When you’re preparing for the arrival of your little one, it’s quite literally a biological impulse to create the safest environment possible for them. But when it comes to seeking out the healthiest baby gear, swaddle blankets and nursery furnishings available, or building a non-toxic baby registry so that your friends and family can shop with your values in mind, what does that mean? What materials or certifications should you look for in the products you’re buying or thrifting for your new baby? Should all of your baby's clothes be made from organic cotton...and do you really need glass bottles? We’ve put together this handy go to guide to help you navigate the healthy and safe baby product space, and hope it inspires some confidence as you prepare your baby's nursery, welcome your newborn, and eventually load up your diaper bag for your first trip out of the house.
Why it matters: Non-toxic baby products can help reduce your child's exposure to chemicals of concern
Little ones are just that—tiny—and their bodies and brains are constantly developing, making them particularly vulnerable to potentially harmful chemicals that may be present in your home. Babies tend to crawl and play primarily on the floor, where chemicals and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that offgas from furnishings and finishes like wall paints, furniture and mattresses settle into dust and get onto baby’s hands and into their mouth and lungs.
Unfortunately, much of the work to find truly safe and healthy products, from a crib to an infant car seat, falls on the consumer. Experts disagree on the number of chemicals used in the manufacturing of consumer goods, but suffice to say: it’s a lot (around 80,000). Regulatory measures in the United States don’t do the most stringent job of keeping potentially harmful ingredients—some of which have been linked to development issues in children, low birth rate, and even cancer—out of the clothes, food containers, and furniture that adults and children alike use everyday. Regulation of this space is covered by the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), but, with its current rate of review, it could take decades for this body to thoroughly evaluate all of the chemicals in production.
The good news? There are excellent, science-backed resources, and a growing number of reputable brands that prioritize sustainability and health, that can help you source non-toxic baby products (and eco friendly ones, too) with confidence.
So. How should you get started?
1. Focus on the products and spaces that your baby will be exposed to the most.
Ensuring that every single product that enters your baby’s orbit meets the highest non-toxic standards? Oof, that’s a tall order. And a very anxiety-inducing, and time-consuming one for parents. (Not to mention: impossible, but more on that later). That’s why we recommend prioritizing the pieces that your child will be exposed to the most when you're shopping for baby products made without potentially harmful chemicals. Here’s a short list to get you started:
Where your little on sleeps: Crib mattress
Baby sleep is a precious commodity! And while we are no sleep whisperers over here at Sway, we can guide you toward an informed non-toxic baby mattress purchase. Since babies spend the majority of their time sleeping, this is a must have, a key avenue to reducing off gassing in your nursery. Sway has stringent mattress-vetting guidelines for adults and babies: We recommend selecting either an Avocado or Naturepedic mattress for your little one.
Our product pages on Sway contain detailed information on what a recommended crib mattress is made of (materials—we're partial to natural fibers over synthetic materials), and the third-party certifications for health (like GREENGUARD Gold certified) that they have achieved, which helps provide extra assurance that the product in question has passed reputable screening measures and avoided using key chemicals of concern. Our vetting standards also require the avoidance of harmful additives like chemical flame retardants. You can see how all of this information comes together in our analysis of Naturepedic's Organic Breathable Ultra Baby Crib Mattress. Browse the full list of cribs that we've vetted.
A note on latex: One more note on the crib mattress: Depending on your comfort level and personal preference, you may wish to look for a latex-free crib mattress from the jump. Why? Latex may cause an allergic reaction in a small amount of infants, and you won't know what your baby is allergic to it until after they are born. Naturepedic's crib mattresses are all latex-free for this very reason.
Swaddle blankets, crib sheets and bedding
Look for textiles made from organic cotton that have earned both certification from the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) and OEKO-TEX: The former addresses the supply chain, with strict limits on chemical inputs from field to factory to warehouse, while OEKO-TEX certifications (STANDARD 100 and their MADE IN GREEN label) require testing of the final end-product to ensure it’s free of their list of harmful substances. Honest Company, Avocado and Coyuchi have excellent double-certified, 100% organic cotton baby bedding, and represent the gold standard in baby products.
