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Tips for a Safer Nursery

Click here for more non-toxic tips from our Green Parent Guide

From changing diapers to singing lullabies, the nursery is where you and your baby will spend a lot of time together. It is no place for toxic chemicals! Here are some hidden hazards in the nursery and how to avoid them.

Diapers & Wipes

The average child uses about 8,000 disposable diapers before being potty trained – that’s a lot of diapers sitting in our landfills! In addition, most diapers contain a variety of plastics, adhesives, glues, elastics and lubricants made from chemicals that build up in the environment. Fortunately, parents today have many options to reduce diaper waste while avoiding these harmful chemicals. You can test out these ideas before deciding what works best for you.

Try This!

  • Look for diapers labeled chlorine-free, fragrance-free and dye-free. Also use fragrance-free, chlorine-free and dye-free baby wipes.
  • Look for disposable diapers made from renewable resources like wood pulp, or diapers made from a hybrid of cloth and biodegradable materials.
  • Try cloth diapers. There are lots of easy, affordable (and stylish!) options. Some come fitted with an elastic waistband, others have pockets to place absorbent material or flushable liners, and still others are “all-in-one” with a built-in waterproof cover. Make sure to wash them with fragrance-free detergent.
  • Don’t store antibacterial cleaning wipes in the nursery. These products contain harsh disinfectant chemicals that are not meant to be used on a baby’s skin. Keeping them out of the nursery will avoid the chance of using them accidentally after a diaper change.


Decorating the new room for baby? As pretty as they are, many paints and finishes contain a variety of chemicals known as volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which release low-level toxic emissions into the air. Short-term exposure to VOCs may cause eye and throat irritation, while long-term exposure may cause increased risk of cancer or central nervous system damage. Some wallpaper may contain polyvinyl chloride (PVC), which can release toxic chemicals and cause asthma. Older homes may also contain lead-based paint, which is linked to developmental disorders in children.

Try This!

  • Choose low-VOC or zero-VOC paints. Alternatively, look for natural paints derived from clay or chalk, or for milk paints made with milk protein and colored earth pigments.
  • Use wallpaper that is vinyl/PVC-free and chlorine-free.  Look for wallpapers made from bamboo, hemp, or rice paper.
  • If you live in a home that was built before 1978, you may have lead-based paint in the home. Call the Lead Information Center at 800-424-LEAD or visit www.epa.gov/lead to find out how to safely remove lead-based paint.
  • Leave the paint color as is! If you can live with the color, avoid exposures to paint chemicals altogether by sprucing up the room with other decorations instead. You can check out www.healthystuff.org to find non-toxic alternatives for re-decorating the nursery.


It’s hard to believe, but many children’s toys contain heavy metals like mercury, cadmium, arsenic, bromine, and lead, which are especially harmful to children. Also, many soft teething rings and bath toys are made from PVC, also known as the toxic plastic.

Try This!

  • Search for safer toys. Refer to www.healthystuff.org to find safer toys that don’t contain heavy metals.
  • Choose # 5. Look for plastic toys with the recycle symbol number 5, which signifies polypropylene, a safer plastic.
  • Go natural. Purchase toys made from natural materials such as wood or organic fibers like cotton, hemp or wool.

Furniture & Mattresses

Say no thank-you to the special treatments when it comes to furniture. Avoid furniture that has been specially treated with stain-resistant coating; has polyurethane foam, which has likely been treated with flame-retardants; or that is made from particleboard or pressure-treated wood, which may emit formaldehyde. These chemicals found commonly in furniture are linked to cancer, reproductive problems, and nervous system disorders.

Try This!

  • Choose untreated solid wood furniture rather than furniture made with particleboard.
  • Ask before you buy. If you do shop for new furniture, ask the salesperson if flame-retardants were used in its production and have them contact the manufacturer if they aren’t sure.
  • Choose furniture or furniture covers without added stain-resistant treatments.
  • Look for PVC-free mattress covers and organic cotton sheets. Polypropylene, polyethylene or polyester are safer alternatives to PVC mattress covers.
  • Let it breathe. If you buy a new mattress and aren’t sure about it, let it off-gas in a well-ventilated room for several days before using it.
  • Buy an eco-friendly mattress like those from our friends at Lullaby Earth and Naturepedic®. For more options, you can find a list at www.greenpages.org.

Air Fresheners

Before you reach for that aerosol air freshener or plug-in to “freshen up” the nursery, think about the chemicals that go into making those synthetic “fresh” smells. Four common chemical ingredients in air fresheners – formaldehyde, petroleum distillates, p-dichlorobenzene, and aerosol propellants– disrupt hormones and are linked to breathing problems.

Try This!

  • Sprinkle some baking soda inside the trash can and diaper pail to absorb odors.
  • Squeeze a fresh lemon or a few drops of essential oil in a nearby sink for a real fresh smell.

Make a Change and Check it Off

Pick a change (or a few!) you can commit to making.

✔ Try disposable diapers and wipes that are chlorine, fragrance, and dye free.

✔ Start using biodegradable diapers made from renewable resources.

✔ Try cloth diapers.

✔ Make your own diaper wipes using this simple recipe.

✔ Don’t store antibacterial wipes in the nursery.

✔ Use low-VOC/zero-VOC paint or natural based paints made from clay or chalk.

✔ Use vinyl/PVC free wallpaper or natural wallpaper materials such as bamboo, hemp or rice paper.

✔ Leave the paint color as-is and spruce up the room with decorations.

✔ Replace PVC plastic toys with the ones made of non-PVC plastic or natural materials.

✔ Purchase furniture that is not treated with stain-resistant coating or flame-retardants.

✔ Opt for a mattress made from natural materials, and mattress covers made from polypropylene, polyethylene or polyester.

✔ Discontinue use of air fresheners.

✔ Make your own natural deodorizers with lemon or essential oil.

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