How to Choose Baby-Safe Paint for the Nursery

Medically reviewed by University of Illinois-Chicago, College of Medicine on July 12, 2016Written by Daniela Ginta

Baby-Safe Paint

During the third trimester of pregnancy, time seems to slow down. As anticipation grows, there’s one thing to take your mind off the calendar: the baby’s nursery.

How to choose baby-safe paint for the nursery

paint cans

When choosing a safe paint for the nursery, ask for a water-based product. It should contain zero volatile organic compounds, or VOCs.

Zero VOC emission paints have less than 5 grams per liter of organic compounds. This is compared to 50 grams per liter (or less) in low VOC paint.

You’ll find many paint options at your local store, but ask for a paint that doesn’t need a primer. There will be fewer chemicals.

If you had mold in your house in the past, there are safe paints that come with antimicrobial agents that help keep mold and mildew at bay. Ask about these when you shop for paint.

Painting a nursery while pregnant: Is it safe?

If you’re pregnant, you might not want to paint the nursery or furniture yourself. The paints may be low or zero VOC, but it’s safer to let someone else do it. Allow the room to air out until it’s thoroughly dry and the VOCs are gone.

How to reduce air pollution in the baby’s nursery

air purifier

The first thing to consider when designing your baby’s nursery is the air quality. Everything in the room can increase the air pollution, including:

  • wall paint
  • furniture
  • flooring material
  • other objects in the room

Indoor air pollution is a real threat. Indoor air pollution can have many adverse health effects, even more so on young children and babies whose bodies are still developing.

Learning what affects the air quality in your home can help you create a safe and clean space for your little one. The most common sources of indoor air pollution include:

  • mold and dampness
  • various chemicals found in conventional paint and furniture
  • carpets
  • cleaning supplies and dust mites

How to choose baby-safe flooring and furniture

baby nursery

To be on the safe side, choose hardwood floors. Treat them with a nontoxic polish or a safe oil, such as flax or tung oil.

If you’re installing new floors, choose wood from a sustainable source, or consider other options such as cork, bamboo, or reclaimed wood. Always ask about possible chemical treatments for any of them.

Wall-to-wall carpeting may seem practical, but it’s not the safest. Carpets come treated with flame retardants and other chemicals, which can affect air quality. They also trap allergens such as dust mites, pet dander, and mold spores, as well as dirt and toxic gases present in the air inside your home. Avoid carpet if you can.

If you have carpet already, have it steam-cleaned, allow it to dry thoroughly, and clean it regularly with a HEPA filter-equipped vacuum cleaner.

If bare floors are not your thing, choose an organic wool carpet or cotton rug that can be properly dusted and washed if needed.

When it comes to furniture, here are a few helpful suggestions:

  • Don’t overdo it: Opt for a minimalistic design that includes a crib, change table, comfortable nursing chair, and a dresser.
  • Choose furniture made from solid wood: If someone makes it for you, make sure it’s finished with zero VOC paint. Have it inspected for safety before you use it.
  • Avoid particle board and plywood furniture, if possible: They contain formaldehyde, a substance that’s known to cause cancer. If you have no other option, keep the furniture in open air to outgas formaldehyde for a while (the longer, the better).
  • Vintage furniture is a great source because it’s mostly made of solid wood. Buy from a reputable consignment store and ask about having it inspected for safety. If you are having it refurbished, ask for zero VOC paint to be used.

How to find a baby-safe mattress and bedding

baby crib

Your newborn baby will spend many hours a day sleeping, so it’s important to choose a safe mattress and bedding. The options for baby mattresses are no longer limited to plastic-covered mattresses that may release chemicals for a long time after being purchased.

One of the safest options for a baby mattress is organic cotton. It can be made into a firm surface and is safe to sleep on. It’s less flammable than foam mattresses, which are treated with flame retardants. These are known to affect human health.

Organic wool and latex can be good options, but some people are allergic to them. You don’t know whether your baby will be affected or not, so stick to the safest option: cotton.

For bedding, choose organic cotton if possible. Or make sure to put the sheets through a few cycles of washing to eliminate all the antifungal chemicals that may have been used during manufacturing.

Hand-me-down bedding, just like baby clothes, are a great, safe alternative because they have been washed multiple times.

Maintaining a clean and baby-safe nursery

You are done, and baby will soon get to rest in the comfortable, safe environment you created for them.

Here are some maintenance touches:

  • Use only natural, fragrance-free detergents for your baby’s bedding, clothing, and diapers (if you opt for cloth diapers).
  • Use the most natural cleaning products possible, not just in the nursery but in the entire house (you can make your own using vinegar, baking soda, and lemon).
  • Invest in a HEPA filter-equipped vacuum cleaner.

Next steps

When it comes to the nursery, remember that simple does it. Don’t get stressed about color assortments and other decorating details. Your baby doesn’t care about that. All that matters is that the nursery is safe for them to be in. 

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