The other day I was talking to someone on Twitter. She was looking for wooden bunk beds and I said, ‘Hey, try and get ‘em secondhand.’ Not just because of cost (though heaven only knows that’s a big consideration) but because you won’t be running the risk of your child breathing in nasty toxic chemicals.
It reminded me of when I was writing my little book Spirit of the Nursery. It struck me that parents always want the best, the freshest, the newest, for their babies and yet, sadly, newest and brightest and sparkliest often isn’t best for babies. It’s ironic that many parents, acting purely out of beautiful best intentions, may unwittingly be providing a toxic nightmare for their baby.
I hate to be alarmist but I figure in this case ignorance really isn't bliss. Reports state we’re exposed to up to 300 volatile organic (carbon-based) compounds within the home. It’s thought that thousands of cancer deaths annually are brought about by indoor air pollutants – the hoard of chemicals that quietly seep into our homes. And the greatest threat comes from new materials – from paint, soft furnishings, carpets, furniture, wallpaper – exactly what you’re probably planning for that gorgeous new nursery, huh?
Sadly, it’s a real concern as babies are even more vulnerable than adults to toxins. They’re smaller and have faster respiratory and metabolic rates, so they inhale pollutants far more easily and swiftly, and the build-up in their bodies is more concentrated.
So, what do you do? Keep it all as natural as possible really. Look out for paints which are water-, milk-, plant- and mineral-based. Sure, they aren’t as mark-resistant as your average vinyl matt but who cares when they offer peace of mind. Choose natural thinners, such as linseed oil and pine resin turpentine. Recycled wood floors (carefully sanded) are lovely – lino and cork are also non-toxic. Natural floor coverings (sisal, coir, seagrass etc) look great but are harsh on the knees and are a pure horror to clean (ever tried picking playdough out of seagrass? I don’t recommend it).
Don’t be sniffy about buying secondhand furniture. Sand it down, clean it up and it’ll be good as new (and have more character). Please, above all, avoid MDF. I dunno if you know but they use formaldehyde in the manufacture of pressed wood products and it is released from the products over time – a process known as outgassing. How long? Nobody’s quite sure but five years, possibly even ten, maybe even more. What effects can it have? Watery eyes, burning sensations in the eyes and throat, nausea, difficulty breathing. It may even be a trigger for asthma. And it’s not just used in MDF – formaldehyde outgases from many new products – carpet, carpet adhesives, and some fabrics. L
Funny thing, while I was writing this, a press release pinged in from VUPbaby. They hadn’t crossed my radar as, well, my own baby is coming up fourteen now. J But I like their ethos. They were concerned about the amount of toxins and chemicals, not just in nursery stuff but in children’s toys and general products. They’re celebrating their third birthday this month and are offering lots of their best-selling products at a pound a shot. Check ‘em out. www.vupbaby.co.uk
You might also be interested to know that Spirit of the Nursery is now available as an ebook for Kindle. It’s not an interior design book but more a musing on how to provide your baby with the best possible environment for his or her early years. It includes a lot more safety tips but also more esoteric information on providing a safe space – physically, emotionally and spiritually – for babydom. Obviously it doesn’t have pictures but I’m making up for the lack with a Pinterest board with all kinds of ideas and inspirations. Hope you like it. J