Green playroom 101
Remove toxins from kids’ play areas
Thursday, April 16, 2009
Odds are your child's room is the most toxic room in your house.
The furniture is probably made with particle board-plywood held together by glue that uses formaldehyde.
That brand new carpet, floor and paint are emitting volatile organic compounds, often carbon-based molecules that vaporize into the air and form ozone.
The baby bottles and plastic toys are leaching Bisphenol A, which acts like estrogen and some studies say may interfere with ovulation, reproduction and brain-cell development. The lotion and sunscreen on the bassinette are filled with fragrances made with phthalates, which are linked to birth defects, cancer and diseases of the kidneys and liver. Your wee ones' jammies and mattresses are infested with the flame retardant Polybrominated Diphenyl Ethers (PBDEs) that are potent neurotoxins.
"It's pretty scary when you first start looking into these things," says Manda Aufochs Gillespie, otherwise known as the Green Mama of Rogers Park (www.thegreenmama.com).
The air in your house is already at least five times less pure than outdoor air, she says. At the same time, small children are far more susceptible to the toxic air in a home; they breathe in 50 percent more air per pound of body weight than adults do, which makes it harder for them to detoxify.
"Nurseries and playrooms are usually the first thing people renovate when a new child is on the way," Gillespie says. "Yet these renovations often come with an uncalculated cost to the child's health."
Gillespie and professional organizer Maureen Gainer Reilly host workshops on how to house a clean, green and organized playroom.
Here are some likely candidates for eviction:
• Toss out toys made in China, Gillespie advises. That should open up some shelf space. Eighty percent of all toys in the U.S. are made in China, and all of the toys recently recalled for dangerous lead levels were made in China, she says.
• Reduce the number of battery-operated toys because batteries are sources of mercury, lead, cadmium and other dangerous heavy metals.
• Beware of plastic toys. If you do buy plastic, look for safer ones, such as those labeled with a "2," "4" or "5." Avoid all vinyl, sometimes labeled "3" or "V," though most PVC products are not labeled. When in question, call the company or find a similar product clearly labeled PVC-, lead- and phthalate-free, she recommends.
• Your dry cleaner uses perchloroethylene so purge dry clean-only clothes.
Fill the new space with hand-crafted toys made from natural materials like wood and wool from small, reliable companies made in countries with high standards of safety like those in Europe or the United States.
Now that you have weeded out the bad toys and gotten your playroom green, use natural, nontoxic products to clean up. Some of the best cleaners are the safest and cheapest: baking soda, vinegar, lemon and soap and water. Finally, create simple storage systems that children can understand.
"Model these systems on school and you will get the same behavior," Gainer Reilly says. "Children put things away at school."
Green virtual spaces
• Check on toy safety at
• Find green gift suggestions at
• Look for toy recalls at www.cpsc.gov/cpscpub/prerel/category/toy.html.
• Get green parenting information at www.thegreenmama.com.
• Learn about ingredients of cosmetics, soaps, lotions and
• White distilled vinegar can disinfect, deodorize and dissolve tarnish and gummy substances. It can be used for everything from softening cotton diapers to cleaning your hardwood floors.
• Lemon juice can cut through grease, lighten stains and polish metal.
• Baking soda can eliminate odors and clean. It's good on the sink, tub, oven and counter top. Sprinkle it on the carpet and vacuum to remove odors. Clean drains by pouring ½ cup baking soda down the drain, followed by 1 cup vinegar. Wait 15 minutes and then pour hot water down.
• Borax can be used to kill mold. (It is toxic when swallowed, so exercise caution.) You also can pour 1 cup of borax into the toilet and leave overnight for extra-strength cleaning.
Source: Children's Health Environmental Coalition