ink. The whole idea becomes is a t-shirt or other apparel that is not considered sleepwear or a child care article not to be tested? I was told that this printer only knew of ONE company that is distributing phthalate-free ink. This to me seems like it will be a wake up call for all ink suppliers. I think Kathleen has said before that we have to really look at the supply chain and begin asking that each component become compliant and to me that includes the inks.
    I’ve been told that printers have been using these inks for years without any problems. This might be the case I don’t know but like Rachael, I want to be able to sleep at night.

  7. Becky says:

    I am whole heartily for keeping our children safe in all ways. And I will always do what is right. But, I do have to say that the ongoing regulations become overwhelming for someone just starting out as a small home based business. And I will be truthful, it is beginning to paralyze me. I am spending so much time researching and learning, so that I do things right the first time, that I haven’t created much lately. Not a good thing if I want to pay the bills. In fact I have decided to put my children’s lines on hold, until I can get a handle on all of this. I will just focus on those things that I know I can sell safely. It is wonderful to have a group like this to turn to for support. I thank you Kathleen for providing us with the means to share and learn.

  8. Becky says:

    Sorry, but just had another thought. What is the defining line between having a hobby and having a business? On that note, I would think, seeing how these guidelines are safety issues, that even hobbiests will have to adhere to them if they are selling to the public. How will someone at that level of manufacturing be able to afford the extensive testing of components? And unless they are lucky enough to have found this site, how will they know that they aren’t adhering to the law? I feel that the testing and legal quality of things like buttons, snaps, zippers, etc. should come from the source. And the government should allow those tests to be sufficient. At least that would give us a supply list of where we could buy safe components. Then with proper record keeping we could show our suppliers of each component if audited. Having each manufacturer, no matter the size of the business, testing over and over the same product seems silly. This way the CPSIA could focus on the source instead of every little manufacturing business in the USA.

  9. Kathleen says:

    Becky, it’s indecision that paralyzes you. The situation is better now than it’s ever been (pre-cpsia). I’m sorry you’re not breathing a sigh of relief. More changes are anticipated. Apparel is faring much better than other producers of children’s goods.

    What is the defining line between having a hobby and having a business? …I would think, seeing how these guidelines are safety issues, that even hobbiests will have to adhere to them if they are selling to the public.

    For a more comprehensive understanding, I’d recommend reading from the list of CPSIA articles addressing these concerns you mention. But in answer to this, you’re not a hobbyist if you’re engaged in commercial activity (selling). You’re right, this law should apply to everyone being a safety matter which is why this law applies to goods you give away so it does affect hobbyists too.

    The other points you mention (certification at the supplier level etc) are covered in the previous entries (link above).

  10. Becky says:

    Thank you Kathleen for putting me back on my path, turning me away from panic. I did read most of the articles to get a grip and noticed the one about the banning of rhinestones on children’s clothing. This is going to make a huge impact on the pageant business. In fact most of them use the austrian crystals that are a definite no no. I agree that some of us will have it easier than others. What would we do without you.

  11. Renee says:

    I must have somehow missed the CPSC announcement of the ballot you refer to, so I appreciate reading about it here. Thankfully the commission does seem to be settling in on the solutions that my gut said they would; exemptions for fabrics and (cross fingers) component testing. We may be buying snaps by the pallet come next year, but we will get through this change.

    Kathleen, is there still a list of businesses that have closed up due to CPSIA regulations? One of my fellow cloth diaper manufacturers has just announced that she has closed up shop due to the burdens of the Aug. 13 labeling requirement and if there is such a list her company should be on it.

  12. Peggy says:

    Does this mean that all screen-printed fabrics need to be tested unless they are printed using dyes? I print both yardage and tee shirts using water-based inks that I have had tested for lead content (they don’t contain lead) and it would seem that I’ll now have to test every batch for lead. I wonder how many other printed fabrics this will impact and how they will differentiate between printing done with dyes and printing done with pigments?

  13. Marlene S says:

    Crazy busy the last week and haven’t been online in the last few days. Great news. Thank you sooo much for keeping us informed! It’s amazing how many people in the industry I’ve run into the last few days that have no clue about CPSIA.

  14. Heather says:

    I think I might be able to reopen! Not sure yet and I’ll read through and make sure we can be compliant and still profitable (hahahahaha), but this is definitely better news than I’ve heard in a while. I just met a retailer of tiaras who had no idea about the cpsia, she sells to juvenile and adult markets. Makes me wonder sometimes.

  15. Becky says:

    I would not have known if it weren’t for finding Kathleen’s blog. How do they plan on notifying all those involved; which seems to be quite an extensive list if you think about it? I would hate to be the company or individual that finds out only when they are fined or shut down.

  16. Betty Hilyer says:

    Jennifer did some testing for me, so I feel safe for the time being.. but IF component testing IS NOT accepted, how often do we test, how much do we test and what testing needs to be done?? Concerned about the acid testing of metal hair clips, plastic hairclips and possibly headbands tho they are covered.. I know about the accessibility rule, but none of it is really clear. still a fuzzy grey area.(can lead leach through ribbon?) UGH.. so many unanswered questions.
    I.E. I buy 1000 hair clips from dealer ( who is in compliance by the way ) how many of those clips do I send as a sample to be tested? Do I do this everytime I but a new lot from my dealer? And will Jennifer’s test hold up or will I need to acid test? how do you acid test plastic headbands… As of now I only buy from compliant sellers and I feel safe in what I have tested and have letters of compliance on file for all items bought plus testing from Jennifer.. I feel I have gone the extra mile to offer my customers a safe product.

  17. Jennifer says:

    What about YKK Zippers made in the USA? I have manufactured in the USA an outdoor blanket tote/picnic blanket, so it sounds like because my materials are textile made I would be okay on the blanket part (fleece and oxford nylon), but I do have the YKK Zippers on the blanket too.

    I have discontiued all my children prints and have taken down all my baby pictures. I really however would really like to carry childrens prints again because of the request, but I do not want to deal with labeling or any sort of testing under the CPSIA. Do you have any suggestions? Thanks for all the information!

  18. Magda says:

    I found two ink companies whos inks are manufactured in compliance with CPSAI 2008, Section 108, Phathalates and 16CFR, Part 1303 Lead in Paint , CPSIA Section 101 , Lead Content in Substrates. First is PolyOne – Wilflex Epic Ink – they can provide cerficate and CPSIA Conformity Statment. Secend company -Rutland – Non- Phthalates ink Series – will also provide compliance statment +certificate. I called both and received the compliance statments.
    PolyOne – Wilflex Epic ink – Tel # 770-590-3500 & Rutland # 800-438-5134.
    Thought it might help.

  19. Sonal says:

    Could anyone provide information on :

    1. Testing methods / type of testing in USA / India / uk / europe / germany / china / Greece / The netherlands / Turkey and any other countries

    2. Legal Safety requirements in the above countries

    * For children’s wear

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.