Cribs and bed frames 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.
To avoid risks from the chemicals mentioned above, Jennifer Taggart (aka The Smart Mama) 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 labeled “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 your family’s sleeping spaces 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.
I hope that helps! Please share your own tips in the comments!