You can also apply these standards for textiles to baby clothes and sleep sacks. Keeping in mind that it can get pricy to source organic cotton baby clothes that meet all of these standards, you may also opt to mix in pieces of clothing that or onesies that meet just one or a few of these standards: e.g., OEKO-TEX certified cotton. Done is better than perfect.
Wall paint in your nursery
Lots of parents do a full room makeover when they’re building out their nursery, including a fresh coat of paint in a calming color. You will absolutely want to select zero-VOC (volatile organic compound) paint that will minimize offgassing and ensure healthy air in your baby’s room. Our paint-vetting guidelines at Sway are primarily informed by the Environmental Working Group’s (EWG) Healthy Home Guide, and we most frequently recommend ECOS Paints’ Lullaby Collection developed specifically for babies and children’s rooms, or Clare paint.
Just like paint, the furniture that you select for your baby’s room will offgas into the room and affect air quality. That’s why we recommend choosing solid wood cribs with non-toxic finishes, down to the glues and finishes. It’s a good idea to look for GREENGUARD Gold certification, too.
Baby bottles, pacifiers, certain toys
Next up, prioritize items that your baby will put in their mouth, from baby bottles to sippy cups—and a host of other items, which you know all too well if you've ever been around teething babies! EWG recommends materials like clear silicone, glass and stainless steel for baby bottles: you're likely to find these materials on repeat in your diaper bag.
Baby shampoo, diaper cream, and baby lotion
Err on the side of caution when it comes to products that you’ll apply to your baby’s skin, which is highly absorbent. At minimum, Johns Hopkins recommends keeping fragrance-free, hypo-allergenic products with no perfumes and dyes on-hand at your changing table for any dry skin concerns or daily use.
As you're cleaning up messes in your nursery, on your changing table, and throughout your home, reach for baby-friendly cleaning supplies. Browse our article on go-to brands for household cleaners, from counter sprays to reusable paper towels and laundry detergent that real parents highly recommend.
Cloth diapers, disposable diapers, and baby wipes
If you’re prioritizing non-toxic products on the basis of your baby’s exposure to them, which we recommend in this article, there’s no doubt that diapers are on your mind. Babies spend most of their first few years in diapers every single day and night, and since disposable diapers in particular are mass produced, they can contain potentially harmful chemicals. Many parents are focused on finding options for non-toxic baby diapers that will not only provide high performance when it comes to leaks, but also protect their baby’s sensitive skin. While diapering is often a trial-and-error sport—cloth diapers and disposable diapers both come with a long list of pros and cons that will require you to test them out—we can point you toward the materials you may want to prioritize if non-toxic diapers are your main objective.
Firstly: Using organic cotton cloth diapers that meet Sway’s standards for textiles is the most straight-forward way to avoid the chemicals that may be present in disposable diapers. However, we know that cloth diapers are not the right choice for all families for a number of reasons. So if you’re planning to go with disposable diapers out of the gate, look for brands that use a minimal amount of plastic and prioritize natural ingredients like cotton, avoid fragrances and lotions, and are plain and undyed (or otherwise can confirm through product testing that their dyes are safe). And finally, look for disposable diapers made from unbleached pulp or pulp that is bleached using 100% chlorine-free techniques. Your baby's skin is thinner and more susceptible to chemicals than that of an adult.
For more info, check out the Environmental Working Group’s guide to safer diapers. They even have a list of EWG-verified diapers to choose from.
Two phrases to commit to memory: When it comes to the categories above that pertain to home furnishings and decor, like cribs, wall paint, mattresses and bedding, practicing source control is not only widely recommended in the spheres of materials health, it’s also been referenced more recently in articles by Time and Vox about creating the healthiest home possible for you and your family.
So, what in the world is it? It means avoiding products that emit chemicals or other contaminants altogether: if you don’t bring in materials, furnishings and finishes that offgas into your child’s nursery or your broader home, you won’t need to manage the negative effects on air quality that they cause.
