I naively thought that buying a crib would be as easy as finding a new sweater. You try on a few different styles and colors, check what materials are used, consider the price and make a decision. Right? Not so much.
Sadly, most cribs on the market contain toxic materials. Since infants are especially vulnerable to toxins, this news is quite concerning. Studies have shown that toxins found in baby products can cause hormone disruption, lowered IQ, reduced fertility, immune dysfunction, cancer and more. These learnings are what inspired me to make a carefully-researched decision about our crib purchase since our baby will be spending most of his time in it during his first few years.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
First, let’s talk about what to look for in a crib.
Cribs should be:
- Made of certified sustainable wood and hardwood only (no pressed or engineered wood – including particleboard, plywood, fiberboard and medium density fiberboard, all which typically contain added formaldehyde)
- Finished or painted with a water-based, non-toxic substance that contains no VOCs (or better yet, get one that’s unfinished)
- Lead and phthalate free
Seems simple enough, right? Unfortunately, this criteria is harder to find than you’d think.
Most cribs on the market are structurally safe due to government regulations. However, the government is doing very little to regulate toxins in furniture, mainly volatile organic compounds (VOCs). There are currently over 80,000 unregulated industrial chemicals on the market in the US; and the regulations that are in place are considered too lenient by many experts.
Scary, isn’t it?
WHAT TO AVOID
In general, these are the chemicals that should be avoided:
- VOCs (volatile organic compounds) – VOCs are gases emitted from certain solids or liquids, including paints, lacquer and finishes used on cribs. Concentration levels of VOCs are up to 10 times higher indoors than outdoors, and can have both short- and long-term adverse health effects.
- Lead – Scientists have found that no level of lead is considered “safe” for children. Even small amounts of lead can effect a child’s ability to learn. Lead is commonly found in wood finishes and coatings.
- Phthalates – Studies show evidence that phthalates could affect the reproductive system. Phthalates are used in in hundreds of consumer and household products, including wood finishes.
- Formaldehyde – Formaldehyde is often added to engineered wood as a bonding agent and is present in many glues used for crib construction. It has been classified as a known human carcinogen (cancer-causing substance) by the International Agency for Research on Cancer. It’s important to note that formaldehyde is a chemical that occurs naturally in the environment. The key is to look for no “added” formaldehyde.
- Polyurethane – Polyurethane is notoriously toxic. This substance can be found in some wood finishes.
If you do happen to go with a crib that contains some of these chemicals, another option is to set it outside in the open air for several weeks to allow it to off-gas. You could also open the windows of the nursery, turn on some fans, and allow it to off-gas inside for several months. However, avoiding these chemicals altogether is the safest route.
COMMON PITFALLS AND MISCONCEPTIONS
Now let’s get into the common pitfalls of naïve crib shopping. While these claims may sound good, they don’t tell the full story.
- The “non-toxic” finish claim. Contrary to the claim, non-toxic does not mean “no toxins.” This simply means that the manufacturer has met federal safety standards for the maximum allowable levels of certain toxins. However, those standards don’t prohibit the use of VOCs nor do they adequately regulate heavy metals and other harmful chemicals.
- The “water-based” claim. Although water-based finishes are better than petroleum-based, they can still emit VOCs and contain carcinogens and heavy metals.
- Lead and phthalate SAFE. “Safe” does not mean “free.” Again, this only means that the manufacturer has met the federal safety standards, but the product can still contain low levels of these toxins.
QUESTIONS TO ASK
Calling the manufacturer is the best way to get the most reliable answers. Product labels and descriptions are often not enough. When calling the manufacturer or a store, be weary of customer service representatives who are trying to please their customers. They often don’t know all the details and will tell you what they think will make you happy. Don’t trust these guys! Instead, you should contact the manufacturer directly and speak to a technical expert.
Information to get from the manufactures:
- Directly ask if the wood and finish is lead, phthalate and formaldahyde free if it’s not obvious in the product description.
- If a product claims to use a VOC free finish, ask the manufacturer about their testing protocols for heavy metals before being sold. Make sure they’re using a 3rd party testing lab.
- Ensure that the manufacturer is testing the finishes on all their production runs. You do not want to end up with a black sheep that’s been contaminated.
