Bookmark This: Essential Tips For A Sustainable, Toxin-Free Nursery

Written by Amanda Klecker

Photo by twenty20

Preparing your baby's nursery can be one of the most exciting, memorable periods of pregnancy. You will most likely spend countless hours in the nursery you've designed, bonding and creating memories with your little one. For me, my babies' rooms quickly became some of the most treasured spaces in my house.

Over the first year, your newborn will most likely spend the majority of his or her time in that very nursery and crib, so creating a safe environment is essential. Babies are born with sensitive skin and lungs, making them especially susceptible to toxins and chemicals. Here's a primer on what to look out for—and what to avoid—while crafting your happy, healthy nursery.


Avoid VOCs.

Your baby will be surrounded by the walls of their crib as they snooze, so look out for ones that are free of volatile organic compounds, or VOCs. Formaldehyde, lead, and cadmium are three potentially dangerous VOCs that should be avoided, so do your research and read labels carefully before you land on a bed.

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Look for these labels instead:

  • Formaldehyde-Free: A crib labeled this way doesn't contain any of the toxic glues sometimes used in pressed woods and plywoods.
  • VOC-Free/No VOCs: This is a better label than "low VOC," which means it contains VOCs from various sources. A product free from all VOCs means there is no lead or cadmium in the paint or varnish.
  • Water-Based Finishes: Water-based finishes are safer than petroleum-based ones. However, this label actually doesn't mean that your crib's paint is free of all VOCs (so look for the aforementioned one too!).
  • Lead-Free: Avoid any product labeled as "Lead Safe" because this does not mean it is free of lead, and therefore may still emit unsafe heavy metals. "Lead-Safe" means the manufacturer has met the federal standards, which actually do allow these toxins in our products.


Avoid added chemicals and PVCs.

You want your baby to get a quality night's sleep, and a good, clean mattress can be just the ticket. Avoid mattresses with chemical flame retardants, vinyl covers made with PVC, and memory foam and polyurethane foam that could contain petroleum. Also, look closely at those made of bamboo, which sometimes have chemicals added to make them softer.

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Look for these labels instead:

  • Wool: Wool is naturally fire-resistant. Look for high-density wool mattresses specifically; otherwise, you could be purchasing a blend of natural cotton (which sometimes contains pesticides) and wool. You'll also want to make sure your mattress is 100 percent organic wool in order to avoid added chemicals.
  • Natural Latex Foam: This type of foam is naturally resistant to mold, mildew, bacteria, and mites. Avoid synthetic latex as it can be made from harsh petroleum.
  • GreenGuard or GOTS-Certified: Both of these third-party testing facilities are highly regarded by consumers and professionals alike. Their certifications include a comprehensive examination of the finished product as well as the manufacturing process.

Carpets and rugs

Avoid synthetic materials.

Wood flooring is a much better option than rugs made with synthetic materials, but the benefits of a natural fiber rug go a long way. You can air these rugs outside and disinfect them with some natural and free sunshine. Synthetic carpet, on the other hand, can emit VOCs as it ages and may hold onto dust and moisture, creating a home for dustmites and mold.

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Look for these options instead:

  • Natural-Fiber Rugs: 100 percent organic rugs are your best option when it comes to a nursery floor, for they're free of VOCs and toxins.
  • Rugs made in the United States: The United States often uses pesticides on fibers that are imported to ensure they are "safe" for us. You don't want to add pesticides to your nursery, so opt for Made in the USA. These also tend to be the more environmentally friendly option.


Avoid VOCs.

Painting a nursery is one of the best ways to create a space that is tailored to your baby's personality. But certain paints have been shown to contain VOCs, lead, and cadmium, so take certain precautions before you let your artistic side shine through.

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Look for these options instead:

  • No VOC/VOC-Free Paint: Remember that Low VOC simply means the paint meets federal standards, which actually do allow for small amounts of harmful toxins. NO VOC or VOC-free means it contains NO VOCs at all. Insider tip: Paints lighter in color typically have lower levels of VOCs.
  • Milk Paint: Now here's a paint that is making a comeback. You can search Amazon for milk paint powders that you can mix up yourself or look for them at your local hardware store. It's a great, natural option for painting (especially on furniture!).
  • Green Seal or GreenGuard: This third-party certification looks at the paint, the additives, and the manufacturing plant when it comes to toxic-free options.

Baby Monitors

Most of us parents have a love-hate relationship with baby monitors. While it's a convenience to be able to see our precious little ones as they sleep, I myself have cursed the monitor when it goes off at 3 a.m. to notify me that my 2-year-old is having a conversation with her stuffed animal. Baby monitors also produce electromagnetic fields (EMFs), and though more research still needs to be done, some suspect that digital baby monitors can interfere with a baby's sleep patterns and may even cause behavioral disorders if not used safely.

How to use a baby monitor safely:

  • Maintain distance: The strength of electromagnetic field radiation drops off quite quickly the farther away you are from a monitor. Keep your baby's monitor at least 6 feet away from the crib and you'll avoid high exposure.
  • Go for voice-activated monitors: Using a voice-activated monitor means that the monitor is not constantly transmitting sound from the base to your unit. Oftentimes, you can adjust the sensitivity so you can also ensure you will always hear baby's needs.
  • Choose Analog Monitors or 900 MHz Monitors: While the range for these monitors is not great, they run at a lower frequency that does not affect your baby's sleep habits as much as monitors that run on Wi-Fi, digital monitors, or DECT frequency monitors.

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