How Green is your Childcare?

We should many factors when selecting childcare for our kids – cost, convenience, philosophy, hours, caregivers to child ratio and environmental health.

As parents, we consider many factors when selecting a childcare situation for our children – among them cost, convenience, philosophy, hours and the ratio of caregivers to kids. But how many of us give a thought to environmental health? We should, because young children’s developing bodies are very susceptible to chemical exposures.

To make it a little easier, Environmental Working Group put together these tips on how to create a green childcare environment, with an emphasis on the steps that matter most. We’re all about strategic changes that make the biggest difference to kids’ health. Parents can use these tips to assess childcare facilities – and share the downloadable tip sheet with staff to help them create a greener space. Remember, a few simple actions can reduce many exposures to toxic chemicals. Why not start today with this great list?

Most important for infants:

Mix formula with fluoride-free water, as the American Dental Association recommends. If your tap water has fluoride, buy non-fluoridated water.

Don’t serve ready-to-eat formula – it contains more BPA (from the can lining).

Never microwave food or heat milk in plastic. Use glass or ceramic instead.

Use glass or BPA-free baby bottles. Discard older plastic ones, especially if scratched.

Use fragrance-free wipes, diapers & diaper cream.

Create a healthy space

Seal or remove arsenic-treated wood decks & play structures. Those built before 2003 likely contain arsenic. Don’t allow children to eat at older picnic tables (or cover them with a cloth).

Have kids wash hands after playing near these surfaces, or avoid them altogether.

Watch for lead paint. Older paint may contain lead. Kids face health risks from loose chips and lead in dust. If your building was built before 1978, use a certified lead-safe contractor for any repairs.

Don’t use bug spray or weed killer inside or out.

Clean greener & disinfect when kids aren’t around. Choose certified green cleaning supplies, dust & vacuum often (with a HEPA filter), use fragrance-free laundry detergent and skip air fresheners & dryer sheets. Disinfectants can be toxic. Where necessary, disinfect with safer peroxide-based products or bleach. Always follow product directions.

Remove or repair furniture & mattresses with exposed foam. Before 2005, most foam was treated with toxic fire retardants.

Take care with compact fluorescent light bulbs. Don’t put them in lamps that can fall, releasing mercury. If a bulb breaks, clear the room, air it out, put on gloves, safety glasses and a dust mask, seal the waste, wash up. Replace mercury thermometers & thermostats with mercury-free options.

Eating & drinking

Offer healthy snacks. Choose fruits & veggies from EWG’s Clean 15 list or buy organic – and always wash them. Don’t microwave food in plastic. Microwave popcorn bags contain toxic chemicals – try air-popping instead. Choose organic dairy and meat when possible; buy rBGH/hormone-free milk. Use BPA-free dishware.

Wash little hands before eating – with plain soap & water. Skip anti-bacterial soaps – they’re no better than plain soap and contain toxic triclosan. If you use alcohol-based hand sanitizers, choose fragrance-free.

Drink safer water. Filter tap water as needed to remove contaminants. Check EWG’s Tap Water Database to find an effective filter. Test water fountains for lead.


Avoid soft plastic toys & metal jewelry. Many plastic softeners are toxic. Choose items labeled PVC- and phthalate-free. Avoid metal trinkets and play jewelry, which can contain heavy metals. Skip face paint unless you know it’s free of lead and other contaminants. Natural, unpainted wood toys are a good choice.

Use safer art supplies. Don’t use rubber cement, permanent or dry-erase markers or materials meant for adults. Stick with paper/cardboard, yarn, wood & homemade play dough. If you don’t know what’s in something, skip it.

Apply safer sunscreen. Use EWG’s Sunscreen Guide to find ones with SPF 30+ and zinc or titanium. Skip oxybenzone, retinyl palmitate, sprays, added bug repellent. Wear hats & avoid mid-day sun.

Adjust outdoor play based on local air quality using On high pollution days, limit high-energy outdoor play for kids, especially those with asthma.


Published on: October 22, 2010
About the Author
Photo of Rebecca Sutton Ph.D.

Dr. Sutton is a senior scientist in the California office of the Environmental Working Group, a research and advocacy organization that strives to protect children from exposure to toxic chemicals. She is an environmental chemist and a graduate of the University of California, Berkeley.

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