Furnishing

FURNISHING/What you don't need

There are so many cute things for sale that can clutter up a nursery! Here are some things we think you don't need (and some might surprise you!):

  • A changing table - get a travel set with a thin pad you can use anywhere - and use it at home. The top of a dresser can work well. So can the floor! After all, no one ever fell off the floor.
  • Matching quilt, dust ruffle and valance. They're cute, but the quilt won't be needed - unless you're planning to have a hard floor, want to skip the area rug, but want a soft spot for baby to get some "tummy time."
  • Diaper stacker. We had to look up what this is, and between our staff we've had six children.
  • Too many storage bins or shelves. Baby doesn't need much, and the more storage you have the more you may feel the need to fill the space. 

FURNISHING/Window Treatments

Overview

Your baby will spend many hours sleeping, and at times will need the room to be dark and peaceful during the day. At other times, you’ll want to let outdoor sounds, light and air into the nursery.

Hidden Hazards

Fabric curtains may be treated with formaldehyde to make them wrinkle-free and some curtains may have been treated with flame retardants. Roller shades, miniblinds, and some blackout curtains can be made of polyvinyl chloride (PVC)

Other Considerations

Natural fabrics do break down in UV light but are a less-toxic option. Never place a crib or other item (swing, etc) that babies occupy near a window with cords for blinds or curtains. They are strangulation hazards. Make sure to follow manufacturer's guidelines for keeping cords out of reach of babies, toddlers, and pets. Keep heat sources away from window treatments.

Recommendations

For window treatments choose natural fabrics. Cotton, linen, wood and silk all work, but are relatively sheer. Hemp and bamboo shades help to block out the light if baby is sensitive to light and it interferes with sleep. Safer versions include naturally finished wood shutters, aluminum Venetian blinds, and bamboo roll down blinds. The safest option is to make your own black out curtains with pesticide-free hemp fabric. Make sure to choose materials listed as "flame retardant-free." 

References & Resources

Learn more about the hidden hazards by reviewing the glossary or take a deep dive by reading Safer Products for Babies and Toddlers: Resources and Recommendations for Retailers

FURNISHING/Decorations

Overview

Expectant parents derive much joy and pleasure in lovingly decorating the nursery while waiting for baby to be born. Nursery decorations can brighten up the room, stimulating a baby’s brain and elevating their mood.

Hidden Hazards

Vinyl wall decals or stickers may contain phthalates, which come off and are breathed in by your baby. Phthalates can cause cancer, asthma, developmental and reproductive harm. Wall paint can contain solvents that are volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and some can contain per- or polyfluoro alkyl substances (PFASs) (with a claim to be easier to clean), biocides (also known as antimicrobials), and irritants like ammonia. 

Other Considerations

Do not paint the room yourself while pregnant. Scraping or sanding the walls may expose you and your unborn baby to lead dust, which can be very dangerous to your baby, and toxic chemicals in the paint can be harmful as well. Have someone else–husband, family, friend, or hired hand– do the painting. Painting should be done at least a month before the baby is due, and should be aired out. You can speed up the release of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) by heating the room above what you'd normally set it to as a living space, using a room space heater, and then increasing ventilation to pull the heated air out of the building.

Recommendations

Use water-based zero VOC paint for nursery walls instead of wallpaper with adhesives. Seek reusable, vinyl-free wall decals or stickers colored with lead-free ink. The fabric type is often made of nontoxic, phthalate-free material. A water-based adhesive also has its least-toxic merits. Painting a mural or framing a colorful tapestry or piece of fabric instead of decals is another great way to add color and style. 

References & Resources

Learn more about the hidden hazards by reviewing the glossary or take a deep dive by reading Safer Products for Babies and Toddlers: Resources and Recommendations for Retailers

FURNISHING/Rugs

Overview

There are benefits and drawbacks to using rugs in the nursery, or anywhere throughout the house. Although carpeting can accentuate the room’s décor, help insulate and add to a room’s warmth, act as a cushion against breakage or falls, and absorb sound, it can also be made with toxic chemicals, hold dust and dirt, and trap asthmagens or pathogens. Rugs can make a room more difficult to keep clean, contributing to poor air quality. Given that babies and toddlers crawl around on the floor and breathe the air that is closer to the ground, any rug used in the nursery should be toxic-free and easily cleaned.

Hidden Hazards

As many as 44 highly toxic chemicals in carpets can threaten your family’s health. These toxins are known to cause respiratory disease, heart attacks, strokes, asthma, and immune and developmental health problems in children. Carpets are often treated with stain-resistant per- and polyfluorinated alkyl substances (PFAS), antimicrobials, and flame retardants. These additives are marketed as beneficial, without revealing their toxicity. Carpet backing may be made with polyvinyl chloride (PVC) with phthalate additives, or styrene butadiene. Toxic adhesives used to install wall-to-wall carpeting may contain bisphenol A, epichlorohydrin, or nonylphenol ethoxylate. Most carpets on the market today are in some way certified "green" or otherwise publicly rewarded, even though most of them contain toxic substances that are not disclosed to you, the consumer.