The second phrase to cement in your mind is the precautionary principle. It simply means that if a product in question raises doubts, to err on the side of caution and not use it/purchase it. Often, this comes up when consumer can’t get a direct answer from manufacturers or brands on what their exact materials their products are made from. When in doubt, leave it out.
Finally, bookmark Sway's collection of baby products for quick links to all of our favorite, vetted picks—we hope it's a helpful resource as you're shopping or building your non-toxic baby registry.
2. Look to expert sources.
There is a growing chorus of voices online with opinions on what you should buy and what you should be afraid of. There’s fear-mongering aplenty, brand claims, and greenwashing to sift through. There’s a lot of misinformation and misuse of scientific terms and language. It’s one of the reasons why all of Sway’s product-vetting standards are informed by science, and three of the most reputable organizations in the field of materials health.
What’s more? New studies and best practices—in regards to how potentially harmful chemicals in consumer products explicitly impact our health—are coming out all the time. Sometimes that means a chemical that the scientific population was previously concerned about isn't so bad. Other times, it means that we're adding to the list of chemicals of concern on our radar, or that a previously trusted brand needs to do more testing on their products to ensure safety.
For all those reasons, it’s important that you look to industry experts for guidance on selecting safer baby products. Here is a list of links to my favorite organizations to reference—I hope their research-backed advice is a game changer for you.
- The Green Science Policy Institute, the leading organization in removing chemicals of concerns from consumer products through research and advocacy, has compiled strollers and infant car seats that are PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances)-free. PFAS are often called “forever chemicals” because they do not fully degrade from living tissue, or the environment, and are associated with health issues like thyroid disease, asthma and even certain cancers. You can read more about PFAS in our interview with the Green Science Policy Institute, or watch our recorded webinar on PFAS, where we address how pregnant people should navigate exposure to PFAS. Lastly, the Green Science Policy has developed a list of six classes of chemicals of concern, which can really help parents-to-be hone in the materials and ingredients worth avoiding all together. For example, you've likely seen content about heavy metals pop up on your social feed. Certain metals make up one of their six classes of potentially harmful chemicals, which you can bookmark for further reading. You can read up all the classes, including other popular topics like flame retardants.
- The Environmental Working Group (EWG) has long been a trusted resource for sourcing safe items for your family, and their EWG Verified for Baby product directory makes finding healthier baby products like diapers, baby wipes, balms and lotions an absolute snap.
- Sway vets furnishings and bedding for your baby against rigorous, research-backed standards so that you can focus on picking beautiful and functional items that will make for a cozy nursery.
- MADE SAFE Certified products go through a third-party review process that screens for 6,500 prohibited substances. Their MADE SAFE product directory can help you stock up on bottles, cleaning products, baby oils and more.
3. Live a little!
It’s quite literally impossible to protect your child from every substance, material or chemical that may cause them some degree of harm. Read that again. The sooner you make peace with this, the closer you’ll be to long lasting parental nirvana. (Just kidding, that takes a lifetime and then some. 😉)
Why is this the case? Unfortunately, our world is pretty replete with pollution from chemicals of concern—even rainwater is unsafe to drink because of the levels of PFAS it contains. PFAS are an example of a class of chemicals with known linkages to human and environmental harm that can be unintentionally added to consumer products during the manufacturing process, making them particularly hard to avoid given their ubiquity.
While all these realities of our changing world can be anxiety-inducing, it can also be freeing. Your job is to focus on what you can control, the values that matter most to you, be it non-toxic, ethical and/or eco friendly products and to let go of the rest. It’s most important that you're keeping your baby safe, warm, fed and loved, and that you aren’t living in a state of anxiety or fear as you’re making purchasing decisions for your baby.
What’s more? If you really love the onesie with your college emblem on it but it falls short of our recommended standards for textiles, buy it, or go ahead and add it to your baby registry. Baby care can be wildly stressful, but it should also be filled with loads of laughter and joy through all of your child's stages, from tummy time to teething. Buying some clothes or toys that spark happiness but aren’t 100% in alignment with the highest standards for non-toxic baby products is totally OK. If you’re following the above principles, you’re already reducing your child’s exposure to chemicals of concern by a high margin, and that's a big deal.