I wish I didn’t have to address the topic of toxic baby products. I mean, we’re putting brand new babies and toxic exposure in one sentence… So not OK!
But the truth is, an alarming number of commonly used chemicals have never been tested for safety, and many harsh chemicals are not effectively (or at all) regulated in the U.S. There is also such a thing as cumulative effects of chemical exposure of which the health risks remain largely unknown.
I don’t know about you, but I was FLOORED when I became a mom and realized that many products marketed for babies and children these days contain chemicals that have been linked to various health issues.
Isn’t that CRAZY?
But the real shocker was that many of the ‘recommended by pediatricians’ and ‘safe for babies’ items turned out to be some of the WORST offenders on the toxic list. What’s up with that?!
In this post I would like to talk about questionable and toxic baby products to avoid – some of the commonly used baby products that are made with ingredients that have a toxic profile. I’ll also talk about how to replace toxic baby products with safe baby products.
Let’s look at 7 areas of your home where you can expect to find baby-related products that could be harmful to your baby’s health.
Toxic baby products #1 – DIAPERING
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➣ DISPOSABLE DIAPERS
Cloth may be awesome (hey, I’m a big fan!), but cloth diapering just isn’t for everyone. Though if you’re undecided, I invite you to read about my honest look at pros and cons of using cloth diapers.
A diaper is an item that is likely going to be used against your child’s skin 24/7 – for years in a row. That’s a significant amount of time of potentially toxic exposure!
The kind of diaper you use will determine which chemicals your child will be exposed to, and which chemicals will be released into the environment during the manufacturing process.
I generally recommend looking for disposable diapers that are 100% chlorine-free (NOT just “bleached with non-elemental chlorine”), dye-free, lotion-free, and fragrance-free, though as you’ll see in the best non-toxic disposable diaper guide (updated each year), some disposable diaper brands go above and beyond!
➣ BABY WIPES
The ingredients of baby wipes are gradually getting greener each year. Still, a few fishy ingredients remain, as well as the possibility of impurities and contaminants.
Always READ LABELS in an effort to avoid toxic baby products.
I’d steer clear of perfume fragrance and ceteareth ingredients, and quite possibly a few more that some baby wipes contain.
You can go over the list of the safest baby wipes to compare the ingredients of currently sold baby wipes and to read more about the ingredients in baby wipes you might want to watch out for.
➣ DIAPER CREAM/OINTMENT
Diaper creams aren’t created equal.
A good start is to head over to EWG’s database to take a look at the safety ratings of different diaper cream brands. (For the record, Desitin, Balmex, or Palmer’s Bottom Butter are NOT very good choices and as of right now fall into the category of baby products to avoid.)
Barrier creams generally contain either petroleum jelly or zinc oxide. I prefer using products containing zinc oxide as opposed to petroleum jelly, but it really does boil down to personal preference. (You can read more about petroleum jelly and my decision further down in this post – #5 BABY CARE – Petroleum jelly.)
#MomHack: Read about why I used sunscreen instead of diaper cream when I was in a pickle, and the reason I decided to stick with it. (Yup, sunscreen!)
➣ TALC-BASED BABY POWDER
Baby powder containing talcum powder is another baby product to avoid. In fact, it should be kept far, FAR away from babies!
Even the American Academy of Pediatrics agrees with me and recommends NOT to use baby powder containing talc on babies since talc can cause breathing issues and serious lung damage or even death when inhaled. Yikes!
Since the news about the dangers of talc-containing baby powder first came out, some companies have made the switch to talc-free baby powder. Thumbs up for that!
Still, there is another ingredient that turns even safer baby powders into toxic baby products – perfume fragrance. Perfume fragrance is a blend of mystery synthetic ingredients that safe baby products shouldn’t contain.
#MomHack: No baby powder? Use this safe alternative to baby powder that you probably ALREADY HAVE at home.
