Rid your child’s room of toxins and allergens by choosing healthier products.
Children of all ages treasure their bedrooms – it’s their refuge, their castle, their playroom and their safe haven. They spend as much time there as they can but is this space actually healthy for them?
Kids’ rooms seem innocuous – a floor, four walls, a bed, desk, bookshelves and a closet. What’s unhealthy about any of that? You’d be surprised at the number of toxins and allergens that may be present and to which your child may unwittingly be exposed. That exposure can lead to negative health effects sooner or later. Read on to find out where the hazards are and how to avoid them.
Hardwood a Good Choice
Typically, the floor in kids’ rooms is covered in carpet. While this may help to soften the bumps of roughhousing, it’s actually an unhealthy option for your child’s bedroom. That’s because carpets are made from nylon, which is manufactured using petrochemicals and formaldehyde glues. Carpet underlay is also bound together with formaldehyde glues. These substances create a toxic chemical air quality issue.
The air quality problem is compounded when the formaldehyde glue in the carpet lining begins to break down, as it does naturally in older carpets. As the glues age and dry, the chemicals become airborne and are easily inhaled or ingested. The breakdown of formaldehyde in the air has been linked to nose and throat irritation, nervous system damage and cancer.
The other concern about carpets is that they attract dust. Studies have found that carpeted rooms have higher particulate counts (dust levels) than rooms with solid flooring. The airborne contaminants and the dust from carpets can be triggers for asthma.
If you are unable to get rid of the carpet in your child’s room, then vacuum it well. That means using a sealed HEPA (High Efficiency Particulate Air) filter vacuum cleaner.
So what type of flooring is best for a child’s room? Hardwood, bamboo and cork floorings are all good choices because when they are sealed with natural sealers, (cork and bamboo come presealed), or oiled, there is no chemical off gassing. If you want to use throw rugs on any of the flooring, make sure they are made of cotton or jute and air them out frequently.
Avoid VOC Paint
Walls are one of the biggest areas of concern in your child’s room because both paint and wallpaper can present health hazards. Most paints contain VOCs (volatile organic compounds) – toxic chemicals that enable the paint to stick to the wall and to be cleaned easily. VOCs are associated with a wide range of health effects, from eye, nose and throat irritation, headache and nausea to liver damage and cancer. Children should not be present if you are painting with VOC paint. In addition, the room should be well-ventilated, using a fan to draw air out of the window. VOC paint presents the greatest risk when it is wet but even when dry, it will emit toxins for months to come.
Wallpaper, is not a healthy solution to paint because the glues required to hang it are toxic and, like paint, will off-gas for months even after the wallpaper has dried.
Luckily, there is an alternative. Instead of VOC paint, parents can opt for low or no VOC paints. Almost every paint store now carries a version due to the demand. (editors note: visit treehugger.com for a list of low to zero VOC paint manufacturers)
An even healthier option than low VOC paint is to use natural plaster over the drywall in your child’s room. Natural plaster helps regulate indoor humidity levels (controlling moisture helps control odours and potential mould growth) and offers a textural, tactile surface. Because these beautiful troweled finishes are safe and non-toxic, kids can help apply them.
Desks, Dressers and Bookshelves
Furniture for kids’ rooms is often made from particleboard, which is glued together using formaldehyde glues. These pressed wood products will off-gas within the room. To remedy the health concerns, try moving to solid wood furniture. Solid wood is always the best option for health, and ultimately will endure the daily workout dished out by kids. If you can’t afford new furniture, look for antiques or unfinished wood that can be refinished to suit your child’s room.
Keep Dust Mites Away
Our children often sleep in hand-me-down single beds or old crib mattresses. But these old beds, and old pillows too, have a big problem – dust mites and their faeces, which are serious allergens. Dust mites prefer to live in dark, moist environments and feed upon their favourite food – dead skin cells. Old mattresses and pillows fit the bill nicely. In fact, the older the mattress and pillow, the larger the dust mite family.
The best solution is to buy a new mattress and box spring. Choose mattresses made of natural materials that inhibit dust mites and don’t off-gas, such as cotton futons and natural latex mattresses.
There are ways to rid your child’s old bed and mattress of the dreaded dust mites. Instead of providing the dark and moist environment that bed bugs like, provide a light, dry environment. Each day, get your child to pull back the covers during the day to allow the mattress, pillow and bedding to dry out. (Your kids will love not having to make the bed. And you will get over it in time.) When the bed dries out, the dust mites die off.
Periodically, you should also take the bedding and the mattress outside in the sun. The sun is a natural bleach and will air and dry out the mattress, sending the bed bugs scurrying. This simple remedy will reduce the allergy-inducing dust mite population dramatically. (It also gives you a chance to clean out whatever may be under your kids’ beds.)
Tackling Closet Mayhem
Damp clothes provide an ideal place for mould and bacteria to flourish and shoes harbour outdoor pollens and pesticides. Your child’s closet can be a virtual haven for allergens, such as mould, mildew and bacteria but with some simple steps, you can keep their closet and the health issues that come with it under control.
What to do? Kids don’t like to hang up their clothes, so try putting more shelves in the closet for them to use. Put the laundry hamper outside of the closet so the moisture from sweaty clothes can evaporate in the room instead and keep shoes out of the bedroom.
At the same time, you can improve the air flow in your child’s closet by putting vents on the closet door or using bi-fold doors with louvres. The drying effects of air movement will help remove trapped moisture from the closet.
A Healthy Place to Be
Because of their rapid development and growing bodies, children absorb more toxins than we do as adults. We need to ensure that their bedrooms really are a safe and healthy sanctuary for them. Following some or all of the above suggestions will help you create one for them.
Stephen Collette is an indoor environmental inspector and building consultant living in Lakefield. He is one of Canada’s expert’s in the new and vitally important field of environmental building biology. In other words, Stephen helps Canadians live healthier lives by helping them create healthier homes.
Contact Stephen at:
tel: 705 652 5159
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