You should stay away from harsh chemical fumes during your pregnancy, and so should your baby outside the womb. While lead is no longer a concern in new conventional paint, you should be concerned about volatile organic compounds (VOCs) -- the toxic fumes that off-gas from common household items such as paint or a new vinyl shower curtain. Use low- or no-VOC paints and make sure the room is well ventilated.
Mattresses are treated with polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), chemical fire retardants that accumulate in our bodies and have been shown to affect the endocrine and nervous systems.
Organic cotton mattresses (check out the one from Green Baby) and natural wool ones are two green options.
Bamboo or organic cotton sheets and blankets are environmentally sound and won't irritate baby's sensitive skin. Q Collection Junior (seen here), Grow and Coyuchi make stylish and colorful organic cotton baby bedding. Satara Home and Baby Store and Heart of Vermont are good resources for eco-friendly linens and mattresses.
Check out Healthy Child Healthy World's "make a safe bed" checklist to set up peaceful sleepy time for junior.
There are a few issues with wall-to-wall carpeting that can affect baby's sensitive system. Carpets can harbor dust mites and allergens, and new synthetic carpets can off-gas VOCs.
Keep baby's room carpet-free, and add an area rug for color and warmth. Carpet tiles are an eco-friendly option, since they can be used as an area rug and the tiles can be individually cleaned when necessary. If you insist on wall-to-wall carpet, go with one made of natural fibers such as wool, cotton, hemp or jute. Look for natural underlays to carpet as well. Flor and Nature's Carpet are two companies that make natural fiber carpets.
Look for furniture made from certified sustainable wood or reclaimed materials. There are also companies that sell sturdy furniture designed to grow with your child, such as the cribs from Stokke and Oeuf.
As with adult furniture, pressed-wood products made with resins and glues that often have high levels of VOCs should be avoided. Plastic is not the best choice for kids' rooms. The material is made from petroleum and plastic items will likely end up in a landfill when you dispose of them. Sealants and paints should be nontoxic.
DucDuc, Argington and Nest are companies that make sustainable furniture for kids. Pacific Rim makes solid maple furniture in the U.S. and sources sustainably managed forests. The crib pictured here is DucDuc's Cabana crib, made in the U.S. from sustainable wood with nontoxic finishes.
Babies put everything in their mouths, so you want to make sure playthings are made from materials that are nontoxic. Don't buy toys or teething rings made from PVC, which contain phthalates, an ingredient in plastic that can affect reproductive and developmental health. Also avoid BPA, the chemical found in plastic that ignited the baby bottle scare this year (for more information on BPA, click here).
Soft organic cotton toys, such as the veggie crate pictured here, are a cute nontoxic alternative -- and should convince your little one that veggies are fun! Wooden toys are classics; look for wood that comes from FSC-certified forests, and paint and finishes that are nontoxic (or toys that are unpainted). Holgate makes some iconic wooden toys with materials from local, sustainably managed forests and nontoxic paints. Rosie Hippo is another source for wooden toys.
Keep It Clean
Of course that nursery won't stay as pristine as the day you put it together. Green cleaners are safer for the whole house and are particularly important in the nursery. Harsh chemical cleaners can irritate eyes and lungs, and companies don't have to list ingredients on their cleaning products, so you don't know exactly what's in there.
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