We get asked almost weekly about how to find safer cribs and mattresses on a budget. And, it’s no wonder when you look at the premium prices on organic and eco-friendly options.
Of course you want the safest sleeping situation for your baby, but what should you do if it’s simply not financially feasible to buy all organic and sustainable stuff? Read on to learn how to prioritize the specific risks and how to reduce them without spending a fortune.
Conventional crib mattresses are made using polyurethane foam, treated with flame retardants, covered in PVC, potentially treated with more flame retardants, and then maybe some stain guard for good measure. Thus, this seemingly benign sleeping surface potentially exposes babies to toluene, styrene, ethyl benzene, isopropylbenzene, antimony trioxide, vinylidene chloride, lead, phthalates, and other chemical nightmares.
Clearly, exposure to toxic chemicals in mattresses is a legitimate concern, but it’s also very complicated. It’s difficult to find out exactly what’s being used in most products; every individual can have unique reactions; and, there’s little research on potential health hazards.
Since your baby will be spending 14-16 hours a day with her face buried in it’s fibers, the mattress should be your priority. If there is one product to splurge on, this is it. If you can’t, don’t despair – here are two ideas:
1. Make one request for your baby shower; have everyone pitch in on an organic mattress.
2. Make do with a conventional option.
- Look for a mattress that is not covered in PVC and has as few chemical treatments as possible.
- Air out a new mattress until there’s no longer any hint of chemical smell. This is no guarantee that all the chemicals have off-gassed, but it should be significantly less.
- Flame retardants are released from the mattress as it breaks down, so you’ll want to try to encapsulate the dust. A tightly woven cotton barrier cloth meant to keep in dust-mites can help with the dust.
- If you’re worried about on-going off-gassing, you’ll need an impermeable cover.There are mattress pads and covers made from a special food-grade polyethylene plastic that not only do not off-gas themselves, but also reduce off-gassing from mattresses. I know many moms may cringe at the idea of encapsulating their baby’s bed in plastic, but this solution will reduce chemical exposure and it is very affordable.
Cribs are often made of pressed wood or particleboard. These engineered wood products and their finishes can contain formaldehyde and volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Formaldehyde was recently classified as a known human carcinogen by the National Toxicology Program (an arm of the US Department of Health and Human Services). VOCs off-gas easily from particleboard and the fumes can cause headaches and other symptoms in the short-term – and potentially worse in the long-term.
The easiest way to save money on a safer crib is to buy second-hand – just be sure it meets the latest Consumer Product Safety Commission Crib Standards. To avoid risks from the chemicals mentioned above, Jennifer Taggart (aka The Smart Mama) and Healthy Child Parent Ambassador makes these recommendations:
1. Skip composite wood products.
2. Go for non-toxic finishes. If you are buying wood furniture, make sure the coating is non-toxic. Look for natural finishes made with plant oils (although this includes d-limonene), tree resins, minerals and beeswax, or low or no-VOC finishes.
3. Just say no to formaldehyde. If you are buying furniture made with manufactured wood products, look for formaldehyde-free products. Avoid bare, uncoated urea-formaldehyde pressed wood products that can emit relatively high amounts of formaldehyde.
4. Let it off-gas outside. Buying green can be expensive, and sometimes difficult to find. If you can’t find formaldehyde-free particleboard, then let the furniture off gas outside of the nursery, and preferably the home, before bringing the furniture inside. Make sure that the area has fresh air passing by so the formaldehyde will be removed.
5. Control climate. The amount of formaldehyde released is increased with increasing temperature and humidity. Keep the humidity and temperature low, and you can reduce the amount of formaldehyde released.
6. Seal bare urea-formaldehyde wood products with multiples layers of water resistant sealants. Research indicates that sealing bare urea-formaldehyde wood products can reduce formaldehyde emissions for months to years after application. Seal all unfinished edges of finished furniture. Of course, the sealants themselves may release other VOCs, so check labels carefully. Use a no- or low-VOC sealant.
Conventionally-grown cotton is one of the most pesticide dependent crops. While there’s not pesticide residue on the resulting fabric, by purchasing conventionally-grown cotton products, you’re contributing to pesticide pollution (which could wind up in your own drinking water if you live near a farm.) Also, most conventional textiles are treated with a variety of chemicals to make them stain-resistant, anti-wrinkle, color-fast, etc. Even organic cotton bedding can be finished with a formaldehyde derivative, so look for formaldehyde-free.
Here are some tips for finding safer, budget-friendly bedding:
- Avoid textiles labelled “permanent press,” “stain resistant,” “antibacterial,” or any other type of signal word that implies the fabric has been treated.
- If you buy new, conventionally-grown cotton bedding (without the aforementioned treatments), simply wash it a few times to get rid of any temporary sizing that has been applied to the fabric.
- Look for gently used bedding made of natural textiles. It’s much more affordable. It’s likely been washed enough times to significantly reduce or eliminate any chemical treatments. And, it’s more environmentally-friendly. You can find beautiful (and even organic) options quite frequently on eBay.
Whatever products you end up using, follow these easy tips to keep baby’s sleeping space clean and healthy.
- Wash and dust everything regularly.
- Ventilate. Opening windows and using fans to circulate the air will improve indoor air quality.
- Grow plants. Choose non-poisonous and be sure not to over-water, which can promote mold and fungus growth. Here are eight awesome options.