Toxic baby products #2 – SOOTHING & FEEDING
➣ BABY BOTTLES, BREAST PUMPS & BREAST MILK STORAGE
By now, the news about the endocrine-disrupting bisphenol A (BPA) have been widespread, and virtually all products designed to end up in the mouths of babies are now made BPA-free.
But BPA-free plastic isn’t without issues.
- BPA-free plastic doesn’t mean “safe plastic.” Plastic that’s BPA-free can contain a variety of harmful chemical compounds.
- BPA-free products can still leach small amounts of BPA, according to this study.
- In addition, bisphenol S (BPS) and bisphenol F (BPF) that have replaced BPA appear to have similar (if not worse) health effects.
Try to avoid plastic bottles as much as you can, and use glass baby bottles instead.
If you do use plastic baby bottles, don’t heat them up in the microwave. High heat helps separate bisphenols and other toxic chemicals from the plastic, making them much easier to be consumed. Gently warm bottles under running warm water or in a pot of warm water instead.
➣ BABY BOTTLE NIPPLES & PACIFIERS
When it comes to artificial nipples and pacifiers, your options are latex, natural rubber, or silicone.
Essentially, latex is natural rubber and natural rubber is latex.
There are advantages and disadvantages to both latex/natural rubber and silicone, but silicone appears to be the safest, most inert option for this use.
Silicone is a synthetic material, but even natural rubber is heavily processed after it’s collected from the rubber tree. Latex/natural rubber can trigger allergic reactions and can leach nitrosamines which are a group of compounds some of which are potent carcinogens.
Of course that science is ever evolving, but so far I haven’t seen a study that has documented silicone nipples and pacifiers leaching toxic chemicals.
There are quite a few plastic teethers on the market, silicone and rubber teethers, and I’ve seen a few wooden ones, too.
#MomHack: Freezing a washcloth can do wonders, too. (Just make sure the washcloth hasn’t been washed with a harsh detergent.)
Stay away from toxic baby products like plastic teethers – even those labeled PVC / BPA / phthalate-free (which should be ALL at this point). There is just so much that we don’t yet know about plastic and so many health issues that have been documented and studied.
Untreated wood would be my first choice for a teether, then silicone. Even though I’m in favor of using silicone bottle nipples, the silicone in teethers is dyed which means additional additives.
The following teethers have caught my eye and come with great reviews:
Both silicone and wood are naturally antibacterial. Wood has certain advantages over silicone though – it is a 100% natural renewable material and doesn’t attract dirt or lint.
➣ BABY FORMULA
Baby formula has come a long way and is made to mirror breast milk as close as possible. At least that’s what the formula manufacturers are saying.
In reality, we don’t really know a whole lot about the composition of breast milk. What we do know is that many isolated components of breast milk cannot be duplicated by the industry.
Breast milk is superior to formula. Not every baby has access to breast milk though (#NoJudgement), and a baby’s gotta eat, right?
All formula brands except for organic ones contain ingredients from genetically modified corn and soy (which you may or may not be OK with), and are made with milk from cows treated with rBGH, a synthetic growth hormone used in dairy farming to increase milk production (which you also may or may not be OK with).
Given the choice between dairy and soy, I’d stay away from a soy-based baby formula for these 5 reasons: phytoestrogens, phytic acid, trypsin inhibitors, GMO-grown soy beans, and high aluminum content.
If soy-based formula was truly the only appropriate way to feed a baby (too many babies are rushed into soy formulas), I wouldn’t sweat it. Soy formula is much better than no food at all!
➣ BABY FOOD
Making your own baby food using fresh fruits and vegetables (ideally organic) is actually surprisingly easy. It’s also cheaper than store-bought, and you know exactly what’s going into your baby’s food.
If store-bought baby food is your pick, choose organic if you can, and opt for glass jars as opposed to plastic containers which are more likely to leach chemicals into foods.
#MomHack: Did you know you can SKIP baby food altogether? It’s called baby-led weaning, and it ROCKS!
➣ FOOD PREP & STORAGE
Glass or stainless steel food storage containers are a much better option than plastic. (Make sure to NEVER put stainless steel containers in the microwave. — Metallic materials like stainless steel reflect microwave energy and can cause damage to your microwave.)
