The Tot Q&A: The best Non-toxic baby & parenting products

Choosing safe and non-toxic baby products can be confusing and overwhelming. There are so many issues to consider – BPA-free, lead-free, toxic dyes, flame retardants, organic cotton vs. regular cotton… Tot Expert & Green Living Consultant, Aida Garcia Toledo answers your pressing questions about choosing safer products for your family

Q: magg_jo Any good recommendations for baby-appropriate sunscreens? If not, any good tips for baby being in the sun?

A: If your baby is old enough to wear sunscreen the key is to avoid:  oxybenzone, retinyl palmitate and aerosol sprays (the sprays do not go on as evenly). I like:  Babyganics Pure Mineral Sunscreen Stick, SPF 50+, California Baby, Goddess Garden and Think Baby – these have worked well for my own kids. Generally speaking, it’s always a good idea to avoid the strongest hours of sun exposure (10am – 3pm), seek shade and get your little ones used to wearing hats!  Also, protective clothing is also a good idea to protect your little one’s skin from the sun.

Q: eelliott4984 Any suggestions for non-toxic window window treatments? Non-toxic area rugs? 

A: When it comes to window treatments and rugs, untreated natural fibers is what you should look for.  Avoid stain resistant coating, moth proofing and fire retardants.  Specifically for area rugs choose natural fibers like wool, sisal, jute and avoid rugs that are hand tufted. A hand tufted rug it is a rug created by pushing wool or acrylic yarn through a primary backing, creating a ‘tufts’. The ‘tufts’ are then glued and held in place using a latex glue – which can give off some pretty toxic VOC (ie that new rug smell you might be familiar with). @thetot sells some really great area rugs by Lorena Canals. They come in beautiful designs and are machine washable!

Q: mm.deegan When is organic cotton worth it vs. not worth it?! Do you have any favorite brands ? Also any favorite brands for baby plates, cups, etc

A: The thing with regular cotton is that it is the most heavily pesticide-treated crop in the world. Many of the pesticides used on cotton are known carcinogens. Organic cotton farming does not use the chemicals that have been found in some less expensive cotton clothing like NPE and phthalates – both of which have hormone-disrupting properties at low levels.  Some chemicals will wash out with wear but no one knows how many washes it takes … so is it worth it? I would say as often as possible for newborn clothing, sheets, sleepwear and underwear (for all ages – kids and adults), toys (especially those placed in mouth), swaddles and pregnancy gear. Look for items that contain GOTS Certified cotton.

I like glass, wood, bamboo and stainless steel and sometimes high grade silicone for kids’ dishes, cups etc…. There are so many great brands now a days!  Among my favorites @thetot include: Petits et Mamans, Avanchy and Miniware

Q: roses4elizabeth It’s hard to find any mom products that smell decent (lotion, deodorant, etc) that are free of toxic ingredients. Any advice on how to stay smelling feminine while not exposing ourselves and our little ones to harmful ingredients?

A: What a great question – Indeed, synthetic fragrance in everyday products is a huge source of toxic chemical exposure. Fragrances are still considered ‘trade secrets’ and any one fragrance can contain dozens of chemicals that have never been tested.  What we do know is that – at a minimum – artificial fragrance will contain hormone disrupting chemicals which we definitely want to stay away from. Many great smelling, non-toxic products exist today without synthetic fragrances – all scented using pure essential oil blends.  When looking at the ingredients list avoid anything that says “ perfume” or “fragrance” – if you are into making your own, you can experiment using pure 100% organic essential oils. Some combos you can try include:  grapefruit, ginger and vetiver, sweet orange, ylang ylang and sandalwood, or peppermint, rosemary, lemon, sage and juniper. Another option is placing a couple of drops of your favorite essential oil into your favorite non-toxic fragrance free hand cream.

Q: a.massel Any recommendations on arts and crafts supplies? Crayons, markers, paints?

A: Most parents don’t realize that there are a lot of art supplies being marketed to children that actually still contain some potentially harmful chemicals like heavy metals, VOCs like formaldehyde, biocides, petrochemicals and phthalates. Whew! Generally speaking you should look for water based paints, natural/plant based pigments, Natural soy and beeswax crayons, and formaldehyde free, VOC free and odor free.  If in doubt, request the Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDSs). You can reject the most hazardous products by screening out those that describe serious health effects from the product or its ingredients. @thetot stocks a range of trustworthy arts & crafts brand including: Natural Earth Paint, Wee Can Too and Eco-Kids. OMY and Liqui-Mark markers are good too.

