November 25, 2008 at 8:14AM
by Alexandra Zissu
Friends and family like to query The Organic Mom. Often. And good thing their questions often spur me to find out tips and resources I'm glad to have at my fingertips for other families and myself.
For example, this question from a good friend/mom of two popped up in my inbox over the weekend:
We are in the market for some blackout shades (or just good, effective ones) for the children's room. I remember the ones I ordered in L.A. off-gassed so noxiously we had to send them back. Any recs? Xo
I set about poking around online and calling all of my go-to sources (including my co-author Deirdre, who made her own curtains out of dark velvet flannel with cotton lining). I remember the frantic emails from this friend about said stinky shades a few years ago when her older child was an infant. She well meaning bought blackout curtains to help her daughter sleep and wound up with some seriously smelly fumes. She tried to air them out to no avail and wound up returning them. Back then, I hadn't found much in the way of alternatives for her. (I don't personally use dark shades.) I was interested to see if and how much the market had changed in a few years.
As it turns out, things are certainly different. There are many window coverings out there now marketed as eco-friendly, partially because they reduce rays coming into, or minimize heat loss going out of a house. Of course there's a catch: the materials aren't always green. As with anything being touted as earth-friendly, the fine print must be read. I found more than a few "eco-friendly" blinds that were being marketed online as PVC-free, but when I clicked through on these sites and read what they were actually made of, they were always vinyl. I have heard (especially when it comes to toys lately) about PVC-free vinyl but I prefer to avoid vinyl altogether, especially in a kids' bedroom. It's always crucial to call and ask questions; these stores weren't specifically saying that this material was PVC-free vinyl. I'm just inferring based on their PVC-free claims, and the smaller print revealing the poly blinds were, in fact, backed in vinyl. I'm not entirely sure how anything backed in vinyl (aka the poison plastic) could be eco-friendly!? Enlighten me if I'm wrong.
I found a few other companies and sites selling PVC-free shades, but some of the materials subbed in for PVC didn't sound like the sort of thing I'd want my child breathing all night long (like fiberglass or acrylic foamed backing), plus many of these trumpet their flame retardant component. That opens a whole other can of chemical worms I'd have to figure out what the FR chemical is in each different product and then look into its safety.
Before I delved in there, thankfully, I ran into Earth Shade. They have poly/cotton blackout shades. They're members of Co-op America as well as a U.S. Green Building Council Member, and offer many truly eco-friendly sounding options. The blackout shades, though, are part of their custom offerings and are referred to as "conventional." They're made of a cotton/poly blend with an acetate laminant, and their website states clearly that they doesn't recommend it for customers with chemical sensitivities or allergies. Here's what they say about the fabric: "For the rare occasion where color or black out is paramount. An economical option made from conventional commercial lining fabrics. Off-gassing is likely for a varying period of time."
All in all, it sounds like the greenest version is to use an eco-friendly fabric (easy to DIY, if you like to sew) that will block light but won't likely be a total black out experience (though Deirdre's curtains do). If you're really keen on total darkness, this Earth Shade blackout fabric sounds like a doable PVC-free option.
Has anyone else run into other ways of solving this riddle? Please share in comments.