You're probably well aware that when you're creating a safe play space for your little ones, you need to avoid toys that could pose a choking hazard and anything that might pose a strangulation risk – but there are plenty of "hidden hazards" you should know about, too. Sadly, toxic chemicals might be in your child's toys, craft materials, play mats, and more. The good news is that with more and more parents pressuring companies to stop using toxic chemicals in products, it's much easier to find safer alternatives these days. Today, we're sharing the top 10 tips for a non-toxic playroom.
#1 – Get good flooring.
Kids primarily play on the floor, so you'll want something that's easy to keep clean. Cork, bamboo, or hardwoods are great flooring options (with a fluffy, cozy rug, of course!). If glues or finishes are required, choose ones that are low or no VOC. If you do choose carpet, look for one that follows the sustainable carpets standards outlined by the Carpet and Rug Institute. Keep hard floors clean by regularly sweeping and damp mopping and keep carpet clean by vacuuming regularly.
#2 – When you buy new furnishings, buy eco-friendly, natural, non-toxic products whenever possible.
People assume buying green costs a fortune, but that’s not always the case. With an increased demand for safer, eco-friendly products, the marketplace is seeing new products come to light every day – which means competition – which means lower prices. Look for unfinished (or safely finished), solid wood furnishings and toys. For anything upholstered, ask the manufacturer about flame retardants. Keep plastic use to a minimum and when you do choose to use it, opt for safer plastics – look for the numbers #1, #2, #4, or #5 in the chasing arrows triangle.
#3 – Reuse.
Consider finding furnishings, toys, and books that are gently used. Not only is reusing better for the planet and your pocketbook, gently used items will likely have off-gassed that "new smell" (which is often risky VOCs). Secondhand retailers are popping up on every corner these days and sites like eBay, Craigslist, Rocka-Buy Gear, Swap Baby Goods, and others make it easier than ever to reuse, reuse, reuse. Keep the following issues in mind if you go this route:
- Make sure you don't use anything that's been recalled for safety issues. Visit SaferProducts.gov to search recalls.
- Anything painted that pre-dates the 1980's could potentially be painted with lead paint – and lead is incredibly toxic to a child's developing brain. If you're unsure, we recommend picking up a test kit at your local hardware store and doing a quick swipe test. (While you’re at it, if you live in a home built before 1978, test painted walls, window sills, and door jambs, too.)
- In regards to toys, we recommend avoiding anything plastic since it's only been in the past few years that the Consumer Product Safety Commission has banned certain phthalates (linked to hormone disruption) and significantly tightened the limit on lead. If something doesn't have packaging, it's also difficult to know if it's imported from a country with weaker regulations.
- If you choose to reuse, but want to give something a new look with a quick coat of paint, be sure to do it safely. Click through for a quick tutorial.
#4 – Get creative without risky chemicals.
Kids love crafting and it should certainly be encouraged to stimulate their imaginations and help them with their fine motor skill development. Still, even kids' crafting supplies can contain risky chemicals. When using art materials, the Washington Toxics Coalition says, "avoid solvent-based products like permanent and dry-erase markers, mists from sprays, and dust mixes from clays or paints, all of which are easily inhaled. The label 'non-toxic' and the ACMI AP symbols indicate less toxic options, though they still are not always completely safe for kids." They also recommend the following:
- Do not allow children to eat or drink.
- Do not use kitchen surfaces and utensils.
- Closely supervise younger children who may chew on crayons, colored pencils or brushes.
- Stay clear of vapors from solvents, mists from sprays, and dusts from mixing dry paints and clays which are easily inhaled.
- Clean up includes washing hands too!
for more detailed recommendations regarding safer crafting products.)
#5 – Grow some green.
Houseplants are an easy way to incorporate nature into your home and they can also help clean up indoor air. Studies conducted by NASA and other researchers have identified many plants to clean indoor air. Harmful, common pollutants including toluene, xylene, benzene, and formaldehyde (chemicals linked to cancer and neurodevelopmental toxicity – among other things) are absorbed through the plant’s leaves and neutralized in the soil. Check out our full blog post that lists the best plants that are safe and non-toxic (and are also fairly durable for those of us with brown thumbs).
#6 – Cut the clutter & keep things organized.