- Find out where they get their lumber and if they follow sustainable practices.
- If they are using engineered wood or pressed wood, find out how it is manufactured. In some cases, they may be using recycled wood waste and a formaldehyde-free adhesive (this is okay).
- Ask if their glues are formaldehyde free.
It’s also helpful to read the Q&As on the seller or manufacturer’s site carefully. Many times, you’ll find that other savvy parents have already asked these questions above.
Okay, so now you’re probably wondering what brands meet all of the criteria listed above. I wish I had a simple answer, but unfortunately I learned that finding a crib is a labor-intensive research project. Thankfully, some other diligent bloggers have already done some of the legwork.
A solid wood crib is the best way to go, but it will typically cost at least $500. While this is a big investment, it will be more durable than others made with engineered wood and will carry a higher resale value. You can also rest assured knowing that your baby isn’t surrounded by toxins.
The Non-Toxic Nurse recommends the Pacific Rim (starts at $800). This is a pricey proposition, but it’s one of the only cribs that’s made of 100% solid wood with a finish that consists of food-grade tung oil and beeswax.
A popular low-cost option is the Ikea Sniglar ($69.99), which is solid beech wood crib that comes unfinished. Although the mattress platform is made of pressboard, this is preferable to it being used throughout the crib.
The Daily Green also offers some good advice on buying non-toxic cribs, but many of the brands highlighted in the post are over $1,000.
Green Cradle is another brand that was frequently mentioned in many of the sources I came across. It’s made of solid wood and completely chemical free. Their transparency is also quite impressive (which scores them major points!).
Which cribs were our contenders? Here you go:
Giggle Better Basics Harper Crib – We liked the style of this crib and it was within our price range ($595). Although the description says it’s made of engineered wood (typically a red flag), the Harper Collection uses only water-based and non-toxic (meaning no-VOC) paints and glues. This collection is also made from sustainably harvested timber and is manufactured in a facility that utilizes timber waste rather than electricity to heat their timber kilns and workshops with remaining waste used to make an eco-friendly alternative to fossil fuels. I was impressed by their answers in the Q&A section. This is a reasonably-priced and attractive option.
Babyletto Skip Crib – The price and modern look was right ($395), but unfortunately this company was not. This is a popular brand that uses sustainable New Zealand pine wood, but it contains MDF and paints/finishes that are “lead and phthalate SAFE” (not FREE) with “undetectable levels of formaldehyde.” I thought we could do better than this, so our search continued.
Just out of curiosity, I also contacted Pottery Barn about the Kendall Fixed Gate Crib ($599). While this is a popular choice, I found their answer to my product inquiry a bit suspicious. I asked is the finish was lead and pthalate free, and this was their response:
“All PBK products meet or exceed US, Canadian and recognized industry standards, as well as Williams-Sonoma testing standards, for safety and toxicity (including lead). All PBK products are tested by an independent laboratory to ensure that your child is using products that meet our high PBK standards. We do not share specific test results, as they are a proprietary part of our development process.”
Really? Their safety test results are proprietary? No thank you.
OUR WINNER (MY RECOMMENDATION) – Nest Crib from Room & Board ($699)
Not only did we love the solid look of this crib, but it also met all of our standards. El Greco Woodworking was one of the most transparent companies I’ve come across during this process. I spoke with the owner and learned that their cribs have NO lead or phthalates. They buy their lumber from the Appalachian Hardwood Manufactures, Inc, which is a sustainable and carbon negative company (verified by the U.S. Forest Service). All of their coatings are non-toxic and free of lead and phthalates. After their lacquer coating cures, which takes 30 days in warm, moving air, it no longer off-gases because the solvent has dissipated and the coating becomes chemically inert. Even the MDF they use on other cribs is Certified Green, meaning it has no added formaldehyde. Everything is crafted in their factories from rough lumber to the finished product. All made in the USA.
A FEW CLOSING THOUGHTS
Whatever decision you make, it should be based on your personal preference and needs. There are many factors to consider when buying a crib, including price, style, quality, durability, convertibility into a toddler bed, etc. I hope you find these suggestions helpful as you begin your crib hunting process. Good luck!
All comments are welcome and encouraged. We can all learn from each other.