If you must use plastic, check the container to locate the plastic’s identification code (usually found on the bottom).
AVOID plastic containers marked with #7. This category of plastics is most likely to leach BPA (a known endocrine disruptor).
Also STAY AWAY from #3 plastic if possible (some cling wrap is made with PVC-based plastic — this can include store-wrapped fruits and vegetables, meats and cheese), and #6 plastic (Styrofoam, and some disposable plastic cups and silverware).
Don’t use plastic containers with hot foods/liquids, even those labeled “microwave/dishwasher safe.”
In addition, I would recommend not using TEFLON cookware when preparing baby food. In my opinion, stainless steel pots and pans are a much safer alternative.
Not too long ago, PFOA (perfluorooctanoic acid – also known as C8) was used in the production of Teflon products. PFOA is a suspected carcinogen and a persistent environmental pollutant. It has been phased out since (not until a massive class action lawsuit though), and all Teflon products were largely PFOA-free at the end of 2015.
The new chemical replacement is GenX (Ammonium 2,3,3,3-tetrafluoro-2-(heptafluoropropoxy)propanoate) which appears to be problematic as well and hasn’t been sufficiently tested to be concluded safe.
Also, ALWAYS check labels when buying ANY new KITCHENWARE. I’ve seen way too many “decorative use only” warnings and stickers on plates and bowls which very likely contain heavy metals and/or other toxic chemicals that food should never touch.
Toxic baby products #3 – TOYS
Be picky when it comes to toys!
I know, I know… I’m making you read all these labels, but toys don’t even come with lists of ingredients, right?
Try to avoid in baby toys:
- Hand-me-down toys. Older toys can contain high levels of toxic chemicals, and dyes and paints laced with heavy metals. Regulations have changed significantly over the years, and many toys would no longer be considered safe.
- Toys made from PVC. PVC toys leach toxic chemicals like phthalates and heavy metals. No other plastic contains and releases as many chemicals as PVC.
- Toys made with synthetic and natural fibers that may have been treated with toxic chemicals. (This is where certifications like GOTS or OEKO-TEX come really handy.)
I’d be slightly cautious of teething babies using plush toys stuffed with polyester. That would include plush toys made with a certified-organic outer shell. Polyester fiber fill is a synthetic material that goes through significant chemical processing when it’s manufactured. The finished product is considered safe when used as a toy stuffing, but I haven’t seen any research addressing toxicity of polyester filling when wet/chewed/sucked on.
I’ve also noticed that some plush toys are stuffed with corn fiber which – unless certified organic – likely contains pesticides.
I would much prefer an all-around natural/organic stuffed toy for babies and small kids.
Wooden toys are a good choice as long as non-toxic glues and finishes are used.
Toxic baby products #4 – BABY CLOTHES
You can find all kinds of chemicals in clothes like pesticide residues, fire retardants, toxic dyes, wrinkle-free and weather-resistant additives, formaldehyde finishes, and even plastic. Some chemical treatments are designed to never wash out.
Hand-me-down clothes might have once been processed with toxic chemicals, but they’re less likely to contain residues of chemical treatments than brand-new clothes because they’ve been washed several times. On the other hand, second-hand clothing can be contaminated with chemicals from harsh detergents and laundry additives. Wash all new and hand-me-down clothes thoroughly.
Choose natural fibers (cotton, bamboo, hemp) over synthetics for your baby. Gently/eco-friendly treated clothing made from natural fibers is the least toxic choice, but it’s not always available or affordable, especially since babies grow out of sizes so quickly.
Think twice about plastic decorations on your baby’s clothes which can leach chemicals.
Toxic baby products #5 – BABY CARE
➣ PETROLEUM JELLY
Petroleum jelly seems to be a common household staple in the U.S. I don’t know…is there something you can’t treat with petroleum jelly?
I bought a jar when I was pregnant, my husband brought home two more, and we got a large tube at the hospital to boot.