Keeping clear of chaos in the playroom can be challenging, but it makes it much easier to keep clean – which means it's a much safer, healthier space for your child. Regular dusting is imperative. According to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), "Ordinary house dust is a complex mixture of generally yucky stuff -- pet dander, fungal spores, tiny particles, soil tracked in on your feet, carpet fibers, human hair and skin, you name it. It's also a place where harmful chemicals are found. One recent study by the Silent Spring Institute identified 66 endocrine-disrupting compounds in household dust tests, including flame retardants, home-use pesticides, and phthalates." Since children often put their hands in their mouths, they're especially at risk. In addition to regular vacuuming using a machine with a HEPA filter and wet-mopping, the EWG also recommends the following: "Wipe furniture with a wet or microfiber cloth. Microfiber cloths work well because their smaller fibers cling to the particles. If you don't have a microfiber cloth, wet a cotton cloth -- it grabs and holds the dust better than a dry one. Skip synthetic sprays and wipes when you dust -- they only add unwanted chemicals." Another helpful tip for keeping dust down and making clean-up easier is using covered containers to store toys. The cover keeps the dust out and also helps keep things more organized.
#7 – Cut the toxics from your cleaning routine.
Conventional cleaners may contain harmful chemicals that pollute indoor air and outdoor waterways. Use these easy DIY, super-safe solutions for any surface or wall woes.
- All-Purpose Cleaner: Mix 1/2 cup vinegar and 1/4 cup baking soda into 1/2 gallon water. (Add a couple drops of lavender or grapefruit oil for a light scent.)
- Mark and Smudge Eraser: With kids come crayons and markers and pencils and oftentimes they leave a little graffiti on your walls. Most marks can be cleaned off of painted surfaces by rubbing gently with a damp rag and some baking soda. Wipe, rinse, and breathe a sigh of relief.
- Sticker Goo: To remove sticker goo, spray with vinegar, wait 15 minutes, then gently rub. Repeat if necessary.
#8 – Open a window to improve indoor air quality.
Indoor air is often much more polluted than outdoor air – even in big cities. The aformentioned plants will help some, but cracking a window helps even more. According to Healthy Child Healthy World, "Even if it’s chilly outside, you should open a window for even five minutes a day to significantly decrease the concentrations of indoor air pollutants in your home. Most home heating and cooling systems, including forced air heating systems, do not mechanically bring fresh air into the house – compromising the air quality for you and your kids. So, open a window and start breathing cleaner air."
#9 – Bring the outdoors in.
This isn't entirely a non-toxic tip, though nature play usually is. What's nature play? Playing and exploring outside in natural spaces (not structured parks) is one form of nature play. Another is bringing items from nature indoors for playtime. Shells, rocks, leaves, twigs, acorns, almost anything can be used for nature play. If you're handy with a saw, cutting building blocks from branches is a great way to bring the outdoors in. Whether indoors or out – nature play is vital to child development. "Children and nature go together—or should," writes Condie Ward in Teaching Young Children. "Recent studies document the importance of introducing children to the natural world, beginning in the early years. Their social, emotional, and physical health depends on this exposure to develop. Humans are hardwired to need nature—because we are part of it."
#10 – Use non-toxic* paint if you decide to renovate and non-toxic* chalkboard paint to make creative spaces.
Shameless self-promotion: Lullaby Paints
are non-toxic* and offer premium coverage and quality (meaning you’ll spend less per square foot). Also, we’ve revolutionized the packaging! Our eco-pouches
are made from recycled materials, use fewer resources, reduce shipping emissions, and extend the life of leftover paint (meaning less waste). Order your free sample cards
today to check them out! Also, check out our Pinboard filled with fun ways to use chalkboard paint
in the playroom, too!
*Conforms to ASTMD-4236, specifically concerning oral toxicity, skin irritation and respiratory effects.
What's one thing you do to make your home less toxic? Let us know in the comments to be entered to win a $200 gift card for Lullaby Paints!
Here’s how to enter:
UPDATE: Congratulations to Heather Kaufman for being our lucky winner! Thanks to everyone for participating and watch our blog for June's giveaway launching soon!
REQUIRED: Let us know in the comments below one thing you do to make your home less toxic. (It can be something from our list above, or something else.)
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The information provided on this site is intended for your general knowledge only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice or recommendations. Please consult your healthcare provider with any questions or concerns you may have regarding the issues raised here.