How to Choose Toxin-Free Products for Kids

It can be so hard for parents to keep on top of all the harmful chemicals in our kids’ products.

It sometimes feel we need to have a PhD in chemistry to be able to understand the contents of the everyday products in our homes.

To help narrow it down, here is my list of top 5 “bad guys” often lurking in our kids’ rooms


  •  Polyester is made from petrochemical phthalates that attacks hormones. It mimics the female hormone estrogen, and exposure to phthalates has been linked to low fertility in men, early onset of puberty in girls, and cancers.
  • Polyester with polyethelene terephthalate (PET) contains a nasty compound called antimony that when dyed releases a compound into the water which is either released to open water systems in some countries, or is disposed of in landfills or incinerated, which releases the antimony into the air as gas – this is a known carcinogen

Beware of these everyday products that commonly contain polyester:  “fleecey” PJs, sleep sacks, blankets, cotton poly-blend sheets, etc.


Vinyl (PVC)

  •  Vinyl (PVC) is basically plastic with even more chemicals added to it to soften it. Bad chemicals + more bad chemicals = PVC.
  • PVC is made from phthalates – as mentioned above, these chemicals mimic human hormones. The chemicals can be released into the environment because the binds they form with plastics are weak. This presents a risk of “off-gassing” into the air we breathe, plus the risk of skin penetration.
  • You know that bad smell when you open packaging, or the overwhelmingly toxic smell when you walk  into the dollar store? That’s PVC. If you can smell it, you don’t want it!

Beware of everyday products such as vinyl covered crib mattresses, laminate flooring, kids backpacks, vinyl-covered school binders, etc.

Fire retardants

  • Chemical companies have created fire retardants that are added to the already nasty chemicals that make up  fabric (like polyester and polyurethane foam) to keep these products from melting.  Flame retardants could leach out of the fabric and exposure is linked to numerous really scary health effects.
  • Tests conducted by the Environmental Working Group found much higher concentrations of fire retardants known as PBDE in young children than in their mothers. Children are ingesting chemicals that migrate out of products and stick to kids’ hands, toys and other objects they put in their mouths.


Beware of products which often contain toxic fire retardants: polyurethane foam furniture like couches and upholstered chairs, mattresses and pads, futons and carpet padding, changing table pads, portable crib mattresses, nap mats, and nursing pillows.


Polyurethane Foam

  • Polyurethane foam is made from petroleum and contains many chemical additives such as formaldehyde and other established toxic chemicals (see fire retardents paragraph above).  This is bad nasty off-gassing stuff.

Beware of products made of polyurethane foam: pillows, comforters, mattresses, change pads


“Azo” or heavy metal fabric dyes

  • The European Commission’s Health and Consumers Scientific Committee warned that textile goods coloured with azo dyes are linked to cancer causing toxins, and should be a concern for consumers and workers.
  • Azo dyes contain a heavy metal that can “migrate” from the fabric, with possible risk of skin penetration.

Beware of everyday products that often contain azo-dyes:  PJs, sheets, duvet covers, pillow covers, etc. etc.


Special mention: conventional cotton

  •  Conventional cotton is treated with a myriad of chemicals: silicone waxes, petrochemical dyes, formaldehyde, volatile organic compounds, dioxin-producing bleach, chemical fabric softeners and brighteners, flame retardents, and ammonia, to name a few.
  • Phthalates that attack the hormone system are in many pesticides used in the production of cotton.
  • Conventional cotton is made with what are considered some of the most toxic chemicals in the world. And a lot of them. In fact, 50% of ALL THE CHEMICALS used in the world for agriculture is used by the cotton industry

It’s not realistic to avoid conventional cotton altogether. I know I couldn’t do it.  However, there are a few places where organic cotton may be the right choice. For instance, in kid’s bedding. Nearly half a kid’s life is spent in their bed. If they’re not sleeping, they are reading, dreaming, playing in their beds.  I want my kids’ rooms to be a toxin-free zone. That is why I created Dream Child organic cotton duvet covers for kids. I wanted a product my kids could love, and I could feel confident didn’t jeopardize their health, or that of the planet or the workers who produce it.

Dream Child organic cotton bedding is free from any of the baddies listed above. No harmful dyes. No synthetics. No toxic chemicals.


As I’m becoming more aware of (and alarmed by) the chemical contents and toxicity of the materials making up the clothes my kids wear, their furniture, bedding, etc.,  I’m becoming much more deliberate in the items I purchase (and don’t purchase) for my family.

Here are some ways to be your family’s safe-living advocate:

1.    Read labels:  say no to polyester

2.   Give it a sniff: if it smells toxic, it likely is

3.   Buy organic cotton bedding

4.   Invest in mattresses and pillows free from PVC, flame retardants, and polyurethane foam

5.    Buy less

Blog by Shelley Smith, owner of Dream Child organic cotton bedding for kids. Dream Child bedding is bold, stylish and fun, made with organic cotton and toxin-free dyes and providing jobs to marginalized women in Toronto. Dream Child organic bedding is ethical and green from seed to seam to sleep.

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