Eco-babyproofing: Safely Removing Toxins from Your Home

Protect your baby with our guide to getting rid of toxins in your home.

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It's called the "nesting instinct"—that sudden urge to tidy, purge, organize and decorate. But getting your home ready for your newborn isn't just about putting together the crib and washing all those teeny tiny clothes. It also means hunting down the hidden hazardous chemicals that have been shown to affect your baby's growth and development. Think of it as environmental babyproofing.

To help you get started, here's a room-by-room checklist for getting toxins out of the home, so you and your baby will have the best space to grow in.

The Nursery

Paint: While chemicals like bisphenol A (BPA) and phthalates get more press, one of the most toxic substances in the home is as old as the Earth itself. Lead, used in paint before 1978, can damage your child's developing brain; scientists believe there is no safe exposure level.

If you live in an older building, contact your state lead poisoning prevention program to have your paint tested, particularly if you notice any flaking or peeling (they can also help you decide how to abate the hazard).

When painting, ask for paints and finishes with low or no volatile organic compounds (VOCs) to keep neurotoxic and carcinogenic compounds, such as benzene, toluene and formaldehyde, out of the air you and your baby breathe.

Baby Products: Flame retardants can be found in baby gear, such as crib mattresses, changing table pads, glider cushions, sleeping wedges, strollers, car seats and even nursing pillows—anything containing polyurethane foam. (This type of foam may contain flame retardants thanks to Technical Bulletin 117, an obscure California regulation that is complied with nationwide.)

Studies show that flame retardant chemicals migrate into the dust around us, which then gets swallowed when we touch our mouths or eat— babies are particularly vulnerable because they put everything into their mouths. Exposure to the compounds has been linked to lowered IQs, learning delays, cancer and reproductive problems.

While labels don't always tell the whole story, avoid products with tags that say they comply with California's Technical Bulletin 117 and say no thanks to foam- filled hand-me-downs.

The good news: California is in the process of revising its regulation and many companies that produce baby gear have already taken flame retardants out of their products, including Britax, Boppy, BabyLuxe, BabyBjörn, graco and Orbit.

Keep Reading: The bathroom and kitchen >>

The Bathroom

Tub and Shower: The headache-inducing stink of a new polyvinyl chloride (PVC) shower curtain is caused by as many as 108 different toxic compounds, which can continue to linger for months. Clear the air by substituting shower curtains made of machine-washable polyester, nylon or less-toxic ethylene vinyl acetate (EVA) or polyethylene vinyl acetate (PEVA).

Toss any old rubber duckies and make sure new tub toys are made without PVC, phthalates or BPA, chemicals that have the potential to disrupt the development of your baby's brain and reproductive system both before and after birth.

Lotions and Potions: Some of the most toxic chemicals in your home are hidden inside shampoos, soaps and other personal care products. Ingredients to avoid include phthalates—linked to birth defects—and fragrances, linked to asthma.

Make sure to get rid of soaps, toothpaste, mouthwash and other cosmetics containing triclosan or triclocarban, both of which could interfere with placental function and infant development. To find the best products for both you and your baby, peruse the Environmental Working group's Skin Deep website (ewg.org/skindeep).

The Kitchen

Cleaners: Products that promise to kill germs, remove mildew and eliminate odors are often loaded with chemicals and solvents that can trigger asthma in young children or meddle with a pregnant woman's sensitive endocrine system and her baby's developing brain.

Toss anything that contains glycol ethers, ammonia, ammonium chloride compounds, triclosan, triclocarbon, pine or citrus oil, or ethanolamines. Jettison air fresheners, which can contain substances linked to birth defects and asthma.

Keep air fresh by opening windows and select cleaners certified by EcoLogo (ecologo.org) or given the green light by the Environmental Working group (ewg.org).

Pantry: Because the BPA in cans leaches into the contents, clear out the canned food on your shelves, unless it's labeled BPA-free, and choose soups, broths and sauces packaged in nontoxic TetraPaks instead.

You'll also want to sort through plastic water bottles, cups and storage containers and toss any that are scratched or that are made from #7 or #3 plastic, which can contain BPA or PVC, respectively. Replace them with stainless steel water bottles and microwavable glass storage containers. One sigh of relief: The FDA now requires baby bottles and sippy cups to be BPA-free.

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