Q: emmawoodyard Should I be concerned about pergo flooring in our house and the impact it has on my three month old baby? Is there anything I can do to minimize the impact?

A: Pergo flooring contains and thus gives off small amount of formaldehyde – this is common for many composite wood products and engineered flooring.  Their website says they are CARB 2 compliant (this is the most recent and strictest California formaldehyde emission standard. Also the strictest standards in the world). This is good news. Still, I would make sure to keep dust at a minimum inside your home and open windows frequently to air out your indoor air… Both of these actions are important not only because of any possible formaldehyde that might be released into the air from flooring and other composite wood products (furniture etc) but due to indoor chemical build up from other sources too!

Q: jenpetkun What are the best plates/bowls for toddlers. Something without chemicals but also dishwasher safe and durable?

A: The safest materials for plates/bowls for toddlers are glass (with silicone sleeve) wood, bamboo, stainless steel and high grade silicone.  Of these the ones that I would feel most comfortable placing continuously in the dishwasher is the glass option. Luckily there are great products for toddlers that are glass and safe… My kids have both used glass plates (Brinware and other brands) and cups since they were toddlers without any issues. The key is to get a silicone sleeve that protects well if your child is a thrower! Check out the dishware and food storage selection @thetot.

Q: kdavison13 This may not apply, but I’m trying to replace my household cleaning products – specifically for counters and hardwood floors. Getting ready for a mobile baby who will be crawling and putting everything in his mouth!! Any recommendations would be much appreciated.

A: YES!! It is so so important to make a switch to safer cleaning products especially when getting ready for a mobile baby! The air inside of our homes tends to be much more contaminated than the air outside (even in cities) and much of that is due to conventional cleaning products. The ideal solution is home-made cleaners. While this might sound daunting it really is very easy.  A great all-purpose cleaner that is 100% safe is mixing 50% white vinegar with 50% water. If the smell bothers you – you can add a couple of drops of your favorite pure organic essential oil (tea tree oil adds antimicrobial power).  Bathroom surfaces that need scrubbing power can be cleaned with a baking soda and vinegar mixture. IF you prefer buying your cleaners some brands I use and trust are:  Bon Ami, some Seventh Generation, Molly Suds, Rockin Green and Dr. Bronners. The Environmental Working Group’s Cleaners Database is a great resource to find new non-toxic cleaning products too. Finally, consider implementing a ‘shoe-off’ policy (leaving shoes at the door) at home once your baby becomes mobile to avoid bringing harmful chemicals like pesticides, heavy metal neurotoxins, petrochemicals and fecal material into your home!

Q: neffrodite What plates would you recommend that can tolerate heat without seeping chemicals into the food AND are also toddler resistant (shatter proof)? You know… like when your toddler is done with their meal so they throw everything on the floor versus simply stating that they’re done…

A: I totally understand where you are coming from @neffrodite – The ideal material for kids plate that is 100% heatproof is glass… With a good silicone sleeve this should be safe to use and shatterproof (I like how the Brinware silicone sleeves completely protect the glass). If you don’t feel comfortable with glass, stainless steel and untreated (or naturally polished/stained) wood and bamboo are both good options that tolerate heat from food without a problem. Silicone is fine for warm food but I wouldn’t place it in the oven or in a dishwasher (I am just extra cautious about that – in theory silicone is safe under 400F but I prefer not to expose it to high heat of the dishwasher). @thetot has some great options in these materials in their Feeding section!

Q: kdrachman I need some advice on pregnancy safe skin care… It’s SO hard to find stuff that works and is safe for baby and myself. I’m specifically looking for a moisturizer!
A: Pregnancy is THE most important time to avoid toxic chemicals. Everything that mama is exposed to, means that the developing baby will be exposed to as well, and the fetal period is when baby is the most vulnerable. Because of this I like to advise pregnant women to use the most natural products available.  For moisturizing this would be coconut oil or almond oil. It might seem greasy but usually your skin absorbs it really quickly. Coconut oil has the added benefit of containing Vitamin E. If you just are not into using pure oils there are various great non-toxic skin care lines today. I like Annmarie Gianni Skin Care and Mama Earth. The Tot also has a great range of products by Erbaviva

Q: erika_michele_ Advice on electromagnetic frequency and WiFi 5g for developing babies in terms of crib placement? Are latex mattresses safe for baby? And is wild rubber that much safer when used in products like shoes? Also should parents choose to buy products from certain countries, since there are stricter health restrictions in specific areas? 