Other Considerations

It is difficult to have a hypoallergenic home and have rugs. In addition to toxic chemicals, carpeting can be a hotbed of bacteria, pollen, dust, and dead skin. Outdoor debris from clothing and shoes that gets tracked onto a rug becomes trapped in the fibers and is released each time someone walks or crawls on it. Allergens like pollen and dust can cause coughing, sneezing and wheezing when kicked into the air. Dead human skin cells become the primary food for dust mites, a common trigger of year-round allergies and asthma.

Recommendations

If you have wall-to-wall carpeting, vacuum often and have your rug professionally cleaned twice a year with a nontoxic cleaner. Area rugs avoid the toxic substances in padding and adhesives, but should also be vacuumed frequently to reduce dust and pathogens. Make sure to find natural-fiber area rugs (wool, jute, sisal, cotton) that have no synthetic backing. Throw rugs and runners can be shaken outdoors and thrown in the washing machine and dryer. When buying a rug, demand information from retailers and manufacturers, and purchase carpets only after getting a full accounting of contents and ensuring that it does not have the toxic chemicals identified in this guide.

References & Resources

Learn more about the hidden hazards by reviewing the glossary or take a deep dive by reading Safer Products for Babies and Toddlers: Resources and Recommendations for Retailers

Healthy Building Network has assessed some of the key chemicals of concern in carpets.

FURNISHING/Nursery Furniture

Overview

There are a lot of things you can buy for a nursery: in addition to cribs, rocking chairs, and clothing storage, there are endless other storage units - shelves, bins, baskets - and stand-alone changing tables, side tables, and more. 

Hidden Hazards

Hidden Hazards: Wooden furniture coatings can contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Many of these solvents used in the coating agents are also used in the adhesives that hold pressed or laminated wood together. Changing tables pads are often made with polyvinyl chloride (PVC) coated pads made from polyurethane foam. These may release phthalates and flame retardants, if present, and may also be imbued with antimicrobial chemicals.

Other Considerations

It’s worth investing in solid wood furniture for baby’s bedroom, especially if pieces are chosen that can be refined slightly for use throughout childhood or beyond. For example, a solid wood changing table with drawers can remain a dresser once the top changing pad is removed. Some solid wood cribs can transform into a toddler bed using the same mattress.

Recommendations

When shopping for nontoxic baby furniture, it’s important to select nursery furniture manufactured from solid wood because you don’t want furniture that’s made with glues, formaldehyde, and veneers. Look for real wood (not engineered wood, MDF, composite board, or particle board) without smelly, toxic glues and chemicals. A used, solid wood dresser (as long as it does not have leaded paint) can be a great option on a budget - and can always be painted by someone other than the pregnant mom-to-be to match your room. Another option for baby is to skip the wooden dresser entirely and use square or rectangular baskets woven from natural fiber for baby’s clothes and other gear.

References & Resources

Seeking sustainbable wood? Look for FSC (Forestry Stewardship Certified) products. 

Learn more about the hidden hazards by reviewing the glossary or take a deep dive by reading Safer Products for Babies and Toddlers: Resources and Recommendations for Retailers

FURNISHING/Nursing Chairs and ottomans

FURNISHING/Nursing Chairs and ottomans

Overview

There’s nothing like a good rocking chair and footrest to sit in while feeding and soothing your little one. Any caregiver can put it to good use; mom, dad, grandparent, sibling or child care provider. Rocking your baby can soothe colic symptoms by mimicking the movement the baby felt inside the mother’s womb. There's an added bonus - you are also improving your abdominal and leg muscle tone and balance while rocking your baby.

Hidden Hazards

There may be flame retardants in upholstered chairs and ottomans containing polyurethane foam, especially those made before 2014. Chairs and footrests made of pressed wood can contain toxic adhesives such as formaldehyde and the solvent methylene chloride, which come out of the wood into the air and can be breathed in by your baby and you. Imported furniture made with wood is treated for pests with applications of chemicals like methyl bromide and sulphuryl fluoride, both of which are neurotoxicants and ozone depleters. Methyl bromide is no longer allowed in agricultural uses, but is allowed for "biosecurity" - pest control at national borders.  

Other Considerations

Watch for young fingers and make sure they don’t get pinched in the sides of the glider while it’s in motion. Choose one with a stop-lock mechanism that prevents the chair from moving when you’re not using it. Avoid rocking while your baby is on the floor nearby, to make sure little hands or feet aren’t under the moving rocker. Be careful to not trip over the ottoman when getting up to put your baby back in the crib when you’re sleepy after that 3:00 a.m. feeding.

Recommendations

To avoid flame retardant chemicals, seek those clearly labeled as flame retardant-free. Polyester fiberfill is inherently flame-resistant, and a lot of manufacturers have avoided added flame retardants by redesigning to have inherently resistant surface materials. It’s also possible to avoid toxic chemicals by using a solid wood rocking chair with polyester fiberfill seat and back cushions. When choosing a wood rocker or ottoman, avoid ones with pressed wood, and if you do choose one with any portion of plywood, MDF or fiberboard, look for the "CARB Phase 2" certification statement to ensure low levels or no added formaldehyde. 

References & Resources

Learn more about the hidden hazards by reviewing the glossary or take a deep dive by reading Safer Products for Babies and Toddlers: Resources and Recommendations for Retailers