Green Interiors

A healthy nursery for a healthy baby
by Pamela Portwood

The nursery is the most important room in your home to design as a healthy space. Before updating the look of your living room or remodeling your bathroom, create a healthy nursery for your baby.

Infants are more sensitive than adults to toxins in the environment because their organs and internal systems are still growing. A major problem in nurseries (and other rooms) is the emission of hazardous volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from many sources, including paint, furniture and flooring.

VOCs are carbon-based compounds that evaporate easily into the air. You can recognize some of them by that "new paint" or "new furniture" smell. VOCs cause respiratory problems and contribute to asthma and allergies. Some are carcinogens. As the major component of smog, VOCs also are bad for the environment.

Newborns initially spend an average of 16 hours per day in their cribs, so a healthy crib is essential. To reduce VOCs, select a crib made of hardwood or veneer on hardwood that is constructed with water-based glues and finishes. If the crib has a plywood or pressed-board core, check that it does not contain added urea formaldehyde, which is a carcinogen.

Using antique or used cribs can be problematic because they may not meet current safety standards. Instead, look for a crib with a label from the Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association (JPMA) certifying the product's safety.

Conventional crib mattresses harbor many dangerous chemicals. Mattresses with polyurethane foam cores and plastic covers made of polyvinyl chloride (PVC) off gas VOCs. They also contain fire retardants that have been linked to hyperactivity, hormone system disruption and neurological problems.

You can avoid these health issues by selecting a mattress made of organic wool and organic cotton. Wool is naturally fire resistant, so wool mattresses do not need fire retardants. If you choose a mattress with a plastic cover, seek out one that it is made of food-grade polyethylene rather than PVC.

Cotton production uses 25% of the world's insecticides and over 10% of its pesticides, many of which are known or probable carcinogens, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Conventional cotton processing also uses bleaches and other harsh chemicals. Going organic with bedding just makes sense for babies who have sensitive skin.

What about the room itself? Start with a no-VOC paint to avoid the fumes and off gassing of VOCs. If you like wallpaper, select wallpapers made from organic fabrics and papers rather than vinyl wallpapers that off gas. Apply wallpaper with water-based glue, too.

Carpeting is not at the top of my list for flooring because it collects dust and releases VOCs. The healthiest carpet uses undyed, organic wool, which is durable, easy to clean and doesn't have to be treated with fire retardants. Synthetic carpets certified Green Label Plus have reduced VOC emissions, but they still have added fire retardants. Some synthetic carpets do use recycled fibers, which is a plus.

Installing wood or cork flooring with no-VOC glue is a good option since you can add a rug that can be easily pulled up and washed frequently.

House dust mites also contribute to asthma and allergies. These microscopic insects thrive in bedding, mattresses, carpets and more. Washing your baby's linens weekly in hot water (at least 140 degrees) will kill dust mites.

You can reduce dust in window coverings by installing products with hard surfaces that are easy to clean or by using curtains that are easy to take down and wash frequently.

Reports on hazardous children's products seem to come out every week. Choosing organic and no-VOC products is the best way to make your baby's nursery a healthy, safe haven.

For more tips on a healthy nursery, watch this clip from "Renovation Nation."

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Article is reprinted courtesy of The New Southwest (formerly Tucson Green Times).


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