I’m the person that hugs trees. The word “petroleum” somehow never struck me as odd until it finally did and the entire stash of petroleum jelly landed in the trash can.
Now, I have no credible evidence that by using petroleum jelly you’re going to grow two heads. If you don’t see a problem with the origin of petroleum jelly, I’m not going to talk you out of using it.
Keep in mind though that petroleum jelly runs a fairly high risk of contamination and comes in different grades of purity. (FYI: VASELINE ® Petroleum Jelly is highly refined and triple purified.)
➣ BABY OIL
Baby oil is a petroleum jelly’s second cousin – another by-product of the oil refining industry.
What makes baby oil even worse than petroleum jelly is that it’s often combined with synthetic fragrances (a well-known source of phthalates).
To avoid toxic baby products like baby oil containing synthetic fragrances, use virtually any pure kitchen oil instead (coconut oil is popular). 100% pure argan oil is another good choice. Apply oil on damp skin to lock in moisture.
In all fairness, use of oils (or creams) is hardly ever necessary unless your baby has very dry skin. (This can happen when you’re overdoing it with baby baths, for example.)
➣ BABY LAUNDRY DETERGENT
Don’t be fooled by GREENWASHING and pictures of the cutest happiest babies on baby products.
Like DREFT, for example. The holy grail of baby laundry that’s “#1 choice of pediatricians” thus apparently completely safe, right? In reality, Dreft scores worse in toxicity than Tide. Go figure.
Laundry detergents can contain a number of chemicals and irritants which leave a residue on your clothes that never really washes out. Not only are many detergents not safe for your family, they’re also not safe for the environment.
Detergents also leave a residue in your washer. If you’re using a more natural type of detergent for your baby’s clothes but use the same washer to wash other laundry with your regular detergent, your baby’s clothes are getting contaminated every time they’re being washed.
Ideally, use a safe laundry detergent for ALL laundry loads. If you’re curious how your detergent ranks or to find a safe(r) laundry detergent, check out some of the EWG ratings of laundry detergents.
➣ BABY SHAMPOO/LOTION
Shampoos and lotions – even those marketed specifically for babies – can contain synthetic fragrances, harsh detergents, and toxic chemicals.
The skin is our largest and most permeable organ. Anything you put on your baby’s skin will eventually end up in your baby’s bloodstream and will get distributed throughout the body.
I could go as far as saying that you shouldn’t put anything on your baby’s skin that you wouldn’t eat. But, that can become a little impractical, so try to at least avoid the following ingredients in baby shampoos and lotions:
- Retinyl acetate (Vitamin A acetate)
- Benzyl alcohol
- PEG-80 sorbitan laurate
- Parabens (all ingredients ending with -paraben)
- Any FD&C dyes
Another thing to consider is the frequency of baby baths.
Babies don’t need to be bathed very often. Baby’s skin contains natural oils, and frequent washing removes these oils. Instead of daily baths, wipe your baby’s face, hands, and genital area with a wet warm washcloth as necessary.
You shouldn’t use any sunscreen on a newborn. This advice is for later on.
There are many (MANY!) chemicals of concern when it comes to conventional sunscreen.
Avoid toxic baby products like chemical sunscreens which is the vast majority of sunscreens on the market.
Choose physical sunblock instead, containing mineral ingredients (non-nano zinc oxide or titanium dioxide).
Apply sunscreen only when needed – we can all use some extra D3.
Toxic baby products #6 – THE NURSERY
If you co-sleep, the following applies to your bedroom as well.
➣ CRIB MATTRESS & CRIB SHEETS
Babies and children are exposed to chemical emissions from the mattresses they sleep on. Given the amount of time babies spend sleeping (up to 18 hours a day!), it’s crucial to pick a mattress that is non-toxic.
Conventional mattresses are another type of a common baby product to avoid. They’re typically made with treated fabrics, vinyl/PVC, chemical flame retardants and toxic adhesives, and can emit toxic chemicals and harmful volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Toxic emissions are elevated during sleep due to increased body heat.
