A real fear for many new mom’s and dad’s to be is creating a safe environment for their new baby to come home to, but the toxin/chemical game can also be a real nightmare to figure out. You could easily go insane trying to completely rid your new nursery (and home for that matter) from all of the potential chemicals that are out there, but we at least have to try, right?!? Well, I did a little digging and a little research to find out what the main elements of a non-toxic nursery look like for someone who is hoping to get it at least 80% right.
Getting a Non-Toxic Nursery
First things first, what you need to know about common toxins that could end up in your new nursery so you can go about getting yourself a non-toxic nursery.
The main offenders:
Formaldehyde – Can cause asthma and is a known carcinogen. Can be found in pressed/composite woods like MDF. Mainly found in cribs and other nursery furniture (dressers, etc…).
VOC’s – Volatile organic compounds. VOC’s contain carbon and can evaporate or “off-gas” into the air at room temperature. VOC’s are found in many paints, varnishes, preservatives, and cleaners. VOC’s can also be found in carpeting, draperies and in certain glues and finishes. VOC’s can cause irritation to the eyes, nose and throat, headaches, nausea, and/or nerve problems. Over a long period of time, VOC’s can increase the risk of getting cancer.
Flame Retardants – Including PFC’s (perfluorinated compounds), BFR’s (brominated flame retardants) and HFR’s (halogenated flame retardants). Flame retardants can be found in crib mattresses, clothing, carpeting, paint and stain resistant fabric. Flame retardants essentially make things resistant to stains and, well, flames. Flame retardants are endocrine disruptors (mess with our hormones) and can cause issues with reproduction and development. (Flame retardants are also prevalent in couches as well. Read my post 5 Affordable Couches Without Flame Retardants to learn more.)
BPA – or Bisphenol A. This is a chemical that has gotten a lot of press and has been banned in baby bottles and cups. It is a plasticizer that makes polycarbonate plastic hard and clear. It is usually labeled #7 in the recycling code and is a known endocrine disrupter. It is associated with a whole host of ailments, including thyroid issues, low birth weights, obesity, metabolic disorders and infertility, among others. (Read my article Three Easy Ways to Avoid BPA and BPS | Going BPA Free to learn more.)
PVC – Polyvinyl Chloride. PVC’s can contain lead, phthalates, and cadmium. It can be released into the community food, soil and water supply during manufacturing, causing a vicious cycle of chemical contact. PVC’s are a carcinogen and can lead to diabetes, birth defects, developmental problems, immune disorders and endometriosis. You can find PVC’s in shower curtains, furniture, wall coverings, toys, and textiles.
So, ok, there’s a little chemical background information, next let’s get to the meat of this article and find out what you can do and what you should buy to make your nursery the cleanest, safest and as non-toxic as it can be.
Create a Clean Backdrop – Non-Toxic Paint and Floors
Start with a clean slate and paint the nursery with low, no, or zero-VOC non-toxic paint. These paints are made to reduce or completely eliminate VOC’s off-gassing into the air. Since VOC’s can off-gas for many months, this is an easy first step to reducing toxins and creating a non-toxic nursery.
Also remember the flooring you have in the room. Carpeting and the foam padding can contain flame retardants and other stain and water repellants that can create a toxic environment. Dust and allergens can also get stuck in the fibers. If your budget allows, look into wood or cork floors with water-based or low-VOC finishes. If you want to have a rug down for your baby to crawl on, consider a natural, washable rug with untreated fibers in wool or organic cotton. If wall-to-wall carpet is your only option, try to let the room air out and off-gas for as long as possible. Also think about a HEPA air filter machine for the room.
Non-Toxic Crib (and Dressers, etc…)
Since your baby will spend the majority of his or her time sleeping, hopefully in the crib, you really want to make sure you try to find or buy one that is made of solid wood and finished with no or low VOC paints and stains. Avoid pressed wood and look for certifications like Green Guard which show which products have lower chemical emissions. If you do buy a pressed wood crib (or other furniture), make sure to seal up any exposed areas of the “wood” with a water based sealer and allow the furniture to off-gas outside for a couple of weeks to lessen the chemical exposure once you bring it inside. If you are going with a crib that is older that you are up-cycling, make sure it meets the mandatory safety standards, i.e. no lead paint, rails have the correct spacing, etc… Check the US Consumer Product Safety Commission’s Crib Safety Center for more information.
A few I like:
Non-Toxic and Organic Crib Mattress
Along with a safe crib, you also need a non-toxic crib mattress. This is the one place that I would really splurge and do right. Look for a mattress that is made with organic material that that is not covered in PVC or flame retardants and that is certified by Green Guard. A mattress pad made from food-grade polyethylene plastic will also help.
A couple I like:
While you’re at it, I would also look into a non-toxic crib mattress pad (waterproof or not):
A portable non-toxic crib mattress (for the floor or other times you are not at home):
And a safe baby changing station:
Organic Cotton Crib Sheets and Bedding
Organic cotton is best for your baby and the environment, but if you can’t find it, regular cotton is also ok. No stress. Many retailers like Wayfair, Target and Amazon offer a good variety to choose from.
Nursery Rocking Chair or Glider
Many people want to add a rocking chair to the nursery. The safest non-toxic way to accomplish this is to look for a hand-me-down piece that you can recover or refinish. In this way, the piece has had time to off gas. If it needs to be re-upholstered, choose organic cotton or wool (naturally flame retardant) for the fill and an organic or natural fiber for the fabric covering. If that is not an option, choose a chair from a reputable store that doesn’t use flame retardants in their pieces. Room&Board, Land of Nod, Pottery Barn Kids, and West Elm are all brands to research as they offer selections of different fills and fabric coverings that do not have flame retardants. Another option is to find a used wood rocker that has had time to off-gas and use organic blankets or pillows for cushion.
The gold standard if you have the budget: Monte Design:
These are just the basics to get you started thinking about how to create a non-toxic nursery for your baby that you can feel good about. You don’t have to go crazy or spend a lot of money, but by making a few simple modifications, you will probably rest a little easier – and, we could all use a little more relaxation in our lives.
Stay tuned for an article in the works on clean, non-toxic baby products.
Did I miss anything? Any other ideas for a safer, non-toxic nursery? Let me know in the comments!
Disclaimer: Please note that some of the links in this post are affiliate links and I will earn a commission if you purchase through those links. I recommend these products because they are products that I personally use or companies that I have found trustworthy.