Greening Your Child’s Bedroom or Nursery

By DONNA DeFORBES/ecoRI News contributor

It’s easy to get caught up in buying new, chain-store stuff right from the start, especially when the Baby Industry woos you with their surplus of oversized cribs, cozy rocking chairs and cute monkey-adorned blankets. However, these aren’t very sustainable choices and, often, not very healthy for your child either.

A child’s developing body is more sensitive to environmental hazards than an adult’s, so it makes sense to pay more attention to what goes into your child’s bedroom — where they can spend up to half of their day. The materials and adhesives that go into furniture, flooring, bedding and décor often contain and emit volatile organic compounds (VOCs), a mixture of chemicals that can have adverse health effects. One common VOC, formaldehyde, is a known carcinogen.

Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) are endocrine-disrupting chemicals commonly used as flame retardants, and they tend to migrate from household products into house dust. Concentrations of such toxins can be up to 10 times higher indoors.

The bedroom choices outlined below are ones that favor a lack of toxins, which is healthier for both you and the planet.

Light
If possible, place babies and young children in a room that doesn’t face south. Aside from keeping the space cooler, it also protects developing eyes, which can be harmed from direct UV rays. Keep window treatments simple. Wooden slatted blinds, unfinished or with water-based coatings, are the optimal choice as they block out the largest amount of light and noise, are easily cleaned and don’t off-gas toxins as do vinyl blinds and some curtain fabrics.

Buy CFL or LED light bulbs, and turn them off when not in use. CFL doesn’t have to mean a cold glow in the bedroom; there are warm-glow bulbs to choose from these days. And LEDs, while pricier, will last anywhere from 10-17 years.

Air
Always have a window in your child’s room for ventilation; opening it a few times a day is excellent for flushing out stale air. Ceiling fans circulate air while flushing out airborne toxins. Don’t use a humidifier, as they can contribute to or become a source of mold.

Use houseplants to naturally filter air pollutants. Some plants that are safe for kids include: Boston ferns, spider plants, snake plants, dracena and bamboo palm.

Eliminate or limit electrical appliances, because they emit electromagnetic fields (EMFs), which can disturb sleep and cell function. Place ones you do use at least 6 feet from the bed if possible.

Flooring
A hard floor is healthier than carpet, which harbors a host of allergens, dust mites and anything tracked in on a person’s shoes. Eco-friendly hard-flooring options include wood, cork, stone and natural linoleum. If you really want to soften up the room, bypass wall-to-wall carpet for area rugs made from materials such as natural wool, organic cotton, jute, sisal or recycled carpet tiles. Underneath, be sure to use natural carpet pads made without toxic adhesives.

Furniture
It’s always more sustainable to choose furniture that grows with the child: a crib that becomes a headboard, a changing table that converts into a dresser. Keep it simple with a few quality pieces.

Look for furniture made from solid wood — all the better if it’s Forest Stewardship Council certified, which means the wood came from a sustainably managed forest. Yes, solid wood is more expensive, but it’s also better made. Cheap furniture is typically manufactured from particleboard held together by glues that emit formaldehyde.

Off-gassing is more intense in new materials; if you’re unsure about anything, leave the item in a garage or covered space for a few weeks to off-gas the worst of the chemicals.

Hand-me-down furniture is another green option. It keeps items out of the landfill, plus older furniture has usually off-gassed most of its VOCs. However, avoid pieces made before 1978, when painted furniture might contain lead.

Bedding
Start with a mattress made from organic wool or cotton or natural latex. While most mattresses use PBDEs as flame retardants, you can look for ones that use wool, which is a natural fire-retardant fiber. For waterproof crib mattresses, a low density, food-grade polyethylene releases less toxins than vinyl. Avoid crib mattresses made before 2009, when PVC was banned.

Seek out sheets and blankets made from organic cotton, bamboo, hemp or silk, as well as natural latex pillows. Again, eco-friendly bedding is an investment, but the materials are non-toxic and last much longer.

Décor
Paint your child’s bedroom with no or low-VOC paints, which are easy to find these days. Lighter colors use less pigment, which means fewer VOCs. To be on the safe side, always paint the nursery at least a month before the baby will sleep there.

Choose non-toxic toys made from natural wood, cloth or rubber, and try to avoid plastics since they emit the most chemicals — many are made with PVC, which contains the carcinogen, vinyl chloride.

Cleaning
In your housekeeping, use non-toxic or homemade cleaners such as such as vinegar, baking soda and essential oils. Don’t use chemical air fresheners, which contain VOCs from fragrances and merely mask smells rather than remove them.

Rhode Island resident Donna DeForbes is the founder of Eco-Mothering.com, a blog that explores ways to make going green fun and easy for the whole family. She is a contributor to Earth911, MammaBaby and author of the e-book “The Guilt-Free Guide to Greening Your Holidays.”