If you can, choose a mattress made with natural materials like organic cotton, wool, 100% natural latex, or a blend of these.
For the past 9 years, our entire family has been using mattresses from Naturepedic exclusively (crib, twin, and family bed). Naturepedic mattresses are certified organic, made in the USA, and are free of viny/PVC, phthalates, petrofluorinated compounds, formaldehyde, toxic adhesives, and GMOs.
Sheets for baby cribs should be made from natural fibers which are breathable and more comfortable to touch than synthetics. Consider splurging on adorable GOTS-certified organic sheets like these, these, these, or this crib sheet set. Also, this crib sheet, this one, or some of these crib sheets if you prefer PLAIN sheets without prints.
GOTS takes certification up a notch and guarantees that fabrics haven’t been subjected to harmful chemicals from the harvest through manufacture. Yes, sometimes, certified organic fabric can be treated with harmful chemicals and sold as “organic.”
GOTS certification also does not allow child labor and guarantees fair wages and a safe and clean working environment.
➣ WATERPROOF MATTRESS PAD
Diapers leak, accidents happen. A wet mattress can’t serve its purpose, right?
The majority of waterproof mattress pads on the market utilize vinyl and polyester.
Vinyl exposes babies and kids to a number of harmful chemicals. Together with PVC (the same class of material), it’s dubbed the most toxic plastic. Polyester is a synthetic fabric that can be treated with various chemicals during production.
Safer choices are mattress pads made with natural fibers and a waterproof barrier made from baby-safe polyurethane like this waterproof crib mattress pad made with organic BAMBOO, this organic COTTON waterproof crib mattress pad, or this waterproof mattress protector made with Tencel (EUCALYPTUS fibers).
(Unlike cotton, bamboo and eucalyptus fibers can be grown sustainably and without the use of pesticides, though it’s not always the case.)
➣ GLIDER / ROCKER
First thing to consider is whether you’ll even need a glider / rocker.
Sometimes, bringing SIMPLICITY into your life can help you avoid toxic baby items.
If you’d like to purchase a non-toxic glider or rocker for your nursery, look for one that’s made with solid wood, zero- or low-VOC finishes and glues, and foam that hasn’t been treated with chemical flame retardants. (You may need to contact the manufacturer for details like this.)
➣ CHANGING PAD, NURSING PILLOW
Most changing pads and nursing pillows are made with polyurethane foam which is typically treated with chemical flame retardants. Many changing pads also contain PVC/vinyl waterproofing layer.
Avoid changing pads and nursing pillows made with polyurethane foam (especially non-certified).
Look for PVC/vinyl-free changing pads made without treated foam like this one, this one, or these, and safer nursing pillows like this one with BUCKWHEAT hulls filling, this nursing pillow with WOOL batting, or this LATEX pregnancy/nursing pillow.
➣ NURSERY FURNITURE
Furniture can contain all kinds of harmful chemicals like heavy metals, phthalates, or volatile organic compounds (VOCs).
Avoid furniture made with particleboard (chipboard) which is a notorious source of formaldehyde and other VOCs that can off-gas for YEARS.
While you can’t always get to the bottom of which glues and finishes have been used, you can eliminate a good amount of toxic chemicals by buying furniture made from unfinished solid wood. (You can leave it as is, or finish with beeswax, pure tung oil, walnut oil, linseed oil, shellac, or zero-/low-VOC water-based finish.
Look for certifications like GREENGUARD GOLD, GREENGUARD, or GREEN SEAL which require furniture production with safer, low-emitting VOCs.
- Paint – use zero-VOC (or at least low-VOC) interior paint / primer.
- Window treatments – plastic blinds can emit chemicals, especially when exposed to sun/heat. Some older types of blinds contain lead (check with a simple lead test and get instant results). Curtains and drapes should be made with natural fibers – fabrics break down over time (especially when exposed to sunlight) and can release harmful chemicals.
- Flooring – choose safer hardwood floors with area rugs over wall-to-wall carpeting if you can. Carpets are a major contributor to indoor air pollution, especially when brand new.