A: @erika_michele_   you have some important questions here so lets address them one by one. 

EMF: The dangers of constant long term exposure to even small amounts of EMF radiation is a topic of much debate. EMF from mobile phones, laptops and tablets and WiFi emitting devices have, however, been linked to fertility problems, increase in behavioral problems in children and even certain cancers like leukemia, brain cancers and breast cancer.  Infants who are still very much developing, are considered to be at a higher risk of being affected by constant EMF radiation. The good news is that, while it is virtually impossible to eliminate EMF exposure in our homes,  there are things we can do to decrease our exposure. First of all we know that EMF radiation (at least from home appliances and wifi routers etc) will decrease with distance, so if you stay far from the source of EMF (a baby monitor, an electrical outlet, a wifi router etc) your baby’s exposure will be dramatically lower.  Always place monitors as far as possible from your baby’s crib.   Another good idea is to turn off your Wifi router overnight (to reduce your household EMF exposure) and place any cell phones or smart devices on airplane mode overnight (especially if baby is sleeping in your bedroom and your cell phone is in your nightstand.

Latex mattress safety: Our main concern with baby crib mattresses is always safety. A baby’s sleeping surface should be firm and you should not have any pillows or anything that can become a suffocation hazard near baby. Next up is avoiding flame retardants  and other chemicals. Organic mattresses, like those sold at @thetot, check all the crib mattress safety boxes.  Organic, pure natural latex (as opposed to synthetic latex) is usually recommended as an alternative to organic mattresses for adults, since they do not contain flame retardant chemicals. However these mattresses are not recommended for babies mostly due to the possibility of latex allergies.

Country of manufacturing:  The sad reality is that, while not everything produced in China will be toxic, we know that some products which have routinely tested have been found to contain toxic chemicals.  Europe, Australia and the US have stricter laws regarding chemicals and are generally more trustworthy. 

Q: @sloanremmick I’d love to learn more about lotions for babies and kids. I have kids with sensitive skin and especially dry in the winter. I have tried some of the better options for lotion but feel those still lead to rashes. I gravitate toward aquaphor although I know petroleum isn’t good. But it seems to work so well. Any thoughts or suggestions or brands that you think are the best? 

A: Winter definitely can be harsh on our baby’s sensitive skin.   It is unfortunate to hear that the more natural options you have used have led to rashes – I would love to hear about which ones you have specifically tried.  Without knowing too much about your case (could your child be allergic to a specific ingredient?  Sometimes essential oils can be too harsh for very sensitive skins). I would start with the most natural option – coconut or jojoba oil.  If this does not work it will be a matter of testing different lotions out until you find one that works.  

If your child’s skin is very dry perhaps a thicker balm would work better?  You could try Earth Mama Angel Baby Bottom Balm or organic pure shea butter from Acure. 

Additionally, make sure you are humidifying at home and even consider purchasing a shower filter that filters out chlorine, since this is very drying (and carcinogenic anyway – so good to remove)  

Generally you want to make sure your lotion does not contain:  fragrance, phthalates, parabens, PEG compounds.

Finally, it is worth trying to find an alternative to Aquafore.  Among the chemicals it contains: Oxybenzone – which  acts like estrogen in the body; alters sperm production in animals; associated with endometriosis in women. Octinoxate:  Another hormone disruptor linked to thyroid and behavioral alterations in animal studies.  Petrolatum:  a direct byproduct of petroleum refining.  

Q: mrs.yeremiya Which essential oils are good? I see some at target are they any good?

A: A good question!  While I am not an essential oil expert, I can tell you that not all essential oils are made the same. I am not personally familiar with the ones that Target is selling but when purchasing an essential oil make sure:

  1. They are USDA certified organic pure essential oils. Not synthetic. No blends
  2. Made from a trusted source.  Take time to research and make sure the company takes measures to source the purest essential oils, and that they take measures to make sure the oil is not exposed to certain factors that can affect its purity.
  3. The ingredients are clearly labelled.  Less ingredients mean a purer product.