- Timing – ideally, start any work early and finish well ahead of bringing your baby home to let all new furnishings or applications air out for as long as possible.
Toxic baby products #7 – BABY GEAR
Strollers may be made with materials treated with various toxic chemicals, but you’ll also want to pay attention to how practical your stroller will be.
I recommend choosing a few strollers that fulfill your criteria and asking manufacturers about any chemicals you’re concerned about (fire retardants, formaldehyde and other VOCs, heavy metals, phthalates, vinyl and PVC, AZO dyes, or BPA, for example). Due to always changing manufacturing practices, this is the best way to get up-to-date product information.
We bought a Baby Jogger stroller 9 years ago even though we weren’t sure whether it was free of any chemicals of concern. We got our stroller simply because it was the only stroller that checked off ALL of our requirements back then. The stroller we (somehow STILL) own – Baby Jogger City Elite (similar in design to the Baby Jogger Summit X3 stroller) has since been discontinued, but Baby Jogger makes other great strollers.
I love Baby Jogger strollers because most have adjustable handlebars and are fully reclining (AWESOME for diaper changes on the go!), they have an oversized canopy, huge storage basket, they fold super easy, and they’re a great quality. Baby Jogger strollers have a very generous weight limit, too.
➣ CAR SEATS
Even though car seats are no longer required to be treated with flame retardants (as of 2017), some car seat manufacturers still treat theirs.
Watch out for brominated (HBCD, TBC, UBC) and chlorinated flame retardants (TDCPP and TCPP).
Look for non-halogenated, phosphate-based flame retardants instead, or Oeko-Tex certified fabrics.
OR, consider buying a car seat made with WOOL which is naturally flame resistant. UPPABABY’s “JORDAN” and “HENRY” car seats from the MESA collection (but ONLY these two models!!! – click on the pictures from the options shown) are made with wool and contain no chemical fire retardants.
➣ BABY CARRIERS
Ergonomic* baby carriers made with natural fabrics (preferably organic) and without foam are ideal.
(*Baby carriers that let your baby dangle by the crotch don’t support baby’s spine and hips properly.)
I’m a huge fan of the original 3-position Ergo Baby Carrier. It has been one of my most used baby items, and one of my favorite baby items to use.
2 kids and 9 years of baby-wearing later, the Ergo Baby carrier is still in an unbelievably great shape, and I actually miss wearing my babies…a lot!
➣ PACK ‘N PLAY/BOUNCERS/SWINGS
Avoid non-certified polyurethane foam, and synthetic fabrics whenever possible.
If a product doesn’t specifically state that it does NOT contain flame retardants, assume it does.
➣ ACTIVITY GYMS & MATS
The safest choices are natural materials like cotton (preferably organic), natural latex / rubber, or cork.
Avoid flame retardants (check with the manufacturer), and PVC.
If I were to have more babies, I would probably use a large thick blanket made with natural fibers, or a simple cork mat like this one.
If I could justify the cost, I’d consider getting a play mat made with certified-organic cotton (cover and filling), or something like this oversized baby play mat from Baby Mushroom which is wrapped in organic cotton, and contains vinyl/PVC-free waterproof layer and bio-foam that hasn’t been treated with flame retardants.
Whew… I think we’re done here…???
That’s quite a lengthy list of toxic baby products to avoid, isn’t it?
Just so we’re clear – my intention is NOT to freak you out.
I’m very health-conscious but I also realize that it’s virtually impossible to keep our babies safe from every harsh chemical out there.
Besides, it’s super easy to go nuts when you start researching the heck out of things. There has to be balance.
Use this information as a guide in the areas you’re most concerned about, and replace or not get in the first place as little or as many toxic baby products as you’re comfortable with.
Safer alternatives can sometimes be pricey!
Every time I feel the nagging urge to buy a safer, more expensive product, I think of spending the money as investing in my kids’ health.
Related: If you’re looking for ways to save money on baby items, read about these 23 unnecessary baby items you might not need after all!